Short circuit levels field
TWO crucial days this week will decide the results in the Gold Coast 600 this weekend. One was the rookie test day on Wednesday when the international drivers partnering some of the regular drivers, like myself, got their chance to familiarise themselves with the car.
The other was the track walk yesterday morning. That was when we all got a chance to look at the new shortened circuit.
I’m lucky my co-driver is the threetime world touring car champion Andy Priaulx.
He’s not driven this track before, but he’s driven street circuits in similar cars and he’s driven V8s before, including a HRT Commodore in last year’s Bathurst 1000.
He had a drive at Queensland Raceway on Monday and Wednesday and did as many laps as he could, while I was limited to 10. His times were within a few tenths of a second of our times on a track that was getting warmer and slower, so that’s pretty quick.
He says it quickly brought back memories of driving the HRT car.
We also practised driver changes and pit stops while race engineer Jeromy Moore familiarised him with everything I take for granted, such as switching to reserve when the fuel is low and adjusting the anti-roll bars.
On the Wednesday we spent more time with the set-up on the car to get him familiarised with how the balance changes.
We also had to find a compromise driving position for Andy — who is shorter than Skaifey, my partner in the last two rounds.
Andy takes a very level-headed approach to racing and he’s well aware of our championship position and how his role can affect that.
I can’t remember a dual driver lineup on a street circuit, so this will be unique. The international drivers will be a pivotal part of the championship.
The drivers ahead of me in the standings — James Courtney and Jamie Whincup — are teamed with the same co-drivers they’ve had for the past two races.
This time for us it’s a whole new ball game, but Andy knows what is required of him. At least he will be on level terms with everyone else in the race when it comes to the two new corners on the shortened circuit.
Even international drivers like Dario Franchitti who have driven here before haven’t done those corners. The new section is after the second chicane on the main straight where it turns left and joins the beach road. We’ll have a good look at those sections when we walk the track on Thursday morning.
With a street circuit there is so much more to take into account than a track, such as manhole covers and white lines which can affect grip levels, and crowned roads with camber either sides that can add an element of surprise. And then there are the unforgiving concrete walls if you get it wrong. In a street circuit the brakes also get a punishing; you have to concentrate so much harder and the cabin heat is greater.
The Gold Coast 600 is a 300km race on the Saturday and again on the Sunday, with one driver doing a minimum of 34 laps in each race.
The regular combinations like Jamie and Steve Owen, and Courtney and Warren Luff will have a little better flexibility in their strategy.
I imagine I will qualify like at Bathurst, but it could be that Andy starts the race to ensure he gets his minimum laps done.
Skaifey started both races with me and it worked well, although I do miss starting a race.
We will plan on two pit stops in each race, but it depends on the fuel figures and safety cars.
And there could be quite a few safety cars as there is always a high attrition rate on a street circuit.
Whatever happens on Saturday will be a test and then the teams will be all the wiser come Sunday.
I always say you know whether you are in or out of the championship after Bathurst and I’m happy that I’m still in with a good chance.
However, from here on it’s almost like the NASCAR Chase where you start with a clean slate.
Craig’s co-driver: Andy Priaulx is a world touring car champion.