It might not yet show in terms of grid positions, but Garth Tander believes he and the Holden Racing Team are getting closer to resolving the issues that have seen him become a midfield qualifier.
And the factory Holden Commodore VF driver knows how important it is to see evidence on the timing screen of that progress as soon as this weekend’s second round of the 2016 V8 Supercars championship, the Tyrepower Tasmania SuperSprint at the tiny 2.41km Symmons Plains bullring.
“I have to qualify well in Tassie,” Tander bluntly told v8supercars.com. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the best race car in the field, you won’t get through the field down there if you don’t qualify well.”
Finding more qualifying pace has been one of the priorities for Tander and engineer Blake Smith in the off-season and in testing.
“I am confident we will get back to where we need to be,” Tander said. “For me it's frustrating, it used to be my strength. I used to be able to drag a car into the 10 although we might not be able to race there.
“Now we are completely 180 degrees the other way. I feel if we can get ourselves qualifying inside the five again then race-wise we will be there where we need to be.”
Tander, who hasn’t claimed a pole position since 2012, qualified only nine, 18, 13 at the Clipsal and then 15th at the Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix. But he insists the picture behind the scenes is more promising.
“We found some stuff at the test,” the West Australian confirmed. “We spent a fair bit of time trying to understand the car at the test from new tyre runs, which was hard to do because it was 400 degrees there. But we learned quite a bit during that phase
“Clipsal didn’t look great for me but I was actually reasonably happy with it. Soft tyre qualifying worked alright. Hard tyre qualifying (on Saturday) was my mistake, I locked up on a lap that was easily good enough to match (team-mate James Courtney’s) hard tyre lap and that was my mistake. I am not hiding from that.
“Then Sunday qualifying we were on a lap that was in to the the top 10 shootout – we know that now – until Moff blew up right in from of us. We were the first car there. Then we didn’t quite get things quite right preparation-wise for the last run and we missed out.”
Substantial summer upgrades to the two factory-backed HRT Commodores – including the move from Sachs to Supashock dampers – is not only aiding Tander’s quest for qualifying pace, but also showing early signs of producing a better racing car overall.
At the Clipsal 500 he recorded fifth and third place finishes either side of a 23rd place caused by an overheated starter motor. At Albert Park he drove through the field to finish sixth in the first race and then followed that up with a six, four, six run.
“I think I am reasonably confident that we are someway down the road to fixing what we have to fix,” Tander said.
“At the Clipsal the big difference for me with the car was the balance didn’t feel radically different to what we had there in the past. But whenever we made a change I could feel the change, whereas in the past 90 per cent of the time the car was very, very numb to the changes we made.
“Ultimately what we then had to do was make too many big changes and then you would blast from one side of the set-up window to the other side of the set-up window and you never actually get the car in the sweet spot.
“Now we have some feel coming from the car we can start to operate the car to get the car closer to the sweet spot where it needs to be.”
Importantly, Tander has been encouraged by the soft tyre performance of his car. Symmons Plains debuts the new 120km Saturday race, replacing the unpopular two 60km outings. Sunday continues as a 200km race. All V8 outings will be on soft tyres.
“I think we have a car that is pretty good on tyre life,” Tander said. “That will be important down there even though it’s not a high degradation circuit. The longer you can push the tyre harder the better you will be.
“But you have to qualify up-front. So that’s what we are going to aim for.”
Tander's team-mate Courtney is on tonight's episode of Inside Supercars at 7.30pm AEDT on FOX SPORTS 506.