Winton race winner Tim Slade admitted he was almost at breaking point in 2014 after crashing out of Bathurst in the Walkinshaw Racing-run Supercheap Auto Commodore.
A hard-fought podium result the following fortnight at Surfers Paradise helped reinvigorate his self-belief, and now he has broken through for his first Supercars victory in his 227th race.
Slade said during the week he was “loving life” at Brad Jones Racing after some hard times with Walkinshaw Racing, and Erebus Motorsport, previously.
“Half-way through 2014 with Walkinshaw I went through a pretty tough period and Adrian [Burgess] there was really good and helped me through that,” Slade said.
“I guess the toughest of that was crashing out at Bathurst when we had a fairly lean run before that.
“That was sort of breaking point for me – luckily we came out at Gold Coast and had a pretty good weekend there.”
The stat of ‘never winning a race’ didn’t sit well with Slade, who highlighted internal battles as some of the biggest challenges.
“For sure, there have been super tough times, because you go through that period where you have teammates who are winning races and finishing towards the front fairly consistently, while you’re sort of back a bit and can’t really see why you’re back there. The answers aren’t really there.
“When the answers aren’t there, that’s the toughest times. So I felt as though this year, even though we haven’t had fantastic results, we always get back to the workshop and dissect it all.”
While only 10 races have run this season, the closeness of the category has prompted questions of whether some teams can match it with the regular front-runners. With Slade and teammate Jason Bright out of the top 10 in the Championship and yet to score a pole position or podium finish this year, questions have been asked about whether they could do it.
“There has never been a period where we through we were hopeless, it’s always like there is so much potential and we just need it put it all together. Get qualifying right and we are always pretty confident in in race cars,” Slade said.
Slade admitted he thought living away from the team’s regional Albury base could have been a disadvantage, but he has felt at home since signing and spends time at the workshop training with Jones’s son Macauley and having a barbecue and beer with the team in evenings.
“The last few years have been a bit up and down but yeah ever since day one I have really, loved and genuinely loved my time at BJR and spending time down in Albury with everyone in the team.
“With these sort of things, it couldn’t be better, so I knew when we had a day like this and got a result like this it would be extra special … everyone has been great.
“It’s been pretty cool to repay the faith that Brad and Kim [Jones] have had in me to sign me up at the end of last year.
“It’s good and somewhere that I see myself, providing they have me for a long period of time.”
Closing in on his maiden win, Slade was nervous and had engineer Julian Stannard minimise communication on the radio. He was emotional about crossing the line first for the first time.
“It was crazy I told my engineer Julian to cut it on telling me how many laps to go. It was quiet, I got nothing for about 15-20 laps … [when] he was like, ‘three laps to go’ and I was like, ‘damn, I should have left it for another lap or two’ because those three laps went pretty quick.
“I mean, what I feeling! It’s pretty crazy, you know, being close a number of times.
“To do it this way is pretty awesome as well as being quickest yesterday, and then pole this morning. To basically control the race like that, it couldn’t be better.
“I definitely can’t take all the credit cause the guys and girls at BJR have given me a rocket.”
Slade becomes the ninth different winner in 10 races in 2016 – and is hoping to copy Championship leader Scott McLaughlin and go for the double tomorrow.
“We have more racing to do tomorrow so will defiantly be doing a bit of celebrating tomorrow night regardless of tomorrow’s result.
“Based on today’s pace, I’d hope and feel confident that we are going to have pretty good speed again tomorrow.”