Round 4 - the first endurance race in Season 7 of the World GT Championship - was always going to be a difficult one, taking place at the legendary and infamous Mount Panorama, Bathurst. Adding to this challenge was the prospect of a 1 hour 45 minute race - an unorthodox race length that would throw strategies in the air.
After doing almost 125 Laps around there in the Bathurst 12 Hours just two weeks ago, you'd expect everyone - including myself - to be on top form going into this one, but while most were driving the same car they completed the special event in, I was in the Audi R8 LMS GT3 - not the BMW Z4 GT3 I'd become so comfortable in two weeks prior. In practice I'd felt safe in the car - able to push it to the edge and not completely lose control, but wasn't sure how that would do me in the race.
Qualifying came around and after finishing Practice just outside the Top 30, I fabricated the goal of finishing the Race inside said Top 30. My first two Qualifying laps put me 29th and 25th provisionally, going 0.1 seconds faster than my Practice time with a 2:01.6, but I knew that there needed to be more - I'd have to just go balls-to-the-wall on the last attempt with barely a lap of fuel left in the car. I managed to really squeeze every tenth over the top of the mountain and get a 2:00.916, putting me temporarily 17th on the grid. By the time the session had finished I was 21st.
As hoped for, it was a very clean start from the whole field, with little-to-no incidents, and I ended Lap 1 in 23rd. After an off for one of the leaders, I got up to 22nd and despite some contact at the front and rear of the car due to a traffic jam at the top of the mountain, I maintained my position for the next 9 laps, until Ashley Beard made it by - I was really struggling in a straight line with some slightly bent steering.
Michael Blake came past a few laps later with a beautiful move at The Chase, holding it around the outside, as I tried to leave him the room he needed - it seemed like he was really on a charge, and he set his fastest lap of the race just a couple after getting past.
By Lap 21, and my first pit stop, I'd made it up to 18th place as a couple of drivers pitted early. I decided to take tyres in my first stop, which in hindsight was a bad idea - the tyres were fine and it cost me a lot of time in the pits. I came back out in 35th, with a couple of drivers ahead still not pitting, but a lot of the guys I was around previously, had gone past.
I did another 21 Laps in my second stint, gradually making my way past a couple of cars on track with simple and safe moves - nothing too risky in a long race like this. I set my fastest lap of the race on Lap 35, and came back into the pits on Lap 42 - it was a very clean run - no contact with any walls or other cars. I was going to just take half a tank of fuel and sprint to the end from here, hoping to save time by not changing tyres.
After my stop, I emerged in 23rd place, and had jumped some of the guys that had previously done the same to me - I was aiming for a Top 30 and that seemed pretty safe now. Lars Jepperson had come up behind me as we got to some lapped traffic, chasing my teammate Matt Bunn in his BMW Z4 GT3. It was at this point I made the mistake that would cost me a good result and some strong championship points.
Coming down the mountain, I'd closed on my CQR teammate Chris Coghlan, who was a lap down. Chris held his line and did everything he needed to do, and was going to wait until the straight to let me past, to make life easier. In my haste to get a good run out of the corner, on to the straight - as I had been doing all night - I clipped the inside wall at Forest Elbow, which bent the steering on the front left, and damaged the rear quarter and wing.
I thought I'd gotten away with it, until halfway down the Conrod straight I got a meatball flag, meaning I had to pit for repairs. With 15 minutes of the race to go, I was hoping to see just a couple of minutes (maybe 5 or 6) so I could be on my way and not lose too much. That wasn't the case. 11 minutes of repairs due to the steering, and I was devastated. I came back out on track in 40th, and would stay there until the end.
I find myself 8th in the ProAm Championship after some of the top guys had a bad time (fortunately for me!), 64 points off the leader. Still, we're only two meetings into the Season, so there's plenty of time to claw them back - we're at Montreal next week, where I was quick in pre-season testing, so I hope I can maintain that and bounce back!
Thanks as always to the guys at CQR Club for giving me such a strong car - I'm just sorry that I couldn't convert it this time round, but we'll get a class win or two this season!