2016: Round 3 Report – Sydney Motorsport Park
2016 NSW Motor Race Championship Round 3
28 & 39 May 2016
Sydney Motor Sport Park
The third round of the CAMS NSW Motor Race Championships saw Formula Race Cars return to the traditional Brabham Circuit layout of Sydney Motorsport Park, and across an eventful weekend, where drivers had to overcome poor weather and misadventure, Nathan Gotch in the AGI Sport Dallara F307 extended his series lead with a convincing victory in the trophy race after starting at the rear of the grid.
A field of 15 cars were entered for the weekend, which included the return of Glenn Lynch after missing round 2 and the first appearance for some time of Peter Lucas (Ralt RT4 Formula Atlantic) and Edward Gavin (Cheetah Mk.8 AF2) both giving their cars a shakedown for the June historic meeting.
After months of unseasonably warm and sunny weather Saturday morning cold temperatures and ominous clouds, which produced drizzle on cue as the first cars rolled out for the opening practice session. By the time Formula Race Cars took to the track it was full wet conditions.
Gotch had taken pole with clear margins in both previous rounds but on this occasion he was soundly beaten for the honour by Lucas, using the big rubber and softer chassis of the Ralt to good effect, with a massive 8 second gap and the only driver to break the 2-minute mark. Gotch had to settle for 2nd ahead of Graeme Holmes (GKH Powdercoating Dallara F304 Opel Spiess) and noted rain master Ron Bennet (ARB Bundaberg Dallara F301 Opel Spiess).
Rod Anderson (Reynard 893 VW) was the first of the Cup Class drivers, with Rob Sviderskas, another driver who usually performs well in wet conditions completing the third row.
The remaining qualifiers in order were Glenn Lynch (Dallara F398 ‘the Gold Car’), Rodney Brincat (Glass Benders Dallara F304 Renault), Ross McAlpine (Power Plus Fuels Dallara F397 Toyota), Andrew Wlodek (Dallara F307 Honda) on borrowed rubber and Ron Coath (Dallara F307 Mercedes).
Lap times reflected a very tentative approach to difficult conditions, with only 11 cars qualifying, Greg Muddle (Dallara F301 Opel Spiess) having an altercation with the inside wall out of turn 18, Al Palmer (TOMS Toyota) and Edward Gavin choosing to sit the session out (is it a black car thing?) and Lawrence Katsidis (SYDNEY PHOTO BOOTH Dallara F304 Renault) not having brought any wets to the circuit.
Although the rain had stopped the circuit was slow to dry and the ‘slicks or wets?’ decision was resolved for most only a matter of minutes before cars proceeded to the dummy grid. In the end everyone apart from Sviderskas and Katsidis elected to use slicks, and as the minutes passed on the dummy grid, under sunny skies, waiting for the previous race to be cleared, the dry tyre option seemed to be the right choice. The long wait also gave AGI the chance to address a very three-cylinder sounding Dallara before the cars rolled out.
The warm-up lap proved to be the most eventful of the race, with both F301’s not making it to the grid, and while it looked dry the conditions remained slippery. Muddle’s car, repaired from its morning misadventure, suffering electrical problems; and Bennet lighting up the rear tyres on a slippery track and finding the wall on the run out of turn 15. Cars were delayed on the grid and when they moved away for a further warm-up lap Sviderskas also parked his car with electrical problems.
Eventually the race started, and although most observers expected Lucas to use his big rubber to full advantage he managed to put too much power down and consequently both Gotch and Holmes were able to jump ahead off the line. Wlodek made a blinder of a start from the 5th row and as the lap unfolded found himself in 4th, ahead of Brincat, Anderson and Katsidis surging through from the rear of the grid, the soft tyres proving helpful at this stage.
