The Festival and the Races: Clipsal 500 Part 2

01_15_AGR_Clipsal_Friday (40)We return to Adelaide’s Clipsal 500, where Any Given Reason is attempting to bridge the motorsport/arts divide in the East End by joining the Koala Motorsport team to help run their F430 GT3 Kessel in the Australian GT category. With a spare eight hours until the next race, AGR is exploring the event. Catch up on Part 1 here.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (47)One of the best parts of attending big races are the numerous and unexpected automotive discoveries you find dotted around the place.

02_15_AGR_Clipsal_Friday (6)I’ve already reported in AGR’s practice/qualifying post on the new one-make Toyota 86 Pro-Am championship that was launched at the Clipsal and is set to hit the track at this event next year. The full field of identical, slowish and well handling cars should produce some good racing.

02_15_AGR_Clipsal_FridayAGR isn’t the biggest fan of drag racing, but how can you say no to 1,005 cubic inches? That’s a 16.49 liter V8 sitting there – just look at the size of that bad boy!

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (45)This may look like just another 911 competing in the Touring Car Masers Category, but along with the other whale-tail variants they are actually the first cars built for a new category coming soon – the IROC Challenge. Designed as a tribute to the 1974 International Race Of Champions series in America where world famous drivers competed in identical Porsche 911 3.0 RS IROC, the series will see 34 identical 911’s compete in a six round national championship in 2016.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (46)The cool thing is that each competitor must paint their car in one of the 15 original IROC colors, to a maximum of 3 cars per color. Engine components, gear ratios, suspension and brakes are all control items to ensure parity, and with some big names jumping aboard I think the competition will be fierce. Read more about it at irocseries.com.au

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (9)It would be impossible to write about the Clipsal 500 in 2015 and not mention Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Truck series, shipped direct from the USA for the entertainment of seemingly the whole of Adelaide.

The concept itself is devilishly simple. Take off-road race trucks with their wallowy soft suspension, big power and ability to do huge jumps, and transplant them as a crowd-pulling attraction at street circuits around the world.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (7)I’m still not sure what to make of them. I can’t bring myself to like them, but I can’t deny that they were most certainly a spectacle and I’ve never been more thrilled/shocked/stunned/amazed as I was the first time I saw one of the trucks come around a 4th gear corner with the inside front wheel a foot in the air.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (6)As a serious racing series I think they miss the mark – I don’t deny there’s some damn impressive skill to drive these things but it’s all a little too comical and exaggerated.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (8)But for entertainment value and pure showmanship – absolutely. They were by far the most wildly popular category that has ever been on the bill at Clipsal. I’d really love to be able to say that the Ferrari Formula 1 demo had the crowds seven deep and fist pumping the air, but they just didn’t.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (22)04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (21)For better or worse Clipsal has always been about entertainment value, so in this context they fit in perfectly.

And if this isn’t entertainment, then what is? The responsible part of me wonders what would have happened if he bounced and sprung into pit lane rather than the catch fence, but that’s something for CAMS to discuss. I bet they will.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (18)Before too long it was time to put the crew member hat back on and prepare the F430 for what was set to be my personal highlight of the weekend – the one hour Saturday evening GT race.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (20)With the car ready we pushed it to the grid and waited anxiously as the final few laps of Saturday’s V8 Supercar race drew to a close.

anygivenreason.comIt was stressful and worrying enough for us as crew. I can’t imagine the pressure of being strapped in, just sitting and waiting for fifteen minutes to get the green flag to go and battle with thirty other cars on a tight, concrete lined street circuit.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (19)Simon’s primary job at this point is to sit on the dummy grid with Brenton, listening in to Race Control, relaying any information and ready to fix any minor problems if they pop up.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (25)As we got into pit lane the V8 crews were still pushing the winners of the V8 race to scruitineering.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (23)It was pretty cool to get so close to the most famous race cars in the country, and the crews didn’t care. They were still riding high on the ecstasy of a podium finish at one of the most challenging races of the season.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (27)With the GT race underway, Mario went through the drill for the compulsory pit stop. The pit stop times are determined by your lap time to give some kind of parity. The front running cars had to stop for almost a minute, the back markers could drive straight through the pits without stopping and we had to make a six second stop. It had to run like clockwork, as we had to stop for exactly our mandated time and not a second more.

