2016: Round 1 Report – Wakefield Park
2016 NSW Motor Race Championship Round 1
5 & 6 March 2016
AGI Sport driver Nathan Gotch in his Dallara F307 Renault has won our opening round in hot conditions at Wakefield Park. It was a dominant display: taking pole, all three race wins and setting a new championship lap record along the way with a hot lap of 56.33 seconds around the Goulburn circuit. Whilst none of the other drivers could match his pace, there was certainly plenty of hard racing behind him, with second place decided by less than half a second in all three races and plenty of action throughout the field.
A field of 15 was boosted on Friday afternoon with news that reigning champion Nick Filipetto was making a late entry. Unfortunately by the time cars rolled out for qualifying on Saturday morning we were down to 14 cars: Nick’s effort being stymied by gearbox issues; and the eagerly awaited debut of Andrew Tendli in the ex- Andrew Wlodek Dallara F304 delayed due to other commitments.
Nevertheless there was plenty of interest in other ‘new’ entries – Ron Coath and Richie Scarcella both debuting F307 Dallaras, Rob Sviderskas having his first outing in the ex- Dennie Rumble F304, and Ron Bennet having his first drive in the ex- Garnet Patterson F301. Add in Lawrence Katsidis, having his first championship race in his new F304 Dallara, after a successful debut at the Summer Shakedown a fortnight earlier, and you felt a little bit left out if you didn’t have a new car.
Even something old was something new – Peter Warren’s March was the oldest car in the field, and he’s owned it for 35 years, but it was a welcome ‘new’ addition to the FRCA ranks.
Once things were under way a sense of familiar replaced the new: certainly there’s nothing new about AGI Sport heading the time sheet, and Nathan Gotch added to his long list of pole positions with a 57.19 second lap, almost as scorching as the track conditions. Aaron McClintock, back in the Dallara F301 for the first time in nearly a year, had the front row wrapped up with an impressive 58.16 lap, until Greg Muddle bettered that with a 57.99 – in the 57’s by the barest of margins but a ‘57’ non the less – placing F301 Dallaras in 2nd and 3rd. Lawrence Katsidis impressed by taking 4th position with a 59.05, ahead of Andrew Wlodek in the F307 Dallara also in the 59’s.
Ron Bennet qualified 6th with a 60.79 second lap, loving the new car and being the most impressive of the debutantes. Ron edged out Glenn Lynch and Peter Warren, the later having a difficult session with a spin that briefly brought out the red flags and later some contact damage. Still, the car looked and sounded great, and was quick enough to edge out Al Palmer in the TOMS Toyota and Ross McAlpine in his ‘spare car’, the F397, who completed the top 10. Outside the top 10 Phil Morrow struggled with timing issues and was off his expected pace, while Ron Coath and Rob Sviderskas were both working times down consistently in their new cars. Richie Scarcella failed to completed practice, the car coming to a halt with engine issues, which on closer inspection turned out to be a sheared flywheel bolt, which finished his weekend.
Peter Warren withdrew when a cracked oil cooler was discovered in the dummy grid, and that left 13 cars to roll out for the 14-lap first race in 30+ temperatures on Saturday afternoon.
When the lights went out Gotch led the field away, but on the other side of the grid Muddle stalled, causing some disruption to the cars behind. Wlodek made the most of this and was able to jump into second, with McClintock, Katsidis, Bennet, Palmer and Lynch following in the race to the first corner.
Gotch quickly got down to 58 second laps and then into the 57’s, opening a gap on Wlodek and McClintock, who stayed engaged a close encounter for 8 laps, the two cars never more than a second apart until McClintock found a way through at Turn 10.
Katsidis was desperately trying to hold onto this tussle, but by lap 5 had his mirrors full of Muddle, who had worked back through the field from 8th at the end of lap 1 to 5th on lap 3. Katsidis defended his position successfully, although Muddle was briefly through under brakes at the ‘Fish-hook’ on lap 7, but ran wide on the exit, returning the place.
A great dice was going on behind these cars with Bennet Palmer and Lynch separated by less than 2 seconds through to the 6th lap. Lynch however was starting to experience brake issues, and on lap 7 he speared straight off at the end of the main straight, rears locked and fronts doing nothing, heading off towards the tyre barrier. Fortunately the gravel trap pulled him up a metre or so short.
Eventually this brought out the safety car and, not for the last time on the weekend, mayhem ensued. There are three fundamental problems with safety cars: deployment, restarts, and everything that happens in between. Other than that they might work well, but not this weekend.
