Brisbane’s Kyle McBride has defended his Australian Championship in GP Buggy, and added to it the GP Truggy title to double up at Logan Raceway for the 2014 Aussie Nats this past weekend.
McBride was utterly dominant across both 60 minute finals, leading throughout and winning comfortably. The combination of inch-perfect driving, unbelievable pace, incredible consistency and perfect preparation proving too tough for a high quality field.
In the Truggy final it was defending Champion Craig Laughton who took second with his TLR, while Townsville’s Zachary Cambetis got the better of a 60-minute duel with Andrew Gillott and Josh Pain for 3rd. Heartbreak for the Townsville youngster however, with his truck failing technical inspection after the race promoting Gillott to the podium. That’s a shame, but shouldn’t detract from a breakthrough performance after a strong weekend in both classes for Zachary.
In the buggy final it was an epic battle between Aaron Stringer and Craig Laughton, eventually resolved in that order behind McBride. Jason Dyckhoff in fourth from Andrew Gillott and Shane Kelly (who stretched to 10-minute fuel stops to help vault up the order).
It was, from where I sat, a thoroughly fantastic Australian Championship event. Here’s some of the highlights from my seat.
The track, in my view, was brilliant. A flowing combination of high speed, big (but safe) jumps and some real technical challenges all with a low-medium traction provided the arena for some spectacular racing. The surface barely crumbled at all, retaining perfect condition right to the conclusion of Sunday’s Championship finals.
I particularly loved the high speed gap-jump to the back straight, and the full-bore left-hand sweeper to another gap jump right through the heart of the track. Engines screaming, cars cranking over on the outside rear wheel and blasting through this part of the track was a sight to behold.
Tight and technical stuff is great, and big jumps are fun, but give me high speed corners any day as a real challenge to chassis and driver. And this track had them in spades.
While I haven’t been to many major nitro off-road events, I’ve done plenty of big races over the years – and I think this was one of the best. Preparation was good, organisation and systems worked well over the weekend, and the Logan club should be rightly pleased with their excellent event. Catering, watering, scrutineering etc all seemed well staffed and organised. That speaks of a quality effort in event planning. Well done to the host club.
Race Director/Timekeeper team Jarrod Currie and Brad Davis did a great job to keep things flowing and very close to schedule over four days of racing. Communication with racers was good, and I’m always a fan of having a race director/referee on the driver’s stand with the drivers.
Great to welcome a bunch of Kiwis from across the ditch, and with some good performances from the crew. I was particularly impressed with 12 year old Gage Peters. He ran strongly through qualifying, and then put in some powerhouse performances to bump from Quarter to Semi-finals and only miss the Championship finals by a small margin. Great stuff (Oh, and happy birthday to Gage for Monday)! Trust me when I say you’ll hear more about this young man in the years ahead.
It’s not just the winners that matter
Quite often at these events, attention focuses on the outright results – and fair enough when one of the main purpose of the event is to crown national champions. That shouldn’t detract from those placing a little further back however, where we often see some cracking performances.
Dane Ryan was one man who put on quite a show this weekend. He qualified a little lower than he might reasonably have expected (through a range of circumstances), but then came out and won two finals in a row (the 32nd and 16th for the record) before jumping straight into 2nd place in the 8th final and looking every bit like he would bump again into Sunday’s quarter finals before mechanical failure put him out. Superb driving from Dane.
There were a few who made the Championship finals too, who deserve a pat on the back. In Truggy we saw excellent performances from Darren Lord, Matt Templeman and Brendan Wade for example, while over in buggy land, top 15 appearances for Ben Sterling, Chris Sturdy and Steve Smith are to be applauded. Double-main starts for Tim McKay would send him home well pleased with his weekend. I think it’s worth observing Shane Van Gisbergen’s efforts too – a semi-final appearance at the Nats in his first nitro buggy race a fine performance.
