The race engineers, they’re a drivers’ right-hand man/woman and they’re as close as anyone would get to a driver, behind of course their life partner, but not far behind… You could say the relationship is almost synonymous to a marriage.
As the only person in the driver’s ear at the most crucial moments, they are required to be completely ice cool as they guide the driver through the craziness of our sport whilst also riding the emotional highs and lows themselves – take our Newcastle campaign, for example.
That being said, they provide a lot of insight into how the season plays out, probably more than our drivers actually do (we’ll say no quite though, for the driver’s sake).
In between numbers, drawings and more numbers (the boring stuff), we pulled our two race engineers David Cauchi and Grant “Shippy” McPherson aside to have a quick chinwag about the year that was. Here’s what they said…
Red Bull Holden Racing Team: So, I guess you know what we’re going to ask so we won’t beat around the bush, how did the year play compared to what you expected?
David Cauchi (Car #88): Yeah, looking back I always knew it was going to be a tough year with everything we had set out to achieve from the beginning. It certainly lived up to those expectations and more, and it’s why it feels very rewarding when I sit here now and look back.
Grant McPherson (Car #97): Our year featured quite a few highs, but also quite a few low points. Ultimately, we underperformed relative to our potential which was disappointing but all in all, it was an enjoyable year and we had fun doing it.
We’ve heard a bit of that, the year was tough but fun. We guess the tough aspect came from the competition taking a huge step up this year, particularly DJR Team Penske – did you enjoy that rivalry and challenge this year?
DC: They sure did – their qualifying speed particularly was exceptional and we had to work hard in all of our races to fight with them. It was probably one of the biggest rivalries we have seen for a few years so hopefully everyone enjoyed watching it all play out. I feel we have only scratched the surface of this battle so stay tuned…
GM: Definitely, every part of it. We work in this sport because we love to compete and to be tested on a regular basis. The efforts of DJRTP really pushed us, and made us perform at a higher level than before.
It sure is the thrill of it that keeps us going. A tough year saw a fair few mistakes, were there any big lessons learnt this season?
DC: Yep, it is to never give up – even when you are down, pick yourself up and give it everything you’ve got.
GM: That’s exactly it, this year really showed what we already know, that you can never give up. This year it was either fighting back from a lap down at Bathurst to take the race lead, or Jamie’s fight back at Newcastle. It’s true what they say; it ain’t over until it’s over.
Another key theme coming out of the season from the team… Consider the lesson learnt then! Mistakes aside, who would you say impressed you as a driver throughout this season alone?
DC: It’s hard to go past Jamie; he is just a true champion driver. And it’d be rude not to mention Shane and Scott; they are all fast drivers who really stepped it up this year.
GM: For me, I would say Scotty – his qualifying speed was pretty impressive. For someone to reset the record for the most poles is a massive achievement.
Looking at the year, it looks like the endurance season was one of our toughest battles, how would you rate your endurance season?
DC: Terrible. A blown tyre at Sandown, a blown engine at Bathurst and poor strategy at the Gold Coast… I’d rather not speak about it really :)
GM: Same… Our endurance season was a real case of what might have been. After starting the Sandown 500 from P21 we were running third when a tyre failure occurred late in the race. Then we were leading Bathurst late, after being a lap down. The Gold Coast event was reasonable as we were the highest points scoring car for the weekend. So overall, it was not ideal.
Don’t worry, that’s the last time we’ll bring that one up again… Although, we do want to talk about the super soft compound tyres that were introduced earlier this year, were there a few challenges faced there?
DC: Basically, the 2017 tyre required a different setup window to operate safely compared to the 2016 tyre and it caught us out a few times, even when we thought we had done our homework. Ultimately keeping air in the tyres is part of the challenge of setting up a car and going racing so no one to blame but ourselves when we got it wrong.
GM: These tyres provided a difficult balance of performance and reliability concerns but in addition to this, the reliability was inconsistent. At Sandown, the only failure that occurred on car #97 was when we were cruising and saving the tyre in the final stint.
Let’s look to the positives now, is there a moment that you’re most proud about?
DC: Thank you! Yep, Sunday at Newcastle – even if we didn’t win the Championship I would still be very proud of the entire team’s performance on that day. After a poor performance on Saturday and having to fix two damaged cars overnight (that’s car #88 and car #888), it would have been easy to roll into the last race of the year with the wrong attitude. However, every single person dug deep and showed what we are all about and raced hard till the end. It was very rewarding.
GM: Yep, you can’t go past our double pole and double win at Adelaide. To come out of the blocks at the start of the year like that was incredible to be a part of.
Perfect, that’s one car happy at the beginning of the year and one happy at the end; let’s forget about all of that stuff in the middle shall we… Looking at all of the events though, what was your favourite circuit to race?
DC: Townsville – it always has a great atmosphere and the circuit is challenging from a setup and race strategy perspective so you have to bring your A-game.
GM: For me, it’s pretty hard to go past Bathurst. The circuit has the largest mix of corner styles which increases the setup challenge, and the nature of the race itself gives the largest strategic challenge for us.
Great, so now that it’s all over, have you thought about next year?
DC: Barely… Although what we know is that next year will see us retire the VF2 Holden, which we have raced with since 2015, and roll out the new ZB. We have all worked really hard to develop the aerodynamic package throughout the year so I’m excited to finally go racing with it and see how it performs. As well as this, Bathurst is definitely high on my priority list; I really want to have a fast car there and come out with a good race. And then of course championship number eight for J-Dub sounds very appealing ;)
GM: Every year we start with the desired outcome of winning the championship, and that will be no different in 2018. Although next year, with the new ZB model, we’ll need to learn the characteristics of our new aerodynamic package and keep working hard to develop our car. As well as this, reducing our mistakes across the board will be a large focus.
Alright, time to switch off and take a well deserved break. Do you guys have any epic plans for the festive season?
DC: I am off to the UK and Malta for some relaxation and to see family then I’m back to Brisbane to get some sun and defrost before we do it all again. I have been a good boy this year so Santa should be nice… :) :) :) :)
GM: I’m looking forward to some downtime to recover ahead of another massive year.
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