anygivenreason.comThe car was running like a dream and with only six seconds there’s wasn’t much we could do anyway, so we gave Brenton a thumbs up and sent him on his way.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (35)There was a ten second per lap time difference between the first and last car, so there was plenty of faster and slower traffic to keep Brenton on his toes.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (38)It would have been super easy to get caught up in an accident, and after an hour of racing there was lapped traffic everywhere.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (40)Brenton took the chequered flag in 21st place, improving on his fastest lap to record a 1.29.62 and bring an undamaged car home. Brenton’s best time is still about six seconds shy of what Allan Simonsen managed in this exact car during the 2008 GT race with Coopers backing, and studying that lap time in relation to this car really highlights what an incredible talent Simonsen was. Bearing in mind that today the F430 GT3 is eight years out of date and at least 100hp down on the front runners, yet based on lap time (1.23.22 in 2008) he would have been fighting for a podium finish. Quicker than all but one of the Audi R8’s, the McLaren 650S, all of the Lamborghini’s, all of the Porsche’s, the AMG SLS GT3 and the 458 GT3. Car’s that weren’t even invented in 2008.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (48)Around the paddock after the race there were crews repairing crash damage ready for Sunday morning’s 30min race. Kevin Weeks was one who got caught up in a late race passing move and was punted into the barrier, leaving his Supaloc crew with the job of repairing the Ford GT.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (49)With no such damage to our own car, we were free to head out for a late team dinner at Gin Long Canteen where we made our own cold rolls and ate fish curry served in coconuts. I’m not knocking the fine art of panel beating, but I suspect our dinner was a far more enjoyable way of spending a Saturday evening.

05_15_AGR_Clipsal_Sunday (2)After dinner I headed back into the East End for a look around. The city was alive and pumping, filled with buskers and street performers of all the different genres.

05_15_AGR_Clipsal_Sunday (6)The Garden of Unearthly Delights was full to maximum capacity as the throngs absorbed the warm, balmy evening. And to think that less than five hundred meters from here, just a little earlier on, we were watching a Ferrari Formula 1 car set lap records, a factory Porsche one-make race series and the latest GT cars race wheel-to-wheel. There is no cultural atmosphere like this in the motorsport world, and I can only imagine the show Adelaide would turn on if Formula 1 were ever to return.

05_15_AGR_Clipsal_Sunday (10)I walked down to Torrens where the Adelaide Festival of Arts was launched with an impressive light and projection installation on some of the iconic buildings of Adelaide.

05_15_AGR_Clipsal_Sunday (8)The old Grand Prix posters from back in the day used to proclaim ‘Adelaide Alive’, and I think that slogan rings true now more than it ever has. We just need the roar of Formula 1 to make it complete!

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (50)You never seem to get much sleep during race weekend, and the next morning we rolled in to the circuit bright and early to prepare for the last GT race of the meeting, a 30min sprint race. After four days it was becoming a well-worn and much loved routine. Park for free and walk through the leafy boulevards that lead to the track. Arrive and say hello to the crew, then head over to the barista in the GT lounge to grab a takeaway flat white. Head back to the car, and spend the next 20mins basking in the morning sun, wiping down and cleaning the F430 as Mario warms it up, the sound of the McLaren’s and Porsche’s and Lamborghini’s all around you doing the same. This is the only true way to start a day.

