Tuesday, October 03, 2006
DRIVELINE reliability has been a major focus for Tasman Motorsport as it heads back to the Supercheap Auto 1000 at Bathurst, the site of its strong second-place showing in last year's race.
The team has tested since both Firepower-backed Commodores were struck down with diff and clutch problems respectively in the recent Sandown 500 in Melbourne, and feels confident it is ready to tackle Mount Panorama without concerns.
Lead driver Jason Richards, who will again be joined by Andrew Jones in the team's #3 Commodore VZ, says that the team's recent test day at Winton ran smoothly and has helped re-instil confidence in the squad.
"You have to take away the positives anytime things don't go your way and we left Sandown safe in the knowledge that our pace was strong," Richards said.
"After all, we qualified in the Top 10 Shootout once again and had a fast car in the race before we were forced to the pits to fix the diff.
"Bathurst is a special place to go back to, particularly after our performance up there in 2005.
"Our cars are faster than they were there last year and we've had another full year of development. Having said that, so has everyone else, but we're confident we have a car that can hold its own over a single lap and also the race distance of 161 laps."
Jones finished fourth at Bathurst last year and sees his 2006 assault as his best chance for a podium finish.
"We tried a few things on our test day which weren't so much for Bathurst, more so in general terms as it was our last test day of the year," said Jones.
"The car ran faultlessly all day as far as the reliability was concerned, so I think we're on top of the problems that stopped us in our tracks at Sandown.
"You can't lie or hide from these things. The team was a bit down after Sandown, but we've re-focused and worked hard to be ready for Bathurst."
The #23 Firepower Commodore will again be shared by experienced endurance pilots Owen Kelly and Mark Noske, who were only able to complete 75 of the 161 laps at Sandown after being forced to pit and have a clutch replaced.
"We ran in some components on the test day that we'll use at Bathurst," said Kelly.
"I was fine at Sandown and back in the rhythm of driving after a few test days during the year, so time in the car isn't really an issue.
"It will be the old story of turning up at Bathurst and seeing how the car rolls out of the truck and how it feels from the first practice session onwards.
"The goal is simply - to stay out of trouble, stay on the lead lap and finish in the top 10.
"Nathan Pretty and I were able to do the same thing last year and we ended up finishing sixth so there's no reason why Mark and I can't have a result like that."
Noske, who is lining up for his 10th start in the Bathurst 1000, will be stepping out of driving trucks during the week in the family business to a different sort of horsepower.
"I've been driving trucks full-time in the family business, so it will be nice to get into something a little bit quicker!" said Noske.
"The truck has got 18 gears and the Commodore has got six, so I won't be needing to go for the gears as often down Conrod Straight!
"We took the opportunity at the test day to do some more driver change practice.
"At Sandown, the car was strong enough that we could have ended up in the top 10. In the early stages I was following Paul Morris around and he ended up seventh, so the potential was there.
"I've got a nervous wait as well at Bathurst. My partner is due to give birth in the week after Bathurst so I'm hoping the new addition doesn't come too quickly!"
Opening practice will begin at Bathurst on Thursday at 10.40am. Qualifying will be at 2pm Friday, the Top 10 Shootout at 3.40pm Saturday and the race itself commences at 10am on Sunday after a pre-race Peter Brock Tribute.