Brincat passed Wlodek for 4th on lap 2, and from there the top 6 settled for the remainder of what was a shortened race – only 4 laps in total with the time lost recovering Bennet’s car. Gotch opened up a gap on Holmes, and the gaps between the following cars also extended across race distance. There was more interest in the back half of the field, with Katsidis on the back of Anderson in the early part of the race before starting to struggle with tyres, and Coath making steady progress through the field to pass Katsidis for 7th on the final lap. Lynch soldiered on to 9th with a car that was running on less than 4 cylinders at low revs, ahead of McAlpine and a very cautious Al Palmer who hadn’t had the opportunity to scrub in tyres earlier in the day. Edward Gavin retired from 10th position earlier in the race with gear selection issues.
All 15 cars left the dummy grid for race 2 on Sunday morning, in perfect conditions and, almost surprisingly given the previous days effort, all 15 made it to the start, although Katsidis and Lynch both tried hard with spins on the warm up lap. Repairs to Bennet’s car and a change of car for Lynch to ‘Old Faithful’ (or ‘the Yellow Car’) were the main overnight developments.
At lights out it was Holmes getting the jump on Gotch and leading into turn 2 where, unfortunately, all hell broke loose. Lucas in the RT4 was caught out by how early the cold-tyred Formula 3 cars were on the brakes, and ran into the back of Gotch, who in turn clipped the back of Holmes’ car. The big lose in all of this was Brincat, who had nowhere to go and launched off the wheel of Gotch’s car into the kitty litter.
While Holmes and Lucas were able to run their damaged cars back to the pit Gotch’s car was immobilised by the contact and Brincat’s had sustained heavy damage bringing out the safety car.
When the smoke cleared (and that wasn’t until most of the rest of the field were well past turn 2), it was Rod Anderson leading the pack, ahead of Coath, Bennet Palmer and Wlodek.
Racing recommenced on lap 5, and with Anderson baulked by the safety car he conceded places to Coath and Bennet. Wlodek quickly rounded up Palmer, and then moved into 3rd when Anderson spun out at Turn 16. Behind Palmer it was McAlpine running strongly in 5th until he experienced drive issues and parked the car.
At the front of the field the two Ronnies were engaged in an intense battle with Bennet gaining the lead at the end of lap 5 only to concede it on the following lap. Coath was able to hold him out for the victory in a race shortened to 7 laps by the safety car period, and Bennet maintained second ahead of Wlodek, who was the fastest car on the circuit by some margin, and may have challenged for the lead had the race been a lap longer. As it turned out the three cars were covered by three-quarters of a second as they crossed the line.
Behind the front runners, Muddle battled hard to find a way past Sviderskas and was finally able to do this on the last lap, before chasing down Palmer to claim 4th place. Palmer was able to hold out Sviderskas, Lynch, and Gavin in the Cheetah, all in close quarters. Katsidis had trouble coming to grips with tyres and rounded out the finishers in 9th place.
A reduced field took to the track for what promised to be an interesting feature race, with the two quickest cars starting at the rear of the grid. Brincat, Lucas and McAlpine were all missing with unrepairable issues from the morning’s race.
The front three cars goat away from the line well, but Muddle struggled and was locked in a battle for 4th in the run down to turn 2. Palmer made contact with the rear of Muddle’s car turning him around and parking him the wrong way around in the middle of the corner, which created difficulties for the rest of the pack and a disadvantage for those who had to go the long way around, including Sviderskas, who got a little bit of contact for his troubles.
The big winner in all of this was Gotch, who found a clear way through the melee and was up to 3rd by the end of the first lap, making it an all-07 top 3 for the first time: Coath, Wlodek and Gotch as they went past the start/finish line for the first time. Bennet followed, then Palmer, who managed not to drop a spot from the turn 2 incident, Lynch, Holmes, Katsidis, Gavin and Anderson, who had dropped places on the first lap.
Gotch was comfortably in the lead by the end of lap 2 and working on opening up a big margin on the rest of the field and earning an ‘R’ next to his name in Natsoft (although my records indicate that he has done a quicker lap that that in the old ’04).
Behind Gotch however there was plenty of battling over places, with Holmes being the big mover through the field, passing Palmer and Bennet on lap 2 and then chasing down Coath on lap 7, before setting out after Wlodek. Wlodek and Coath had been locked in their own battle for 2nd for the first 5 laps, but once ahead Wlodek had set a strong pace and had opened up a sufficient margin to hold out Holmes at the finish, although at 0.3 seconds it was probably a good thing the race didn’t go a lap longer.
