It’s almost time to get started again, with the Clipsal 500 coming up next week. We’ve had our shakedown and then the tyre test in Sydney this week, and things didn’t go that smoothly for us at the test to be honest. But I can’t see that affecting us when we get to Adelaide next week.
We didn’t do a lot of laps in Sydney and ran into a few problems, but I think we got to the bottom of those in the end, even if it was frustrating when you only have one Supercars test day before the season to run and it doesn’t go smoothly. Losing track time is never good. That why I’ve done so much overseas racing – you have to get some laps somewhere …
I’m actually not doing as much overseas racing this year as I did last year, mostly because the calendar clashes hurt me and I couldn’t get the dates to work. It’ll be a couple of trips to America, and that’s about it. Nowhere near as much as last year. It would have been hard to top last year though, that was pretty big. In the end, I did more than 100 flights and over 450 hours on planes in 2016! Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, but I was pretty over the travel by the end of it.
You couldn’t get a more difficult first race to start the season than Clipsal, I reckon. The track’s tricky, there’s lots of walls to avoid, it’s hot – and it’ll be even tougher this time because it’s gone back to how it used to be with the two 250-kilometre races on the Saturday and Sunday, not the two short races on Saturday and the longer one on Sunday. When your first race of the season is 250km after not racing for a couple of months, it’s a long, long day – and then you have to back it up the next day. I actually prefer the two longer races – I find them more exciting, and there’s a lot more going on from a strategy and team point of view, so it’s good they’ve gone back to how it used to be. Definitely a tough start to the season for all of us though.
There’s been heaps of talk before the season like there always is, and it’s been a bit different for me this time coming into the season as the defending champion. Nobody really treats you different, but it does feel a little bit different because you can look back at what you achieved last year and have proof that it works, so it makes sense to try to do that again. But you can’t get caught up in re-living last year – in some ways no-one cares anymore, it’s all about what’s ahead. Suits me fine.
Winning the championship last year was one big box ticked, and Bathurst would be the other one, and I’ve come close quite a few times. But I won’t get caught up in looking ahead to that, it’s all about the championship first. Last year through the enduros we didn’t get lost in all the hype of the big races – every weekend to us was worth 300 points, and that’s all we thought about. If we’re comfortable and in a good place this year when we get to that part of the season, maybe we will focus more on those individual races. But I’m definitely not looking that far ahead. For me, it’s all about the consistency and hard work and results over the whole year, not just one weekend. But it would be cool to win at some tracks I haven’t won at before, and that’s one that would be awesome to get.
People wondered if I’d be swapping my number 97 for the number 1 after winning it last year, but we had that conversation pretty early on in the team and stayed with what we had. We were a bit divided in our little car crew as to what we wanted, because the mechanics work so hard and it was their first championship as well, so there was an argument to make the change to celebrate that. But we get the number one garage this year in the team and the guys all know they’re number one, so we came to a compromise. For me, 97 has a lot of significance – it was the number I started with in speedway when I raced for the first time, my dad raced sprintcars and he raced with 97, and 1997 was when I started racing. So it was kind of fitting to keep it.
I guess we should talk about Bathurst and the 12-Hour … Everyone saw what happened, what happened afterwards, who said what and all of that, so we don’t need to go over that again. What I can say a few weeks later is that it still hurts personally. As anyone in any job would know, when you’re part of a team and you let the team down with your own mistake, those are the hardest ones to accept. It was my mistake, I paid a big price for that, and now all I can do is focus on not making that mistake again and realising what I did wrong. And just be a lot better in the future. There’s not a whole lot more to say other than it’s a chance for me to learn, and I will.
What was better than Bathurst was the CAMS dinner in Melbourne a few days back, where I was awarded with the Australian Touring Car Championship Trophy. I don’t tend to keep too many of my trophies – my Dad has most of them – but that one is a special one.
It sounds strange, but the championship doesn’t really sink in when you win it – I was off to Malaysia to race the weekend after Homebush last year, so you just keep going. But being at the CAMS dinner brought back all the memories of winning it in Sydney, and you get a chance to soak it all in and maybe appreciate it more. That trophy, just reading some of the names on it … it’s awesome to think that you’re in that sort of company, and there’s names that my name now sits next to that I looked up to and wanted to be like, so that’s pretty special. Once was cool, but hopefully I’ll be able to do it again.
Catch you next time.
Shane was speaking to Red Bull Australia motorsport editor Matthew Clayton.