Returning to the Gold Coast as winners from last year made me confident we would be in contention for another surfboard. The one I have from last year was looking pretty lonely on the wall at home.
There was no need for an alarm clock on the Gold Coast as my boys woke up when the sun came up which was always around 5:30!! On Thursday morning I didn’t have any media or sponsor commitments so my wife, our kids and I went to Sea World to have some family time before the craziness got underway. I had my photo with Spongebob and Patrick and after a few rides with the kids and feeding the seals it was time to head to the track.
There was a lot of talk before the event about the tyre bundles. During track walk on Thursday, we noticed that it was going to be a little more challenging to not damage the front splitter on the bundles but that was how I had raced at the Gold Coast in the past when I was full time. Also the track had some resurfacing done in the last section.
On Friday we hit the track. Practice 1 was main drivers and Dave was quick straight away. He wasn’t overly happy with the car but he ended up P11 at session end.
Practice 2 was “Co-Drivers Only” so I went out to have some fun and tune the car. I was struggling a bit with overall grip in the car and unlike Bathurst, where I was in the top 5, I ended the session in P21 but not too concerned.
Practice 3 was another “Co-Driver Only” and after some small tweaks and data review I was keen to get back out on track. Immediately I was quicker than Practice 2 even though I was using the same set of tyres. We made a couple of small changes throughout the session. I pushed a little too hard through the first chicane, side swiping the exit tyre wall with the left hand side of the car, which most people had done. It was a 4G hit on the data which was fairly substantial so we came in the pits to have a check of the car but it was only panel damage. We ran out of time to put another set of tyres on so I ended the session in P22 . I wasn’t too concerned about the position as I knew we were all good.
Practice 4 and it was Dave’s turn again to do some qualifying runs. Lucky bugger always gets the green (new) tyres. He did a great job ending up P3 so we went to the press conference with van Gisbergen and Courtney who we were challenging with for the win last year.
On Saturday we had qualifying, the Top 10 Shootout and the first of two races. We were pretty confident of making the Shootout and Dave did his job qualifying in P8, meaning we would be the 3rd car out for the Shootout lap. Dave did a smooth lap & by the end of the shootout we had made up two spots so we would start the race in P6.
For Saturday’s race I was chosen to start the car which is the safer option for strategy and 95% of the field did the same. I love starts and on the soft tyres it’s even better. The lights went red, I loaded up the clutch and released the line lock button when the lights went out. Great launch, revs were perfect & I knew I was on to make one or two spots into the first corner. I managed to make one spot into the first corner. There was a crash on the first lap and after the safety car restart I managed to make another spot moving up to 4th. I held this position until pitting on Lap 34 and handing over to Dave.
We had a slow hookup with the fuelling rig and lost some positions in the stop rejoining in 7th.
Dave pressed on for 15 laps but clipped a tyre bundle on the beach chicane a little too hard damaging the front bar. Three corners later he made heavy contact with the wall damaging the car too much to continue the race.
The car came back to the garage and, after the crash we had at Bathurst, I could see this was very similar, if not worse, and didn’t expect the boys would attempt fixing it. It did end up having substantially more damage than the Bathurst accident but the boys never give up and did an amazing job finishing the car around 1:30am.
On Sunday it was straight into qualifying but I was confident there would be no issues after the major rebuild. Dave went out and did an awesome job finishing up 6th.
Again I got to start the race which made me happy. Another chance at a start to try and better the day before. Similar to the day before I made 1 spot into the first chicane. Then going into the hairpin onto the back straight we bunched up a bit and I was able to get up the inside of Steve Richards for a drag race to the back chicane. I won the drag race and moved into 4th. Now I just had to manage the tyres for another 33 laps, minimum. Richo made some ground on me in the first few laps but then I found my groove and began to pull away catching up to Jono Webb. I caught up to him but had used up too much tyre and couldn’t do much more as we were very evenly matched. Come Lap 34 we pitted for a driver change, fuel and tyres. We rejoined in 5th place. We remained in 5th until a Safety Car on Lap 60 which most of the field used to pit under. After all the pit stops were done, we were 3rd but struggling a little with the car. On the restart, Dave was hounded by one of the Nissans who eventually got past. The Nissan was followed by Slade who also passed him. Dave pressed on but was eventually chased down by van Gisbergen to drop back to 6th.
We finished the race in 6th but, as last years Champions, I was a little disappointed iI didn’t get to take a surfboard home to keep last years one company.
A huge thank you to the team, especially the #55 crew who had a number of long nights putting the car back together. Thanks to all the fans that came and supported me over all three rounds of the enduro series. I cant wait to be back out there again next year.