The Aaron Stringer Story
Brisbane’s Aaron Stringer would be expected to be a front-runner, and came to the event with high hopes. He endured a horror qualifying run with all sorts of problems cruelling his hopes and seeing him sit 51st at the conclusion of Saturday’s final qualifier. He would start mid-field in the 8th final, win comprehensively before doing likewise in the quarter final to get to the semi final. A second place to McBride would complete the powerhouse recovery.
The story didn’t end there however, Team Stringer having to call a delay before the main final, resulting in a rear-of-field start for Aaron. I’ve already mentioned above how his battle with Laughton was one of the highlights of the weekend, and to eventually finish second behind the peerless McBride was a remarkable result. Kudos!
In Praise of the Mechanic
For those running two classes and hoping to run up front, Sunday at these events gets pretty frantic. A pair of 30 minute semi-finals followed by a pair of 60 minute championship races and with very little turn-around time in between really compromises the capacity to maintain and prepare good race cars.
I can’t help but wonder if the advantage then passes to those who are only running the one class – or who have full-time or dedicated mechanics.
A case in point, Matt Griffin started both finals out of position two before failing to finish due to mechanical issues. Meanwhile Stringer, McBride and Laughton all had team support to help keep things moving.
It has to eventually make a difference doesn’t it? it goes to show, I think, that the GP side of our sport has a particular team character about it (or at least it does for those running multiple classes).
One of the things I really enjoy about the long finals is how fuel strategy plays out. There’s the balance between pure performance and tuning for economy, and also the variances between different engine manufacturers and fuel suppliers.
Take the Truggy final, for example, where we saw fuel mileage as short as seven minutes, and as long as twelve (yep, Darren Lord ran 12 minute stops through the Truggy final to stop just four times. Meanwhile Josh Pain in a huge fight with Gillott and Cambetis had to try and overcome a one-stop disadvantage.
Even in the buggy final Canberra’s Shane Kelly rode a 10 minute stop strategy into the top 6. Up front, Kyle McBride seemed to be able to run an extra lap on most of his rivals, while Aaron Stringer likewise picked up a one stop advantage in his battle with Craig Laughton who had to pit one final time with two minutes to run while within sight of his target.
Low Grip = Cheap Tyre Bills!
There is such a trend toward high grip tracks in off-road (and on-road to be fair) right now, that a low traction surface is unusual. The Logan surface has been similar for years – even when it grooves up, traction levels stay at the low-medium level. One of the benefits here is the capacity to run super-soft compound tyres but still only have low tyre wear. For most it was a cheap weekend in terms of tyre bills (compared to other races where it can be anything up to a new set ever run). I don’t think the racing suffered at all – with a little bit of slide offering some spectacular action, and still plenty of drive to get over the well-spaced jump combinations.
I think in low grip a particular kind of driving style pays dividends too. There is always the temptation to keep the car sliding, drifting and wheel spinning. It’s fun and it looks spectacular. But (and it’s a ‘big but’) it’s not always fast. Being very precise with throttle and steering inputs, being meticulous about keeping the car flowing, keeping mid-corner speeds high, and above all staying on the swept clean racing line pay dividends. McBride never looked out of shape all weekend. Matt Griffin too in his easy semi-final wins kept things all gathered up and under control. A lesson there for all of us who like to drive just a little on the wild side!
It’s a Wrap
You can check out the full results over here. They’re from the backup timing system rather than the official system, but with the exception of the Cambetis DQ from Truggy final, should be complete and correct. You’ll find a full race report in Racing Lines in a month or two, including a heap of action photos.
If I find videos or photos appearing, I’ll add links here later.
It was Kyle McBride’s weekend in terms of the two championships on offer. But beyond that there was a whole lot to like up and down the field. I was glad to be there.
Kudos to the Logan club, and their major partner the Logan City Council for bringing such an excellent event to life.
Now, over to you. Were you there? What did you make of it? Who were the guys you think worthy of note?