A winning streak in Adelaide generally signals a good year ahead, the car is perfect so there’s no point changing anything now, right?
In Melbourne, Shane “SVG” van Gisbergen merely had to jump into his (already) fast car, qualify well, race better and come out the other side with a straight car, simple really.
That was until someone decided to tinker with the car and change his setup for the new race track…
That person being his race engineer Grant “Shippy” McPherson who, like all good race engineers, isn’t just tinkering with it for the sake of it but is putting together a fast car to suit SVG’s needs at a specific race track – the Adelaide setup wasn’t going to cut it on the Australian Grand Prix track.
We had two practice sessions on Thursday where SVG noted troubles with his car – problems that neither SVG nor Shippy could put a finger on.
And just 70 minutes later, they were due to line up for two 10-minute qualifying sessions, just 10 minutes apart. Drama!
“We had an issue with the suspension, which caused Shane to feel like the car was trying to buck him off the race track,” said Shippy.
“We didn’t get a handle on the suspension issues until after qualifying, which was somewhat unrelated to the racetrack.”
“Unfortunately, we made the wrong changes to fix the problem on Thursday night, which turned the car from a handful in qualifying sessions one and two, to a slow handful in sessions three and four.”
Come Saturday, the team was pretty confident they’d rectified the problems; however, in typical Melbourne style, the weather decided to be temperamental.
We hit the track for our twilight race, the clouds started coming over and boy did all hell break loose in our garage.
You see, when the rain starts to drop and the radar comes out, every man and his dog is a weather guru; one minute we thought we were in for an all-out cyclone, next it was just a light sprinkling.
Now multiply that confusion by 10, add some shouting and you have our garage mid-race. Amongst the chaos, Shippy is making a calculated decision in less than 60 seconds.
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Whilst J-Dub and his crew took a risk by staying out on the slicks, SVG took to the pits and had the wets put on – a call he said was wrong, in hindsight.
“We took the conservative approach with Car #97 in this race,” said Shippy.
“Having seen the amount of rain on the radar, and considering the likelihood of a safety car with that many cars still on slicks, we decided that being on slicks was akin to playing the percentages. But as the race panned out, slicks gave the better outcome.”
Suspension issues and rain aside, Sunday was never going to be any easier as SVG faced a start from P26 – starting in the car park was bad enough, his teammate J-Dub starting from pole just rubbed salt into the wound.
“Starting from the car park I couldn’t see the start lights, which sucked and actually made a big gap to the pack at turn one,” SVG said post-race.
So, what exactly is the plan when you’re starting dead last? Aside from trying to not finish dead last…
“We were keen to make as much progress early when the field was more compressed. Being a 50-point race, we didn’t want to take unnecessary risks, because each position was only worth one point each,” Shippy said.
Smart thinking, we say! The plan worked and SVG came out the other side with a straight car and remains atop the championship leader board.