Getting it out involves signalling to drivers that a safety car has been deployed, but unfortunately not all drivers saw the signal, Ron Bennet dropping from 6th to 8th on the road as a result. Laps 9 to 12 were conducted under ‘safety car conditions’ which involved toddling around at what’s supposed to be 80 kmh but resembled Driving Miss Daisy through a School Zone.
Then when racing was re-started on lap 13 there was the problem of 4 cars all eager to contest 2nd place but stuck behind lapped traffic, and that lapped traffic. The lapped cars were quite quick in a straight line and involved in their own argument for place, which made for an interesting time: McClintock struggled to find a way through to no avail; Katsidis lost a front wing plate in contact at Turn 1; at both Turn 2 and the ‘Fish-hook’ there were cars all over the place; and when an opportunity arose at Turn 10 McClintock got boxed out on the left and Wlodek, Katsidis and Muddle all made their way through.
In the battle behind, Morrow relinquished his place (to no avail, there is no recognition of ‘redressing’ and he still copped a 30 second penalty), while both Bennet and McAlpine bot managed to pass Palmer on the final lap.
Gotch was able to open a sizeable lead with the free-for-all going on behind, and he managed to win comfortably by 16 seconds from Wlodek. Muddle made a deep dive in the Turn 10 braking area to steal 3rd from Katsidis, with McClintock, Bennet, McAlpine, close behind and Palmer and Morrow trailing. Coath had been slow away from the line but had caught Sviderskas by mid-race, only to lose 10th spot to him on the final lap.
When the cars rolled out on Sunday morning it was “déjà vu all over again” – sunny and clear, hot track, Gotch eager to clear off and leave everyone else fighting over the minor placed. 12 cars rolled out for the 12 lap race, Peter Warren’s March unable to be repaired and Glenn Lynch running his ‘back-up car’ the newly painted gold Dallara F398. McAlpine was a late arrival as he had to be tow-started due to a starter motor failure.
This time the front row got away cleanly, Gotch leading Wlodek into the first turn. Muddle made much better start from third, followed by Bennet, who was the big mover jumping into 4th ahead of both McClintock and Katsidis who got a poor start. Morrow also made a cracking start, but undid the good work with a spin at the end of the lap. Behind Katsidis at the end of lap 1 there was a gap opening up to Palmer, Sviderskas, McAlpine, Lynch and Coath, who again had difficulty getting away.
The race settled into a familiar pattern, with Gotch skipping away pumping out ever faster times, getting down to a new Formula Cars state record of 56.33 second by mid-race, before winding back in the final stages.
Behind him there was an huge struggle developing between Wlodek and Muddle, and they maintained a gap of less than half a second for the majority of the race – Wlodek opening a small gap on the uphill straight, Muddle closing it on the chase down, and all passing spots resolutely shut at Turn’s 2, 8 and 10 and the drag down the straight. Wlodek’s efforts were nearly rewarded, but on the final lap his car was baulked by a back-marker and got loose on the exit which allowed Muddle to get through on the last turn and claim second.
McClintock had lost ground and position early in the race, and although in the closing stages he was dragging in Muddle and Wlodek at a rapid rate he ran out of laps and had to settle for 4th.
Katsidis, Bennet and Palmer had fairly lonely races in 5th to 7th respectively. Behind them, McAlpine and Lynch had capitalised on a Sviderskas error on lap 4. McAlpine held 8th place, but Lynch again suffered brake issues (despite the change of car) and trailed away in the later stages of the race. Sviderskas was able to recover 9th, ahead of Morrow, who recovered from his earlier excursion to post some good lap times and finish 10th, ahead of Coath and Lynch.
The same 12 cars lined up for the 16 lap Trophy Race (Lynchy not having a 3rd car to change into!) and once again the race was conducted in sunny conditions on a hot but clean track.
Gotch again got the start, but it was closely held lead from Muddle, with Wlodek thinking about an inside move for second on the run into Turn 2 but not being able to make it stick. Bennet again made the most of the start jumping from 6th to 5th. Behind him on the grid, Palmer dropped 4 places to 11th, but aside from that everyone held station on the first lap.
