TURN ONE on the Newcastle street circuit is a great place to watch racing cars, as The Race Torque discovers when we mix it with the punters to see who looks good and who doesn’t during opening practice.
WORDS: Richard Craill IMAGES: Mark Walker / Richard Craill
IT’S a rare treat to get trackside and actually watch racing cars, but time and time again it proves its worth as a reminder of how cool it actually is.
And turn one on the Newcastle street circuit is a great place to do just that.
On the inside it’s shaded, elevated and gives a full view across the length of the corner and the escape road: The cars approach from the right along pit straight, the natural curve of the road taking them to the right hand side and against the wall before they turn in..
The hill is filled with people on drivers’ left, set up in deck chairs and with their eskis up the back – leaning on the fence for those keen for an up-close experience up front.
Over the road is a large, covered grandstand and behind it, the water. It’s all very picturesque, too.
With that in mind we wandered down to watch the cars in action during practice one and learned plenty.
Every circuit where drivers have to brake and turn offers a challenge, but when it’s nestled between to concrete walls and over a cambered, public road it become more difficult.
The cars are close to brushing the outside wall as they rotate for turn one, but many don’t successfully get their cars stopped; first it’s Shane van Gisbergen who with a tortured outside Dunlop is caught out as the weight transfers and they try to stop and turn at the same time.
In this mixed-up world we live in, this receives a large cheer from those in the crowd wearing red.. the colours of the Red Bull team’s direct rivals at Shell V-Power Racing.
He travels down the escape road and gently backs up in reverse before performing a neat, legal u-turn and progressing.
James Courtney isn’t so lucky: arriving miles late under brakes and ending up well down the escape road. His recovery style is different – he’s already in the process of flicking his car around on the throttle well before he’s actually reached the point of stopping. It draws applause from the crowd, who like that kind of thing.
Five cars end up down towards the esplanade in practice one; Heimgartner and the champ-elect, Scott McLaughlin, among them.
The point of mid-corner exposes more, in particular how good / bad the cars are over kerbs and bumps.
Predictably, the running-order mostly reflects who’s good over kerbs and who is not.
McLaughlin’s Penske machine is like a Rolls-Royce with air suspension – gently caressing the kerb in a fluid motion, hoiking the car on two wheels before it is cushioned on landing and accelerates away with no real discernible hint of wheelspin or traction issues.
As it was on the Gold Coast last month, #17 is clearly the softest car of the 24 and though he was only fastest in opening practice by 0.01 seconds, it was clear why.
The Triple Eight cars weren’t that far behind. Though not as obviously pliant as McLaughlin’s Mustang, both the Red Bull cars, Todd Hazelwood and Mark Winterbottom were all composed through turn one and solid on the landing, seemingly putting their power down well for the long drag up Watt street.
The Tickford cars looked decent too, reflected well in that three of their four were in the top-10.
Erebus were harder to read. The Penrite cars didn’t look overly superb over the bumps and seemed to battle drive traction out of the corner as well; yet second for Reynolds and seventh for de Pasquale prove that ride control isn’t everything – a car can be ugly but still quick here.
Further down the field proved a mixed bag. The Nissans were hard to read; in their swansong the Altima drivers were all over the place, Kelly decent and Heimgartner nowhere. The latter’s car, in particular, looked a challenge through the quick left hander.. hitting the kerb harshly and landing equally so, compromising the young Kiwi up the hill further.
The Walkinshaw cars were okay over the kerbs but both seemed to battle for drive traction, the pair noticeably bursting into wheelspin as they hit the bump a little way up Watt Street, just at the gear-change point.
Sadly, Jack LeBrocq’s Truck Assist Tekno Racing entry was clearly the slowest to watch visually as it was on the time sheets. They have work to do and new dampers to buy, clearly.
Finally, a chance to spectate for a change offers up how good these cars are in the flesh. Loud enough to feel them but not so much that they hurt, the V8’s sound as good as ever both under deceleration – where they can exceed the 7,500RPM limit – and as they charge up the hill away from the crowds.
Combined with the scrabble of brakes, the shriek of a tortured Dunlop here and there and the impact on the kerb just makes it all incredibly visceral.
The sport may change it’s rules and it may change the way these cars are built, but if they’ll be on a hiding to nothing if they change the way they grab punters sitting trackside; it remains the best USP the series has to offer, bar none.