As you probably know, the MTAQ Racing team journeyed to the famous Bathurst Circuit, Mount Panorama, over the Easter weekend for the Federal Tyres Excel Challenge, as a supporting event to the Bathurst 6 Hour Production car race.
Leading in was frantic, as we had a mountain of work to do to the car to get it ready after our dramas at the recent State championship opener. It was super deadline critical, and a few more late nights haunting the workshop - but we made it! A special thank you to Kelvin and the guys at CNJ Motorsport for the late tune up before we left - was very important guys thank you.
We didn't leave Brisbane until 1am Thursday morning, and had to be in Bathurst by 4pm Local time Thursday - Light on sleep, but big in determination! Needless to say there wasn't much time for sightseeing as we whistled down into country NSW.
With the tight turnaround, We didn't have much of a chance to conduct much in the way of improvements to the car over what we ran at Warwick, but we arrived in Bathurst confident we had something to offer.
In my preview, I felt with the quality of the field - it was literally the best of the best from each state - and with 55 cars, our prediction was we would probably run around 12th-16th place, and that a top ten for the weekend would be our goal and have the car reliable and strong.
I am happy to say, we did a lot better than that - and I am as proud as punch!
As soon as we dropped the car on the track for Friday's opening practice it felt good.. and with only 20 minutes of allocated practice time for Excels, every second counted. I managed to find a bit of clear track on my 4th lap - and lit up the timing until the last corner where I got baulked badly by a slow car. Rounding up that slow car cost us 1.5 seconds. We missed provisional pole by 1.3... still we were 6th fastest for the session. My knowledge of the circuit certainly helped, but that advantaged diminshed over the weekend.
Bathurst is the ultimate place for finding out your car's strengths and weaknesses, and in Saturday afternoon's Qualifying session we found out a lot about where we were in the pecking order. Chasing a few fast guys , I found our car was very fast across the top of the mountain and down in the twisty parts - but we were seriously lacking in power in the big haul up the hill. I was actually staggered as to how fast some of the southern cars (and 1 or 2 Queensland Cars) were up the climb. ...But I was able to dial in across the mountain to try and make up time, and snuck the MTAQ car into 7th fastest. That was all she had, and I was very happy.
There was a pack of 8 cars in a front group, that seemed to be the contenders.
Of that group, we had a 2 time Hyundai National Champion, 3 time South Australian Champion, 2 time Victorian Champion, the defending Vic Champion, 2 x Queensland Champions (including defending champ Brock Giblin), a son of a V8 Supercar star who is a prolific race winner in NSW & VIC and....... a certain black car from Queensland that nobody had in their pre-event calculations, Us...😉 (aka "The Dark Horse" as we were dubbed)
We also had NSW, WA and TAS champions well behind us.. There were also 6 Queenslanders in the first 11 cars - which just underscores how tough our local competition is!!
To be in this group was just terrific, and to be right in amongst the "Who's who" of Excel racing on the big stage was special. We played around with a few things and gradually made the car better over the weekend.
Race 1 went basically according to plan, took off and was able to hook onto the back of the lead group but couldn't make much of an impression as they were just too quick up the straights and I couldn't make up enough time across the top and down the mountain. I was able to pass the defending Victorian champion, swinging us home a fighting 6th - having to defend like crazy on the last lap.
Race 2 that afternoon was more of the same, struggling to hang on in a straight line, but we were able to stick closer to the lead group. I got boxed out at the start and dropped back to 9th, but pushed back through to 7th. This race was shortened due to an accident so lost a few laps under saftey car. Had a great dice with our main adversary here in Queensland, Brock Giblin, and was able to catch and pass him which is a great confidence boost for our local ambitions.
Races 1 and 2 were just qualifying races for Sundays Trophy race - the "winner takes all" blast to decide the Bathurst Challenge winner.
