V8 Supercars: Drivers have to walk the talk

By Eric Thompson

Communication lines always kept open

Rick Kelly not only has to concentrate on driving his Nissan V8 superbly, but he must talk to his pit crew as well. Photo / Supplied
Rick Kelly not only has to concentrate on driving his Nissan V8 superbly, but he must talk to his pit crew as well. Photo / Supplied

Over the years Driven has spent more time in V8 Supercars' pit garages than you can poke a stick at, watching the frantic pace and single-minded concentration the crew, engineers and team principals exhibit.

At a recent round, we were invited to spend time in the Kelly Brothers Racing garage to see how it is coping with the new Nissans the team is now using as its race steeds. It wasn't high on any priority list ... until the engineer mentioned access to a team radio headset to listen in on what goes on between driver and the pit crew. Now that could be interesting.

It quickly became obvious that there is a lot of talking going on as the car is pushed out of the garage. As the drivers exit the pit lane, all that's heard is the bellowing of

a highly tuned V8 engine working hard. How on earth anyone can hear a human voice over that cacophony of noise beggars belief.

Sure enough though, Rick Kelly's voice does come over the top of all the mechanical whirring, banging, crunching and roaring.

He's chatting away while hurling the car around the track on cold tyres talking about setup.

As Kelly gets down to business and begins to concentrate on the work at hand in the car, the garage appears, a bit of a misnomer, to quieten down and someone is actually sweeping the floor.

Don't be fooled though, there's always something going on and there's a constant kinetic energy bubbling below the surface ready to explode into action. If you're just watching it, it's difficult to understand why, at some apparently random moment, all hell lets loose.

Being privy to the communication between the driver and the head engineer provides a forewarning as to why all the workers have jumped into action.

Not to be privy to discussion between driver and team leaves a vital cog missing from the understanding of how a team works during a race.

For example, the engineer might see an accident happen on the far side of the race track from where the driver is and so relays the information.

Now try to picture this. Almost instantly the driver will be on the radio asking if the accident is on the inside, outside or in the middle of the track while man-handling a tonne or two of bellowing V8 at 200km/h millimetres from another behemoth in front of him.

He'll then ask, with just a hint of heavy breathing as he wrestles the car through the tight chicane, how much debris is on the track and what the racing line looks like.

At times listening to the conversation is akin to being in a foreign-speaking country. I'm sure when the engineer asked Kelly to go to "trim two" he wasn't asking him to bring him back two trim flat white coffees next time around.

There's hardly a moment's quiet between the drivers and their engineers. When they're not discussing the car's fuel burn, handling, grip, balance, pit strategy or where the leaders are or if there's gap to put in a flying lap to qualify better, they're talking about sector times, lap times, who's faster where etc, etc.

On the other hand, a key role the engineers have is to calm the drivers and pass on encouragement in difficult times. If a driver gets duffed up by another car and starts cursing and swearing and shaking his fist (in car camera), the engineer tells him to take a deep breath and calm down.

Over the pit radio you hear the various emotions in the driver's voice - from the relief when they have a near miss, the anger when another driver does something stupid, all the way to the highs of when the driver gets it right and makes a pass or gets on the podium.

Fans watching on television are beginning to get an insight into the conversations between drivers and engineers as various categories are now playing the exchange live during the race. Who can forget F1 driver Kimi Raikkonen's discussion with his engineer?

"Alonso is five seconds behind you. I will keep you updated on the gap. I will give you data on the pace," said the engineer.

"Just leave me alone, I know what I am doing," said Raikkonen.

"Okay, Kimi, we need to keep working all four tyres please. Keep working all four," said the engineer while Raikkonen trailed a safety car.

"Yes, yes, yes. I'm doing it all the time. You don't have to remind me every second," said a very irritated Raikkonen.

Supercars Preview Panel

The V8 Supercars are back on home soil, albeit way up north, for the Darwin round of the championship and it's becoming increasingly evident Red Bull Racing Australia are starting to get on top of the new Car Of The Future.

Darwin is round six of the championship and while there were seven different winners from the first eight races, Jamie Whincup and company are starting to hit their straps. The Triple Eight franchise has won six of the past seven races and Whincup has his name on five of those winning trophies to bring his season tally to six.

Oh, and by the way, he also leads the championship from teammate Craig Lowndes, FPR's
Will Davison and New Zealander Fabian Coulthard in his Lockwood Racing Holden. The Kiwi is the next best with three wins and will be aiming to become the first driver to
win the SkyCity Triple Crown.

The Hidden Valley event sees the return of the three-race format for the first time since 2008 and no one has won the Triple Crown trophy since it was first introduced in 2006
and is the most elusive award on the V8 Supercars calendar.

Unlike a number of the circuits the V8s travel to, Hidden Valley is fast and flowing where horsepower is king.

This weekend is the first time this year teams will use a mixed tyre allocation - three hard sets and two soft for qualifying and racing.
The soft compound can be used only on Sunday and both compounds have to be used in each race.

V8SC Points

1. Jamie Whincup 1217

2. Craig Lowndes 1075

3. Will Davison 1004

4. Fabian Coulthard 954

5. Jason Bright 945

6. Shane Van Gisbergen 907

7. Garth Tander 888

8. Mark Winterbottom 861

- NZ Herald

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