Apr 192008
 

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The Hamilton 400 in New Zealand was always going to be a tough ask for the V8 Supercar circus.


An unknown circuit, and a street circuit to boot. Some team managers call street circuits dangerous, but most recognise that while all are ad hoc constructions from normal roads, it’s not the track surface, white lines or usual bumps and off-camber bends which make the difference to a purpose built and maintained race track. It’s the 4 tonne concrete barriers which line the circuit and keep the roaring V8 beasts where they belong. At Hamilton, there are 2,000 of them. A car weighs 1.5 tonnes and even at full noise, a meeting between concrete barrier and V8 Supercar always leaves the racecar worse off.
Dick Johnson Racing found out yesterday just how much damage such a meeting can create, when Wil Davison miscued, re-creating the team owners experience at Bathurst in 1980 when a front wheel was ripped off the car and the inertia carried the car into, and up long the concrete barrier. In 1980, Dick ripped off both left side wheels in his adventure, courtesy of the now infamous ‘rock’. His driver yesterday ripped off the right front, rode up and along the concrete barriers before coming to rest in a very sorry state. It’s been rebuilt for today’s qualifying and race one, but only after an all-nighter in the panel shop. Judging from the list of components repaired and replaced, I’d suggest that one incident cost the team almost half the cost of a new build. Around $120,000.
Today in qualifying, it wasn’t the track at fault when Jamie Whincup suffered a meeting with the barriers. I’ve watched the replay several times (you can too, down below) and I have to say the destruction can be laid fairly and squarely at the feet of Todd Kelly. That car of Whincup’s won’t be back this weekend. The damage to body and componentry simply isn’t repairable in the time allowable, and with the minimum of spares each team is restricted to when the circus goes ‘away’. The hit Whincup took was massive, to the extent of stretching the safety strapping on his Head-And-Neck-Safety device by 2 centimetres. Try taking your average car seat belt and stretching it by 2 centimetres, and you might just get some idea of the gravitational forces involved in bringing a vehicle moving at 150 klicks to a dead stop in a few seconds. According to the commentary, the car isn’t all that bad, at first look. Mainly panels, roll-cage and sub-frame, which can only be reconstructed back in the workshop. The cars delicate componentry – transmission, engine, computer electronics and some suspension componentry – aren’t all that bad, apparently. Still, something in excess of $60,000. Many thanks, Todd Kelly.

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Frankly, despite what Kelly had to say about needing the room to avoid his own meeting with the concrete, the fact remains that when queried after the fact, he revealed that he knew Whincup was alongside. His choice should have been to get out of the throttle, given that he admitted to an understeer problem on entering the corner in question. I hope Tomas Mezera, the circuses Driving Standards Officer, looks closely at the incident and acts accordingly. I noted that later in the telecast that both Mezera and the Investigating and Prosecuting Officer,
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The circuit is a hard one, which qualifying showed very, very clearly. Qualifying also revealed – despite the unstable weather at the start of session one – the depth of talent in the current V8 Supercar field. Shane Van Gisbergen in car 9 is a prime example. A teenager still, Van Gisbergen put on a fantastic show in bringing the Stone Brothers car to the high end of the grid. My other ‘watch-this-lad’ pick – Tony D’Alberto – didn’t perform so well, and appears to be having difficulty in coming to terms with the pace of the big game. I won’t get the chance to find out for certain until the Queensland round, when I’ll be able to get into the pit and maybe have a chat, but at the moment, Tony gives the impression that he’s still very tentative. Perhaps engine dramas from practice yesterday have something to do with his unease?
Race one started as I expected race one to start. Frantic urgency and major incidents. Five of the first six laps were spent behind a safety car, after a big shunt at turn two. The race restarted, sans Ingall, Steven Johnson and a couple of others, only to be put behind another safety car less than one lap later when a lesser name ring-in local driver mis-judged turn seven. All this on a dry track, no overcast, no rain and following a wet-to-dry qualifying session where most drivers managed to go quick without major incident. On the next re-start, things seemed to settle down somewhat, with Skaife in the lead, albeit without having made his CPS as 80% of the rest of the field had done once the second safety car period was announced. Once Skaife pitted, Tander was never headed. The CPS, with multiple cars in the lane, was very untidy, resulting in Jason Richards and Craig Lowndes suffering drive-thru penalties as a result of unsafe releases of their respective cars by their crews. The tyre bundles which created a chicane on the back straight copped a hell of a beating from all drivers, but managed to exact due penance by puncturing tyres on a few cars, pushing them back down the field as a result. Shane Van Gisbergen was one such, falling from 9th, to 21st within the last three laps.
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All in all, it’s pretty clear that Hamilton, as a street course, is a challenging ask. This round is the first event to be held there and as with Surfers Paradise, some changes to the track layout and chicane arrangement will undoubtedly be made. For a first event, it’s just a little disappointing, but definitely a place where changes will make for a very exciting and challenging future event in seasons to come.
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As an annoying aside, it seems that Gibson Freight, out of Avalon, have some answers to provide after this revelation once the 747 freighters arrived in Aotearoa. It seems not even motorsport is immune from kleptomaniacs. Races 2 & 3 tomorrow. Stay tuned, as they say.