REVIEW OF PHILIP ISLAND 6-HOUR, for team WILD HUNDE

It all sounds so easy, really: just drive around a track at the same pace for a 30-minute stint. How could that be so difficult? Easily, as it turns out!

While I’ve driven in three 6-hr events, it has been some years since I last managed a team for this event. I soon realised that to be a successful Team Manager, you need to be:

1 part administrator

1 part mechanic

1 part caterer

1 part weather forecaster

1 part mother, and…

About 3 parts psychic

The range of factors that arise to review what previously looked like a sane strategy is immense! – as we discovered during our lead-up and participation in this year’s 6-hr.

Who were we?

Team Wild Hunde: Team members and cars (no jokes about mongrels, thank you)

28A: Robin Bailey, Nissan Z

28B: Glenn Campbell, Falcon

28C: Murray Campbell, Falcon

28D: Rex Connor, Mazda RX-7 turbo

28E: Terry Selwyn, Hyundai Excel

28F: James Richards, BMW E30

Maudy: Team Manager and general gopher.

This gave us what could be optimistically be referred to as a comprehensive range of vehicles and experience, from those who had never driven at the Island through to those for whom it was second nature.

SATURDAY:

-dawned with enchantingly beautiful weather, and much optimism, tainted by dire forecasts for the following day: rain, thunderstorms, hail, apocalypse and probably a hearty chance of plague as well. Ah, well – focus on Saturday, shall we?

We began with much grunting and heaving, as cars are required early at scrutineering, but in a cunning move sponsored by the local chapter of chiropractors and cardiac surgeons, engines cannot be started before 9:00am or it wakes up the sheep over the hill a few km away. Hence, cars on soft, wide race tyres and welded diffs must be pushed off their trailers and pushed around the pits. Bewdy.

We had one hiccup with scrutineering, where Terry’s harness was found to be out of date. It was at about this time that the Richards’ Datto expired, and they kindly allowed us to borrow their harness for the day. Thanks also to Mike Whitford in the garage next door, allowing us to borrow his passenger harness and fit it into Terry’s car for the Sunday. Whew!

The first practice session for the day was for those who had not driven the Island before. To speed the learning process, they were also allowed to take an instructor with them. My weekend was improved considerably when James not only asked me to ride with him in the Bimmer, but was OK with me driving the first couple of laps, so I got to have a (controlled) punt in an E30, and found what a lovely stable and well-handling car they are.

James must also have enjoyed himself, as he came back from his session – grinning and hardly stopped all weekend. How did the rest fare?

Terry proved reliable but needed jump-starting before each drive (the car, not Terry)

Rex had a good run, but was concerned that the car was apparently losing boost.

Robyn was also very reliable, very quick, but came in cursing drivers who rudely moved into his way – a true race driver.

Glenn was quick to settle, but late in the day a flat tyre was found: on removal it was discovered the tyre sidewall had ruptured! I suggested this was pretty wimpy as the tread was still good, so why couldn’t they keep driving? – this idea was not received well.

Murray was re-familiarising himself with the car and circuit, and settled to some useful times. At the day’s end we at least had all cars still running, though the Falcon apparently had a soft pedal and needed its brakes bleeding.

As a result of having 49 other cars out there during sessions, and progressive improvement with experience, our drivers’ times were generally all over the place. But, in keeping with the spirit of the event, we averaged, discussed, consulted the stars, threw a handful of sand trap material over the left shoulder and pulled out a figure for each driver: this was then re-discussed, negotiated, allowances made for the next day’s weather that we knew little about, and the all-important forms lodged, allowing us to head home to a well-deserved rest before a team dinner at Rusty Waters Brewery, where the cheery noise levels were apparently intended as pre-race training for trackside.

SUNDAY:

It was as well we weren’t playing for sheep stations, as the way things turned out, we would be lucky to get home with a lamb cutlet. Here’s how the big day unfolded (unravelled?):

Weather: cold! Sometimes wet, and REALLY windy. Seriously windy.

When the time came, it was a requirement that each team fronted a grid girl/person/animate object whose duty was to stand on the grid for 30 wind-swept, chilly minutes, to give something for the cars to hit, and to grip the team sign furiously so it didn’t end up in Bass Strait, possibly still attached to said grid bod. As there was a noticeable shortage of volunteers from our team, all drivers mysteriously suddenly having to check something on their cars, it came down to my good self to perform this duty. With the weather so challenging, the grid looked more like a local gathering of Michelin Men. Having said that, the attendants included a bearded man in a dress, complete with fishnet stockings…perhaps he had taken a wrong turn on his way home Saturday night?

Murray was to start for us: excited by the increased bite of air-free brakes, he locked up into MG, left the track and arrived nearly last, to the relief of the team, and the return of dad’s blood pressure to double-digits.

There were bag pipes, a parade lap, and the field was waved away.

Terry took the next stint, and then the first of the official printouts arrived, to confirm what we had feared: we were, in fact, going backwards! At this stage we were 55 laps down (due to penalties), and officially second last. A stoic description was offered that we had consolidated our position in the field, and could really only progress forward. This too, seemed unappreciated.

A word of explanation here, lest you unfairly form the opinion our drivers were poor. Lap timers are vital in this event. We had a small number of volunteers promised for the day, but they failed to arrive, possibly having read the weather forecast, leaving us just with Edward & Aiden, two stalwart Yr 9 schoolboys in shorts, headed for a baptism by fire. Neither had any experience, so with training on the job, limited supervision, stuff-all relief and difficulties with weather, communication and spotting cars on the track, it was never going to end very well. The lapboard was not always seen, so the one critical piece of information the needed was often not there, so our times all over the place. When rain came, everyone scurried inside so drivers were left with limited visibility, demanding conditions, and no feedback! Super-strong gusty winds all day also meant the pit board operator was tossed about, and every time the board did make it to a showing, it was touch-and-go whether it would be slammed against the pit wall or torn from the operator’s hands. Undeterred, (well, they had little alternative), the drivers soldiered on:

James improved his times, but found it difficult to get down to his nominated times on a cooler and busier track.

Terry was surprisingly quick in the mighty Excel, but found it hard to reliably match his times from Saturday. He was also understandably reluctant to drive if the track was very wet-something to do with FWD, a locked diff, stiff suspension, little weight…!

Robyn again proved quick and reliable, but we couldn’t always feed him lap times as needed.

Murray and Glenn were chasing their times with good success. Glen went out for one session, only to come almost straight back in – apparently the Falcon was a bit bored and decided to dismantle a front wheel bearing. A new replacement was fitted, and the car ran faultlessly for rest of day.

Rex continued to lose boost in the Mazda, couldn’t get down to his nominated times, and eventually put it on trailer.

The day got a little better as the event progressed: at one stage we rose to the dizzying heights of 42nd but quickly returned to form and settled back down to the ooze-filled bottom layers of the timing chart, not to rise again.

I had to leave just before the end of the event to go to work, leaving Robyn to finish. We came an astonishing 47th outright of 50: on reflection, not too bad really for a team basically driving largely in ignorance of lap times, in an event where this is critical information – a bit like driving an economy run and not knowing how much fuel you have.

Thank yous:

  • to the drivers, who did their best, and helped look after each other.
  • To Robyn’s mate Terry for assisting where possible
  • The race track café for sustenance, and especially:
  • Aiden and Edward, for efforts and endurance beyond the call of duty.

How might things have been, if we had people turn up to help on the day? Ah, well. There’s always 2019.

-Maudy

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