With Gotch setting the pace Muddle was able to open a bit of a gap on Wlodek and McClintock in the first couple of laps, but once the pattern of the race settled they slowly started to reel him in. Behind the lead cars, Bennet undid his good work with an ‘off’ at the top of the circuit on lap 2 that dropped him from 5th to 10th, before having a further moment a couple of laps later that put him to the rear of the field. This lifted Katsidis to 5th followed by McAlpine, Sviderskas and Morrow, with Morrow making up a further place on lap 6. Lynch followed, being slowly reeled in by Palmer, who was up to 9th by lap 7, and gained a further place by passing Sviderskas on lap 8.
Further up the road, Wlodek and McClintock had caught on Muddle; the gap was never much more than a second and a half but had closed to nothing by lap 5, Wlodek doing a good job of chasing considering he was busy defending McClintock off at the same time. Wlodek’s best opportunity was a good run through Turn 2 to use his advantage up the hill, but in the effort to achieve this he locked a brake and spun the car on the way into that corner on lap 9. He resumed racing, but must have broken something in the process because the car subsequently spun at turn 5, beaching itself on the inside ripple strip and giving us another opportunity to get the safety car right.
Unfortunately nobody made the most of the opportunity: McClintock missed the signal and took the opportunity to pass Muddle for 2nd, which would subsequently cost him a 30 second penalty; and the safety car initially deployed behind our race leader Gotch, necessitating some hasty re-organisation before the restart. To this, we had the added benefit of an intense struggle for 5th to 9th queued up in front the battle for 2nd and 3rd, so when the lights went out and the safety car went off it was action stations for the following two laps.
With Gotch again cruising to victory, Muddle passed McClintock in traffic at Turn 10 on the penultimate lap, but both drivers were still left with the McAlpine-Bennet-Palmer battle for 5th to negotiate on the last lap. This afforded an opportunity to watch Bennet attempt to undercut Palmer at Turn 9 (the right-hander onto the back straight), where unfortunately the ripple-strip is not very forgiving and launched Bennet sideways (with goo hang-time). Ron managed to regain control, of sorts, but not before Palmer had taken cross-country avoiding action. Muddle was defensive into Turn 10, allowing McClintock a traditional line to cut-back for a drag to the line, and there wasn’t a bee’s appendage in it, although it was rather academic once the officials added 30 seconds to McClintock’s time.
Katsidis followed in to claim 3rd, any chance of challenging Muddle and McClintock in the closing stages lost to a gearbox that was stuck in the one gear. A lap down McAlpine finished 5th and the leading ‘Cup Class’ car, ahead of Sviderskas and Coath who were beneficiaries of the Bennet-Palmer fracas. Lynch trailed in 10th, and Phil Morrow retired with not healthy noises coming from the engine after challenging McAlpine strongly for position in the middle of the race.
Nathan Gotch 60, Greg Muddle 46, Lawrence Katsidis 36, Aaron McClintock 34,
Andrew Wlodek 30, Ross McAlpine 23, Ron Bennet 22, Al Palmer 18, Rob Sviderskas 17,
Ron Coath 11, Phil Morrow 9, Glenn Lynch 6
Class Based points:
Greg Muddle 60, Nathan Gotch 51, Ross McAlpine 47, Lawrence Katsidis 46, Al Palmer 43, Aaron McClintock 44, Ron Coath 35, Ron Bennet 34, Rob Sviderskas 32, Glenn Lynch 30, Andrew Wlodek 26, Phil Morrow 22
- Is there any truth in the rumour that Lynchy only retired his yellow car to have a better shot at winning the ‘Best Presented’ award in his newly painted gold F398? Expect to see more interesting tactics appear as the battle for this prestigious award heats up.
- Seems that the thing to acquire in the off-season was a guru. While the Team Coath has set a consistently high benchmark by employing the invaluable services of Gringo, and both AGI and Team McAlpine have very professional looking team mangers to keep their drivers in check, for this round no fewer than three other competitors turned up with their ‘National Series’ mentors in tow.: Rob Sviderskas was sporting assistance from Alpine Motor Sports, in anything but alpine conditions; Ron Bennet had the Garnet Pattersons (Snr & Jnr) on hand; and Lawrence had Paul Scott in his corner.
- With all the data analysis going on – guru’s deep in though and more computers than you could poke a stick at – it was good to see that some old fashioned calculus, on the back of an envelope, with the assistance of beer, can still solve how the question of how many degrees advance is represented by one tooth on a flywheel. Too easy! Knowing which way is forward and which is back however….
- 0467 seconds – usually not a critical amount of time over 16 laps, but if you have a Dallara F301 you can make that up simply by moving your Dorian from the back of the sidepod to the front, as Greg and Aaron found when they crossed the line together. You never know when that might come in handy.