Brad Jones Racing will test new developments within weeks as it works to overcome the lack of qualifying speed that has hurt new recruit Tim Slade and his teammate Jason Bright’s 2016 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship campaigns.
Heading in to this weekend’s Woodstock Winton SuperSprint at the Albury team’s test track, Bright has the better record this season, recording three top 10 starts in nine qualifying sessions and five top 10 race finishes in the BOC Racing Commodore to be 13th in the championship.
Slade, who took over from Fabian Coulthard in the Freightliner Racing Holden for 2016, has yet to qualify in the top 10, has three top 10 finishes to his credit so far and runs 14th in the championship.
The third driver racing out of the BJR shop, Tim Blanchard, has yet to post a top 10 start or finish this season in the Team CoolDrive Commodore.
“We have a test day after Winton and we have some new stuff to come online then,” team owner Brad Jones confirmed to supercars.com.
“We are certainly putting all the hard work in to get this (qualifying issue) under control.
“If it was easy to identify we would change it and go back to where we were. It’s a whole heap of little things. We have changed the car a fair bit and we are just working through it.”
The qualifying issues clearly frustrate the team as both Bright and Slade have been able to race forward, exploiting good tyre life.
“Our race pace is pretty good and it’s been like that since the start of the year,” Jones said. “The thing that is knocking us around is qualifying.
“For whatever reason we don’t seem to be able to get the green tyre gain we are looking for. We bob up in practice but we just can’t replicate it in qualifying.
“It is something we are working on pretty hard. Our focus at the moment is to get that sorted out.
“The race pace is very strong,” Jones reiterated. “If you overlay our race pace against the front guys and started us beside them we are a match for them.”
Considering the qualifying challenge Jones was cautious about the prospects of improved results at Winton, a place where BJR has performed well in the last few years.
Coulthard has the lap record at the 3.0km circuit, set in 2014 when repairs to the track surface briefly produced exceptional grip. He won the first Saturday sprint race that year and finished third second time out. In 2015 he was second in the Sunday 200km mini-marathon.
Bright had a third and second there in 2013 and two fourths in 2014. He also won there for BJR back in the Project Blueprint era in 2011.
Promisingly, Slade set the fastest time on the freshly resurfaced track in pre-season testing, but BJR did not participate in the April test at the venue, which happened after more resurfacing to repair track break-up at several corners.
“It’s always hard just turning up to the next race and having great expectations, I am always a little bit wary of that,” Jones cautioned.
“Winton is our test circuit – which isn’t going to make that much difference – but it is also high grip because it has been resurfaced and we went pretty fast there in the test at the start of the year.
“Even though they have done some more resurfacing work since we have been there apparently, I am hoping we will make some more progress.
“You don’t just turn up and everything is fixed, but we are chipping away at it.”
Jones made it clear how impressed he has been with Slade’s performance so far in 2016. The 30-year old Queensland-based South Australian has had a challenging series of seasons at Erebus Motorsport and Walkinshaw Racing since finishing fifth in the 2012 championship for Stone Brothers Racing.
“He has been very good. He fits great in the team and nothing is too much trouble,” Jones said. “He is very determined and I think he has got a really good feel for the car and he is a good racer.
“So he ticks a lot of boxes there and we just have to help him move up through the field in qualifying.”
Jones also voiced his support for Bright, who at 43 is now the oldest full-time driver on the grid.
“I think Jason started with a bang qualifying around the top 10, but he is struggling with qualifying at the moment. But he is driving the car well.”