V8s? It’s an inside job
It looks so smooth at Bathurst. If only it was, writes STEPHEN OTTLEY
IF YOU don’t get bruises you’re not trying hard enough.’’ That’s the pep talk from Ford Performance Racing driver Dean Canto as carsGuide’s team of Neil McDonald and I tackle one of our most challenging assignments — getting in and out of a car.
But this is no ordinary car. The vehicle McDonald and I will be swapping places in is the FPR Ford Falcon Canto and Luke Youlden will race this weekend in the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
V8 Supercars may look like showroom cars (with a few wings added) but on the inside they are more fighter plane than XR8.
As you watch drivers jump in an out of cars at pitstops, have you ever wondered how they do it?
The cabin is full of exposed metal and a rollcage snakes its way around the interior. It offers driver protection and stiffness to the car, helping to hold it together as it tears around the punishing Mount Panorama circuit.
The seat is pushed back past the B-pillar so you almost sit in the back seat, making access even more difficult.
But that doesn’t mean you can stretch your legs. The steering wheel and pedals are much farther back than in your average Falcon sedan.
As McDonald and I size up the small opening, FPR star driver Mark Winterbottom arrives to offer advice — then spends most of his time laughing.
Once he is done giggling, he demonstrates the correct way to climb aboard.
The first step is to grab hold of the rollcage bar — running vertically alongside the A-pillar — with your right hand. Then Winterbottom places his left leg inside the car and dives head first into the cockpit, twisting his body around until he is seated, his right leg still hanging out of the car.
The whole motion is seamless, but as ‘‘Frosty’’ demonstrates, he still needs to put his left arm through one side of the seatbelts.
Finally, he pulls his right leg in and stage one of a V8 Supercar driver change is over.
‘‘It’s all about the choreography of it,’’ Youlden says. ‘‘It’s more that than the physical training. Once you have it together it’s pretty smooth.’’
The next stage is getting buckled in. There’s no lap-sash seatbelt, instead a fivepoint racing harness locks you in place.
That’s the basics, but the reality is much more complex. There’s the window net, radio connection, drink hose and air hose connections to negotiate.
Drivers also wear a HANS device — a carbon-fibre collar connected to the helmet, to prevent serious neck injuries. Though it is a brilliant invention that has saved lives, it makes getting in and out of the car difficult because it can catch on just about anything.
It also restricts the driver’s head movement, so he can’t see the seatbelts.
That’s why the V8 rule-makers agreed a few years ago to give the drivers a hand. Drivers are allowed an extra crew member at pitstops to help them in and out of the car. Most teams also use elastic to hold the belts out of the way.
Now it’s our turn and, to make it interesting, McDonald and I have to race Winterbottom and Richards. Teams aim at 12-second changes but 15 seconds is acceptable. With those numbers in mind, McDonald climbs into the car to start things off. Youlden acts as our driver assistant, Winterbottom holds the stopwatch. O! McDonald pops the belts and begins contortions to squeeze out of the tiny rollcage opening as Youlden drops the window net. It no time at all — well, it seemed like it — McDonald is out and it’s my turn to look silly sliding in.
All goes well, but as soon as I try to pop the crotch strap in I stuff it up.
In the rush to be fast I fumble the belt and cost Team carsGuide plenty of time.
Once the first belt is done the others slip in easily enough and Winterbottom stops the clock at — wait for it — 46 seconds.
Undaunted by our time but more comfort-
Gable with the procedures, McDonald and I try again and slash the time to 28 seconds. Now it’s the turn of Winterbottom and Richards, and I take over the stopwatch.
Unlike us, they are a well-oiled machine. Before you know it they’re done. But they took a disappointing 20 seconds and are keen to show their true potential. Second time round they are done in 15 seconds, good enough for a race.
Except in the race they would be wearing a driving suit, helmet and HANS. Throw in some driver fatigue and it becomes interesting.
‘‘Plus you have to do it with your back in spasm after a stint,’’ Winterbottom says. ‘‘Adrenalin helps. You don’t care if you get bruised or anything.’’
McDonald and I may have been slow, but we did something right. I have a cut on my finger and a bruised elbow.
Struggle: (clockwise from above) Luke Youlden helps Stephen Ottley; checks on Neil McDonald; and Jason Winterbottom encourages Ottley. Pictures: ANDREW TAUBER