Coath finished in a lonely 4th, but behind him Bennet had his hands full defending 5th from Lynch. Both of them had been backed up behind Palmer for most of the race, who had defended 5th for the better part of 8 laps. At the end there was only half a second between Bennet and Lynch, and the gap had been barely more than a second for most of the race.
Behind Palmer, Katsidis rounded continued his disappointing form for the weekend but collected valuable points, and Sviderskas was unable to recover positions after the first lap incident. Gavin retired early in the race; Anderson also retired with some strange noises at the rear of the car; and Muddle, having chased down Sviderskas by mid-distance, retired soon after with a very cranky sounding Dallara that was tired of being treated so poorly.
So, in a weekend of upset results and DNF’s what happened with the points?
Nathan Gotch 40; Andrew Wlodek 40; Ron Coath 39; Graeme Holmes 30; Ron Bennet 26.
Class Based points:
Glenn Lynch 41; Al Palmer 41; Graeme Holmes 40; Lawrence Katsidis 40, Ron Bennet 36.
In terms of the Championship, Gotch has effectively extended his (unbeatable?) lead with Muddle having a poor round, and Wlodek has jumped up into 2nd place:
Outright Championship after 3 Rounds:
Nathan Gotch 160; Andrew Wlodek 100; Greg Muddle 92; Graeme Holmes 78; Ron Bennet 73.
And Al Palmer has nudged ahead of former leader Muddle in the Class-based championship:
Class Championship after 3 Rounds:
Al Palmer 127; Nathan Gotch 126; Greg Muddle 118; Ron Bennet 104; Lawrence Katsidis 104.
For the full tables click here: www.frca.org.au
On Sunday it was more a case of short outbursts, with the Race 2 mayhem leaving a few people out of sorts. Unfortunately most of the damage centred on Rod Brincat’s car, but it’s not in Rod’s nature to make a song and dance about things and he handled the disappointment in a way that’s a credit to him and a lesson to the rest of us. Hopefully it’s not too lengthy a stint on the sidelines and the FRCA competitors can lend assistance where able….
As they demonstrated across the weekend, with spare starter motors, suspension bits, tools, know-how, and magic bending skills shared freely across (cramped) garages in the interest of getting cars back on the track (where they could sustain even more damage… (sorry, that’s not the attitude!). Thanks to all who help out so regularly.
Re the reference in the above to cramped garages, it (sort of) worked out in the end, but it will be A WHOLE LOT EASIER if all drivers could put their entry in AS SOON AS ENTRIES OPEN to make sure we get the number of garages we need. The current approach to finding you all a space requires a master’s degree in logistics (or magic) and will not work if we get a proper-sized field of cars, and especially at the September SMSP round garages spaces will be at a premium.
Friday practice saw a new development in the professional side of FRCA: test drivers.
AGI Sport rested their contracted lead driver in favour of giving their designated test driver a seat (although they skimped on the actual ‘seat’, Nick having to modify his F4 seat mid-way through the day) and the boy ‘done good’ (despite occasionally buzzing the engine J). Rumour has it we’ll see Nick again in a F307 soon…..
It would be good to see other teams following the AGI example and giving some potential talent some seat time. Team Muddle is looking at options (if there’s anything left to break on the Dallara the Fabulous Baker Boy may as well break it, since the team principal has done enough damage already); Team Eagle Transportation probably needs some re-education (Testing: that’s a 2nd drivers in the car, not a 2nd car for the one driver) but it seems like Chris has been benched since he set better times than the lead driver at the Summer Shakedown; at Power Plus Fuels Team McAlpine they have the capacity to run a second car, and a lighter driver in the F398 might fix that ride-height issue they seemed to be having; and at SYDNEY PHOTO BOOTH, we know they’ve been advertising for an interstate driver (hence Rick’s relocation to Melbourne).
Next Round is at Wakefield Park in August, we promised some big news about this race meeting and hope to announce it soon. Stay Tuned.