Returning to New Zealand was a bit of a yoyo for car 888- there were some strong points, but at the same time there are some things that we still have to work on!
First of all, it was great to be back at Pukekohe. The improvements to the facilities mean that it is now an absolutely first class venue… it was really pleasing to see so many people trackside over the weekend enjoying the renovations. New Zealand has a big V8 Supercar fan base, and unfortunately for us at Red Bull Racing Australia they’ve had a bit to cheer about lately with the success of the local drivers!
The track itself is now a lot safer, and the new chicane on the back straight hasn’t really changed the overall character of the layout. It has opened up a new overtaking spot and is an additional challenge for us drivers… one that unfortunately caught me out a couple of times over the weekend.
Around the rest of the track, it’s still flat out and very bumpy, which was hopefully conveyed on the TV coverage over the weekend. It’s a lot of fun, and very rewarding from the driver’s seat when you piece together a quick lap.
The opening practice sessions on Friday went pretty well- my Holden had a good balance, it flowed nicely, and we made some progress.
The biggest drama with practice is trying to manage the tyre bank- you don’t want to burn through too many sets of new tyres early on in the weekend.
The two Saturday qualifying sessions went well, I was second and sixth, but I locked a brake in the top-ten shootout, which set us back a bit.
For the first race, the car felt really strong on the hard tyres, and I managed to go from eighth up to third. I climbed up into second in race two before out braking myself on a restart. The car lacked a bit of rear end grip, which we focussed on fixing overnight.
Come Sunday there was some definite improvement in the car, but unfortunately my qualifying times didn’t show it. Still, the races were pretty wild, and I steered clear of the drama to finish in fourth and ninth positions.
It was a solid haul of points for the weekend, and it’s pleasing to be back up into third in the Championship after a tough outing in Tasmania.
There’s no real rest for the Red Bull Racing Australia team, with three weeks between NZ and Western Australia. The logistics at this time of the year are incredibly hectic, with the next event after Barbagallo being in the USA.
Yesterday we had a full day debrief covering the past two race weekends, and I think from that we will have an improved package moving forward.
Barbagllo is a tough track to set up for; it’s an abrasive surface that is unlike anything else we race on. We’ll be back to the super sprint format with a 60/60 race on Saturday- hopefully the rolling start works as well as it did at Symmons Plains!
Everyone will be back onto the soft tyre exclusively for the whole weekend, so the challenge is going to be to get them to live over an entire race distance.
We’ve had success at Barbagallo in the past, so hopefully we can get back up onto the top step of the podium again!