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Phillip Island Countdown: The engineering rivalry

At this time of the year it’s easy to get caught up in driver rivalries and the dramas that come with the penultimate V8 Supercars round. But what about the preparation that goes into the cars?

Take into consideration the chaotic weekend on the Gold Coast and that it came directly off the back of a gruelling Bathurst 1000, and the fact the Red Bull Racing Australia crew have any energy left at all is a miracle. Well, not entirely, given the amount of product in the workshop…

Anywho, it’s been a hectic fortnight at Red Bull HQ and we caught up with engineers Dutto and JJ to get their final word on what is shaping up to be an unforgettable weekend at Phillip Island.

 

RB: Boys, it’s been a big month. How are the pit crew and wider staff feeling?

Dutto: I’ve got this one, mate. To be honest, it’s nice to have a few weeks’ break after Bathurst and Gold Coast and catch up on all those little things we haven’t had time to do. There are a few little things we’ve been working on that we’ll try at Philip Island.

JJ: Up until this week our car was in a pretty raw state. Huge curb hits on the Gold Coast moved the chassis a little bit and it’s taken a few shunts here and there before that. So we wanted to make sure it was all right for Phillip Island and have taken a bit more time than normal to fix up everything.

RB: Dutto, we’re guessing your side of the garage in particular can’t forget the Gold Coast quickly enough…

Dutto: We’d had a good run the past few years on the Gold Coast and I guess it was just our turn to not get a clean run, unfortunately. It really hurts this time of the year. We worked all year for those points with new cars and mixed results as it was, but to come away with almost nothing so close to the championship being decided, it’s tough.
RB: As much fun as the enduro season is, you must be relieved to be back into “normal” mode…

Dutto: PD’s a great bloke to have around the garage – he makes having two drivers as easy as possible. But it’s good to have the enduros out of the way and be down to the business end of the season.

JJ:  And we’re leading – just, which is a nice change. Going into the Gold Coast, we have quite often come out of it a lot worse than we went in. This time, we’ve had a bit of luck. So with only five races to go, and knowing Craig is historically strong at those circuits, I think we’re in with a good chance at Phillip Island and the championship.

RB: JJ, not since 2006 has the No.888 car been in this position. Does it change your approach?

JJ: Yeah, it’s a bit different to be defending the lead this time of the year than chasing it. There won’t be any change in mentality – it’s all about finishing as high as we can because six points is nothing really. But it’s definitely better being in front than behind.

RB: What do you remember about 2006 exactly?

JJ: I was a data engineer in 2006 when we had the Rick Kelly incident at Phillip Island. Hopefully none of those shenanigans go on there this year.

I just remember bitter disappointment and anger at getting taken out. It felt like we were robbed of the championship and that the guy who won it didn’t actually deserve it. It was a bitter pill to swallow but you can’t do much about it. They’re not the fondest memories but we’ve got another chance now and hopefully we have clean races. It’s taken us six years to be back in the same position.

RB: There’s been a lot of chat about the resurfacing. Some say the lap record could be smashed by as much as two seconds, while others are raising concerns over tyre wear…

Dutto: Phillip Island is notorious for being hard on tyres. It’s been resurfaced and the MotoGP just had massive tyre issues there so all teams are being thrown a bit of a curve ball.  But it should be exciting to watch. And at the end of the day, that’s what we’re here for, regardless of whether it’s good for us.

RB: Given the tightness of the points, all four championship contenders have declared they’ll be going for race wins and not merely collecting points. How much importance will mathematics play in race tactics?

JJ:  In years past the points structure allowed you to hold a reasonable position and not risk too much. But with the points difference so close, almost whoever finishes closest to the front in Phillip Island will literally take the championship lead. But there’s going to be a lot of “what-if?” scenarios. We’ll have spread sheets showing where we need to finish if another guy is in a certain position. We’ll be looking at all the positions and what points they provide – well, certainly at Home Bush at least. At Phillip Island, it’s all about winning.

RB: The last word? Anyone?

Dutto: The championship points are mega tight and barring any catastrophes at Phillip Island, this thing is going down to the wire.

JJ: Anything can happen at Homebush with the concrete walls and weather – we all know that. Just one little moment can end your weekend and your championship so that makes a good result at Phillip Island even more crucial.

Ideally, you want to build as much of a lead as you can at Phillip Island to make sure if you have a moment in Sydney, which is likely, that it’s not going to cost you.  There are four guys fighting for the championship and it’s just a matter of what order they finish now. We can only do our best.