02_15_AGR_Clipsal_Friday (9)It’s a struggle for most to get to the circuit so early, but it astounded me how there were almost no specators about at this hour. The morning engine warmup is one of the best parts of the weekend.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (70)Some children came by just before the race, so we made sure to let them sit in the F430 and make brum-brum noises for as long as they wanted.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (57)Eventually we kicked Michael out, as it was time for Brenton to get in and head for the dummy grid.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (60)With the GT cars already on the grid, those crew members not driving the support vehicles walk across the track and into pit lane. It really did feel like some dodgy border crossing as we descended into an otherwise empty pit lane.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (42)Some of the V8 teams were still rebuilding their cars. It’s funny to look under the skin at V8 Supercars these days and see almost zero in common with the production counterpart.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (61)The GT race turned out to be anticlimactic – a first corner accident saw several million dollars worth of cars punted into the crash barriers, causing a lengthy safety car period for the cleanup. A lot of innocent bystanders were taken out from one very simple mistake. These are fast cars, and they let go awfully quickly when things go wrong.

Arguably, due to a bodged formation lap the race shouldn’t have been started, but in the end it was this error that saved our car and a lot of others. A few drivers were playing some funny strategy games and only the first eight or ten cars formed properly – we were caught so far back from the race start that we had barely crossed the start line when this crash happened, giving Brenton plenty of time to avoid it. Had it been a proper formation and the whole pack bunched together, it might have been a different outcome.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (64)As soon as the pit window opened at the ten minute mark, the entire field pitted under the safety car. This gave us a huge advantage – due to our shorter six second pit stop we leapfrogged most of the field and rejoined in 7th place. Under safety car conditions, the faster cars had no way of using their speed to regain track position.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (66)This would have played into our hands had the race finished under safety car like we thought it might, but they cleaned the accident up leaving a three lap sprint to the finish. We were extremely nervous when the green flag dropped as Brenton suddenly had 20 cars behind him, all with three laps to make up the places they thought were rightfully theirs. The potential for someone to do something stupid and take us out was huge, and Brenton drove a careful race. To this day it still amazes me what some people will risk for a trophy or a minor placing when there are zero sheep stations involved.

anygivenreason.comIn the end we took the chequered flag in 21st place, but more importantly we had a straight and undamaged car to take home and we all had a blast.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (71)It was somewhat of a sombre scene back in the GT pits. Some got away with relatively minor damage…

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (72)… while others have a little more work on their hands if they are to make the next round at the AGP.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (76)As we were loading the F430 into the trailer…

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (73)… a ute drove by and the tray was filled with mangled bits of Ferrari 458.

anygivenreason.comIt would have been nice to be up there fighting for a higher position in that last race, but sometimes the risk just isn’t worth the reward and it felt good to be pushing a running, undamaged car back into the trailer.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (74)The GT teams and the organisational staff had finished their bump-out by lunchtime and had mostly left for early afternoon flights back home. And just like, it was over.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (81)All that was remaining to do was to head trackside and catch some racing.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (89)One thing that never fails to impress are the FA-18 Hornet’s which truly live up to the word awesome.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (90)They are a pretty common feature at these types of events, but no matter how many times I see them I always come away just as awed as the first time I saw one. I am sure that even the most arty, festival type person can’t deny that these things are pretty cool.

01_15_AGR_Clipsal_Friday (46)Which kind of makes for an interesting conclusion. Many racing cars are mechanical expressions of artistry, not just for the finely honed and practiced skills required to build and drive them but the very passion that makes us want to do it in the first place.

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (33)When you boil it down to its elements, driving a racing car on the limit is a performance art just like circus or comedy or cabaret is. And those of us who can’t do it right now for what ever reason still want to be involved, be it as pit crew or media or race officials or spectators. I’ve been involved with both the arts and with motorsport, and it’s really not that different. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that I don’t completely understand the division that strikes Adelaide at this time of year.

05_15_AGR_Clipsal_Sunday (3)We’re just lucky that we live in a city that goes nuts for five weeks a year and provides an incredible stage for the best artists/performers/teams/drivers to come and do their thing. We should embrace all sides of the cultural stew… and bring back Formula 1!

03_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (16)Words and photos by Andrew Coles

04_15_AGR_Clipsal_Saturday (63)… and a huge thanks to Brenton, Simon, Rebecca, Fred, Rob and Mario for inviting AGR into the Koala Motorsport squad and for the lovely, welcoming hospitality.


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