The Holden Racing Team has made a late decision to test at Winton next Tuesday as it struggles to decipher significant technical changes to its 2016-spec Commodore.
After a strong Clipsal 500 and promising Australian Grand Prix, James Courtney and team-mate Garth Tander have battled through both the Symmons Plains and Phillip Island SuperSprints, unable to extract crucial qualifying pace.
That has effectively turned their races into salvage missions, not all of which have been successful.
Over the last four races Courtney has qualified 17-19-14-13 and finished 13-7-21-7, his result on Saturday at Phillip Island affected by an engine misfire. From leading the drivers’ championship after race 2 in Adelaide he is now ninth.
Over the same period Tander – whose qualifying frustrations in the Car of the Future era have been well-documented – qualified 14-18-18-20 and finished 11-6-9-16. His championship position has slipped from a high of fifth in Adelaide to eighth.
HRT will join factory Volvo squad Garry Rogers Motorsport, Nissan Motorsport and Team 18 as confirmed testers at the recently resurfaced north-eastern Victorian circuit.
“We had planned on testing toward the middle of the season but it is clear that we have a few fundamental issues to get on top of so we have brought the test day forward to try and improve the car as quickly as we can,” Walkinshaw Racing managing director Adrian Burgess told v8supercars.com.
“It’s difficult with the testing restrictions to achieve too much at the race meeting because everyone is focussed on the time and on the scoreboard and on everyone else. So we need to get away from the event and do it in a methodical manner and controlled circumstances.”
HRT will test only weeks ahead of the May 20-22 Winton SuperSprint, but Burgess said the emphasis would be on improving the Commodore’s handling balance in sweeping corners than trying for record breaking laps.
“We are not going there with a target lap time in mind. We are going there looking at certain corners and trying things to address the issues we have with them. Our problem is on long, loaded, long-radius corners. The circuits with the highest amount of long radius corners is a direct reflection on our overall performance.
“Phillip Island is the highest of those and our performance reflected that. So we are going to Winton with a set program focussed on that area of our car and that deficiency in our car and the sooner we can get on top of that then we will improve our performance.
“Our qualifying pace is the weak link and that is when you are trying to maximise the tyre grip over one lap and the consistency and the feeling the driver gets from the car is the key contributor to the that loss of lap time.”
Walkinshaw Racing restructured its V8 Supercars racing effort for 2016, cutting back from four cars to focus on the two factory entries in a year where its deal with Holden is up for renewal. Courtney and Tander’s contracts are also up this year.
Behind the scenes Burgess also restructured the engineering line-up, installing fellow Englishman Alex Somerset as the operation’s new technical chief. Changes to the car have included a swap from ZF Sachs to Adelaide-designed and manufactured Supashock dampers and an upgrade to a new generation front upright.
But the team elected to take the new upright out of the cars on Saturday night at Symmons Plains as the drivers struggled for pace. While it went back in for Phillip Island, Burgess conceded the issue is more complex than the upright alone.
“I do think we have the right parts now. Our damping is improved from last year, that isn’t a problem now.
“Last year I think we had a few pieces of the jigsaw that weren’t correct and I think we have removed a couple of those. But there is still a fundamental part of it that is not correct.
“In the couple of days since Phillip Island I think and hope we have identified the remaining part of the jigsaw that we are not happy with. We are going to be going to Winton with a particular part of the car that we are going to be looking at.”
Burgess said he was confident the team would deliver results if the Winton test successfully resolved the issues. The next championship event is the Perth SuperSprint on May 6-8.
“I think we operate our cars well, we race them well, we strategise well, our performance in the pitlane is good. But I think we are just not engineering the car well enough. If we can get on top of the base set-up of the car and the engineering of the car then how we execute our races will hold us in good stead.
“But there is no good executing a good race if you are four-tenths off the pace.”