Sunday morning we played with some more things on the car and found a small adjustment with the throttle body, which for Race 3 was a decent step forward and the Car was much better. Starting 7th, we made a good jump but got held up coming onto the pit straight on Lap 2 which lost us a spot, which I quickly got back, then nailed the 2 time Victorian Champion for 6th in an intense little scrap, and was closing in on the lead pack of 5. The car felt really good, and was noticably better so I was excited at the prospect of attacking the lead group. We set our fastest lap for the weekend on lap 2.. and was right on the tail of that leading train. With 3 laps to go, we were in a box seat - ready to pounce.
That next lap there was a major accident right in front of me, which took out 3 of the lead cars - and we were probably a metre or less away from joining them. One of the leading group simply pushed too hard and cannoned into the wall, bouncing off back into the group, of which we were one. We were all on the absolute limit and racing super hard, so I suppose it is a racing incident.
The accident happened in a very tight part of the track, which is lined with concrete and no run-off, but with a bit of quick reflex we snuck through the carnage and into 3rd. As we hit Conrod straight that lap, the Officals called for the safety car - of which the rules are you are supposed to slow down and hold position. The car behind me passed under the yellow conditions, putting us 4th on the road, later to be re-dressed back to 3rd post race.
See my on-board of the crash here:
MTAQ Racing's David Wood avoiding crash at Bathurst in Hyundai Excel Challenge race
The carnage was so bad that the race had to be stopped and declared, so sadly I didn't get the chance to challenge for the lead. But, we were 3rd on the amended order.. so naturally that was a terrific result! On the Podium at Bathurst!
The organisers then stopped the trophy presentation and official podium as there was a protest because the race didn't run it's full allocated distance. The argument over the rules is still going on, and who wins what etc, and how the race declaration process is applied.
But what really matters to me is that we were 3rd, fair and square, when the race was declared. And that is good enough for me.
Sadly didn't get the podium shot, or a nice big trophy (yet).. but my immense pride in having our little black beastie up the front for the TV cameras, and the pride of the team afterwards was more than a reward. It has been a massive few months, but I am so proud of what we achieved. And to be carrying the colours of MTAQ/MTAIQ, the car looked terrific on track. It was great to fly the flag for everyone.
The Sunday race will be shown on SBS and Fox in a few weeks apparently, so will let you all know broadcast times when we find out.
Upon reflection, in the 10 months since we launched MTAQ Racing, we have come such a long way. From initially struggling to crack the top 10 at state level, to being in the top bracket in the country is very, very satisfying. We all can be very proud, I am thoroughly delighted.
The best part is, the car didn't miss a beat - it was solid and reliable all weekend long. It gave it's all and did everything I asked of it, and that is the second pre-event box we wanted to tick. Reliability.
The team was just magic, and loved being at the Mountain - we have a very special and dedicated group. Our mantra is don't give up, and we have had our knock downs over the last 6 or so months, but I feel like the Bathurst weekend was a turning point. The Excel community took notice of us - and we have gained an enormous amount of respect for our perservence and simply not giving up when the going was tough. It was a terrific confidence boost for our little team, and morale is about momentum and I think we have swung our momentum off the back of plain old hard grind. The quiet word around the paddock is now we have our "house in order" (for want of a better term) we are going to be a serious handful for our competition going forward....
The bad news for them is we have a few more little improvements we want to try in the power department for our next state championship round, at Warwick, in a fortnight's time.
I feel we now have the artillery to really break through, and the aim is to go there and take the opposition on. I think we are capable of winning, so that is what we will be striving for - get that monkey off the back.
Some great pics of the weekend attached (Will also have awesome video once I download it all)
Thank you all again everyone for the unwaivering support,
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Hi Team, It's been an amazing year for us, officially forming a 3 car race team, and running our very own National Driver Search competition. Daniel Messmer , 22 yrs old from Cairns was our eventual competition winner and finished 2nd overall driving our Teams Skyvia Ute for the first time running 235/45/17 M1s at Drift Masters 2018/ Qld raceway.