In his exclusive driver column, the Supercars champ reflects on a tough weekend in Darwin, and weighs in on why it’s too early to be talking championships in June.
Darwin was one of those Supercars weekends that happen from time to time when you feel like you’re chasing the car all weekend, so to come out of it with a podium on Sunday after what happened on Saturday – I’ll come back to that – was a bit of a relief in some ways.
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What happened to us up there? The short answer is that the car didn’t feel like its usual self all week, so that was a shame for sure. We weren’t slow, that wasn’t the problem at all. Even on Saturday, we should have had a good result there, but I had the tyre failure and then the crash later on when I was coming back through the field. But we had pace, even if the car didn’t feel all that good.
There were a couple of handling issues with the chassis that we were dealing with, and that’s something that’s usually a strength of ours going into the corners, but not last weekend. It was doing the complete opposite of what we wanted, so it was a real battle trying to figure that out. You change things on the car to try to fix one problem, but then you create another one, there’s a knock-on effect. Felt like we were doing that all weekend to be honest, going around in a big circle chasing things and could never get it fully fixed. The most frustrating part was that we were fast all of the time, so if we’d got those handling issues right we could have done more than we did. It wasn’t like it was an issue specific to Hidden Valley or anything, we just couldn’t get it to work.
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Back to Saturday, and that incident I had with Jason Bright and Garth Tander. It was just a racing thing, one of those things that happen when you’re in a fast car trying to recover positions. My steering broke into the corner when Garth and I had contact, and from that point on I was just trying to get around the corner, but Jason came through and took us out. Garth did nothing wrong and I was having a go, but it just didn’t work out.
It’s been a long while since I had a DNF – Tassie last year – and it was kind of a double whammy because I could have finished 13th to 15th or so, or even fifth if you go back to where I was when the tyre blew. So, Saturday was definitely a pretty average day for us. When you have a DNF in one of those shorter races and you don’t score a point, that’s pretty costly. We raced 42 laps on Saturday and 70 on Sunday, but both races were worth 150 points for the winner. So in the short races, when everyone else basically finishes and you don’t, they kill you. It’s going to take a while to come back from that, but we’ll keep pushing.
It’s pretty unusual to be in Australia in the middle of June and it’s 34 degrees and about 45 on track, so Darwin is a pretty tough one for us – especially for me this time because I’d been back home in NZ the week before when it was about 10 degrees! Clipsal and the heat there is in a category of its own, but Darwin can be a hard one. It was actually a bit better this year than previous years because the humidity wasn’t as bad as it normally is – it was still pretty hot, but the lack of humidity made it a bit more bearable. Still, it was straight in the ice bath for me afterwards – not exactly glamorous, but it does the job.
The DNF on Saturday meant I dropped a heap of points like I said, and by the end of the weekend I was still fourth in the championship, but Fabian (Coulthard) is now 178 points ahead of me, more than a race win basically. Everyone wants to talk championship now and how far behind I am, but for me it’s the same as last year when things were going better for me – there’s so long to go still, and there’s almost no point talking about it until after the enduros. There’s still three more weekends worth 300 points each before we even get to Sandown, so it’s a hard slog until then. After that? Sure, we can talk championship then and do all the sums. For now, we have to concentrate on making our cars faster, because if we don’t do that, we’re not going to be talking about championships anyway. That’s the biggest thing. Once we get out of the end of Gold Coast, we’ll see where we are and if we’re in the fight or not. Those Penske cars are pretty quick, so we have some work to do, but I feel like we’ve been getting closer the last couple of rounds. Just have to keep working.
Darwin was a pretty busy weekend, but I did follow some of the Le Mans 24 Hours, and a friend of mine, Earl Bamber, was one of the guys who won for Porsche along with another Kiwi, Brendon Hartley. We’ve had Kiwi winners in 11 of the 12 Supercars races so far this year too, so we’re having a good run. I wouldn’t mind a few more wins next to my name though …
We’ve got Townsville next, and that was a good weekend for us last year, I won one race and Jamie (Whincup) the other, so while it’s a different year and different story, we’ll be confident going up there. Before that, I head to the States next Tuesday to do a six-hour sportscar race at Watkins Glen, which should be pretty cool as I’ve never been there before, and I’ve heard good things about the track. I get back just in time for Townsville – the day of, actually, so it’ll be a bit of a sprint up there. Should be good – talk to you after that.
Shane was speaking to Red Bull Australia motorsport editor Matthew Clayton.