JMRGilbertson - Timaru

GilbertsonJMR Round 3 Timaru Podium!

We had a tight turn-around between Ruapuna and Timaru. The car was serviced at a Porsche specialist in Christchurch and our list of jobs just kept growing... We spoke to Germany a few times to discuss our issues with the fuel system. Also talking to Kiwis and Aussies who have raced the 991 Porsche we found out that the Main Fuel pump is a weakness and proved to failure if it runs low on fuel. Our engineer also revised our suspension set-up as the Michelin tyres seems to last well with an increasingly aggressive set-up.

On arrival in Timaru we stopped in at round sponsor The Front Store. Little did we know they would become a major contributor to us making the race on Saturday...twice!

Friday...the 13th

Friday at the track is always an early start for the team and we arrived at the track at 7.30AM to prepare for a 9.00AM practice session. Our plan was to run on old tyres and set a benchmark lap time and then start working on our brakes and fuel consumption. The first run went well and on old tyre’s we turned a 1.01.7 sec lap. That was exactly 1 second slower than the Camaro from last years practice, but importantly the Porsche could keep doing that lap time for more than 5-10 laps, the Camaro lap times would start to increase as the tyres wore.

So just as we were thinking this weekend would run smoothly and we would get through a full Friday practice, we had a major incident to overcome. The team had just changed our rear brake components and Simon was sent out to check them. He went out and came in for a precautionary check. All was good. On the next full lap under full braking at 240km/h the car’s rear brakes locked and sent Simon into a wild spin, through the inside of the circuit on the grass, backwards across the track, through the gravel trap and into the barriers. The circuit has added foam filled “cushion” barriers that sit infront of the tyre wall. They were primarily there for Motor Bike competitors. Luckily for us the circuit decided to leave them there for the cars.

The above image is taken from our team video. It shows the ensuing fire that started when the car rode up onto the cushion barrier and the barrier caught fire from the exhaust. Thankfully Simon was uninjured from the accident and was out of the car quickly. He immediately went to the back of the car and started to fight the fire with our handheld extinguisher. Three of our team members grabbed a ride in the Ambulance and took with them 2 extra fire extinguishers. When they arrived the circuit Fire Crew were busy trying to put out the cushion and tyre wall, while the car was starting to catch fire!!! The team did an amazing job to get the car fire extinguished and the car towed away from the fire. I was in the Pit Lane watching this all unfold and all you could see was a massive ball of flames near the car, we thought the worst that the car was in the fire!

All of this action and it was only 10.30AM on Friday. The car was towed back to the pits and the team took it straight to the scrutineering shed to assess the damage. It didn’t look too bad from first glance but in any high speed accident there is always more hidden damage. If the car was in the fire for another 10-15 seconds we could not have repaired it, that's how lucky we were. Several parts were taken to Timaru to be repaired and the team just didn’t stop working until we were ready to run the car at 4.30PM. It didn’t have a wing on it and it wasn’t perfect but we wanted to make sure all the running gear worked well and the brakes were safe. I had the honor of taking it around for approx 10 laps, the car felt very strange without the rear wing but it seemed to be working well, the brake issue had been fixed.

The team now turned their attention to getting all of the parts back on the car, rear bumper, rear wing and doing a full suspension alignment. They even had time to start making the car look a bit “pretty”. We slept well that night knowing that it so easily could have been the end of the season and potentially worse.

Saturday

Our plan for qualifying in the first session was to put old tyres on and assess the car again at higher speed. I managed one clean lap that was good enough for pole in that session. On my way into the pits some of the team we clapping for the effort our team had made. The front of the car felt strange though and after Simon confirmed the same feeling we bought the car in to look for a potential front suspension issue. The team quickly assessed that our left front wheel bearing had play, and that it would get worse if we left it. Without a spare it was possible that after all of that drama, car on fire, rebuilt, on pole position, that we would not start the race. But not this TEAM!!! No, three of our guys pulled out the left front suspension and jumped in the van heading to The Front Store Washdyke. They had 2.5 hours to try and machine the wheel bearing so they could tighten it up more than the factory setting. They did it, we even had time to go into the scrub session, a 10 minute session prior to the trace. The car wasn’t perfect but the wheel bearing was fine.

In qualifying two we had slipped to 3rd place but we knew we had the pace for pole on new tyres. The team had no chance for practice pit-stops and so we decided on a 2-stop strategy to play it safe, just in case the fuel issue came back during the stint.

I started and the car was just mega, getting the lead on the second lap and pulling away. I set the fastest lap of the race 1.01.1 sec that would have put us on pole! The best part was knowing the car would keep its pace on the same set of tyres. After 30 minutes we had lapped the field including the 2nd placed Mercedes GT3 FIA.

Just at the hour mark there was a safety car, perfect for us. We pitted, Simon got into the car but our cool suit would not work. If we left Simon in the car with this we might “cook” him. So we decided to make a stop straight away to sort the issue. We rejoined in 3rd place and just off the lead lap. Simon had a strong stint and the car was handling well. We decided to do a second Pit-stop at about the 2 hour mark and I would take the car to the finish. By stopping a 2nd time we lost a lap to the Mercedes and the two other Porsche's who were stopping once. We were 4th at this point and so I was on a charge.

On the same set of tyres that Simon had done an hour on I charged through the field unlapping myself several times. In the end we crossed the line in 2nd place just 36 seconds behind the Winning Mercedes. The TEAM were ecstatic! I was ecstatic! From nearly loosing the car, nearly not starting the race and every other drama we have had in our first two race meetings this was like a victory. It also proved to all of us that we have the potential to challenge for Wins, and that is what we go racing to try and achieve.

Our result also put us into the top-20 in the South Island Endurance Series. This means we have qualified for the National Championship Final in March. The location for the final has been confirmed as the Hampton Downs International Circuit. Very exciting.

If ever there was an example of how Motor Racing is a team sport then these three races and in particular this weekend have proven that. I know of plenty of teams that would not have repaired the car for Friday practice and others that would not have re-machined a factory part to make the start line.

We have the car, the team and thankfully to you the support to take this team to the next step, the top step!!!

The car is now being completely stripped and we will be aiming to test the car in December and then in the new year as we gear up for the Nationals.

Thanks for being part of our first South Island Endurance Series campaign. We look forward to updating you with our testing progress and announcing the date for the National final in March.

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