Well that was one of the craziest and most humbling weeks of my life.
It all started Wednesday when we rolled into Sydney and attended the official V8 Supercars welcome lunch. It was there that I met Marcos for the first time in 10 years and really enjoyed chatting to him about his time in NASCAR. It was soon after that the embarrassment started. I was invited on stage for an interview and met by a standing ovation after some very nice words from Neil Crompton which was greatly appreciated.
The next night I had one of the best meals of my life at The Meat & Wine Co in Darling Harbour, thanks Caltex.
It was then time for business, time to deliver what we promised which was to go out there and race hard until the last lap of the last race. We were on for a very good lap in Saturday qualifying before the red flag came out which left us in P2. I was however wrapped for my good mate Will Davison who got his first pole for Erebus Motor Sport. We got off to great start in both Saturday races and lead from the front until the rain hit hard. I’ve later watched the reply and on tele and the rain didn't look that bad, but trust me it was absolutely pelting down. We also have to remember that we don't have a wet tyre; we have an intermediate tyre that we call a wet so it was absolutely the right decision for race control to finish the race under safety car as the vision and aquaplaning was insane.
Another very special moment of the weekend was Sunday morning when I got presented a one-off gold helmet from my team. I found it extremely kind of them going to the effort in doing something special for me and wore it with pride. I’m really happy that it now lives in a very special place at the Red Bull headquarters in Sydney.
We rolled out for qualifying on Sunday and the car wasn't quite as quick but good enough to get in the shootout. Going out third last in the shootout I decided to throw it all on the line, as per usual, but this time I made a mistake and locked the rear tyres and ran the car through the first chicane which ended my lap. Big congrats to Scott Mac for grabbing the last pole of the year with a very tidy lap. We both finished equal 1st on 10 pole positions each, however the trophy was awarded to me for having the most second place qualifying finishes. It was fantastic to see Armour All match the prize money of 10k – I’m pretty sure GRM’s would’ve lasted longer than ours which was gone in a few hours Sunday night on good food and drink : )
I really enjoyed Sunday's race, we pushed hard and quickly got to 5th from our 9th starting position. Like Saturday we knew the rain was coming so we were all hanging out waiting for it to hit and did it hit hard. Within a few minutes the track was flooded which meant we were back in the pit lane again waiting for it to stop but after 15 minutes it just kept getting harder. I jumped out of the car and took the opportunity to get a feed and waited to see what race control would do. Eventually the call came over the radio that the race was abandoned which meant a start to the celebrations.
I quickly got through all the media stuff to get back to my team, family and friends, the people that made #6 happen, so I could share a very special moment in my professional life drinking champagne around the cars in the pit garage.
For those of you that weren't at the Gala awards Monday night, I had the most humbling night of my life. I was hoping no one realised that I broke the Championship record but instead I was absolutely floored and I hate to admit it but I was brought to tears by extremely kind words from close friends in Will Davison, Mark Dutton and the boss Roland Dane along with highly respected members of the sport including Mark Skaife, Dick Johnson and James Warburton.
I actually had a speech written for the first time in a long time but due to the moment I decided to leave it in my pocket and talk from the heart.
As I said on the night, I want to thank the competition. I absolutely love racing and the intensity this year was insane. Every single pole position and race win is earned from throwing everything on the line and hanging on for grim death. You can see this in the highlights package, I have never seen so many fist pumps from the drivers and teams after a race win.
Secondly I wanted to thank the category itself. In my opinion the management team lead by James Warburton are doing a fantastic job. This year there were so many big decisions that had to be made and from what I could see they were done with proper due diligence and class which all in all is critical for every Australian motorsport fan including myself.
I now want to acknowledge my team Red Bull Racing Australia. Lead by Roland and now Dutto, I owe everything to these guys and girls. They are my inspiration. While there were so many unbelievable personal performances within the group I find it unfair to single anyone out. We win as a team, lose as a team and share the ups and downs as a team which is exactly what we did.
We all know that we can't go racing without fantastic corporate partners. We don't have anyone that just wants a sticker on the car these days, all our corporate partners love the sport and are part of making us a better team which we truly thank you for.
Then we have PD, what a machine this bloke was again this year. Not only is he one the best blokes around that can tear up any dance floor (actually he doesn't even need a dance floor), but given a good car he can drive it as good as anyone.
On a personal note I owe so much to my friends and family which includes my Uncle Gra, partner Courtney, trainer Hainsey, and Personal Assistant Sam. Not only do they make me a better athlete but they keep me grounded which is most important to me. It's moments like the weekend that it hurts not having Dad around, he would’ve been absolutely loving it. But, as he would say, lets get on with it and keep living every day like it's your last.
Finally a massive thank you to my fan base. It is widely publicised that I have a few hundred haters out there that don't like the way I live my life but there is no chance I am changing that. To the thousands of fans that have come out to the track in rain, hail or shine, sent me very kind messages of support or even just liked my posts, I really appreciate your support and it's all not worth it without you. For the ones that have been there right from the start, I hope you are feeling the joy of #6 as much as I am.
I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a safe and happy New Year wherever you are. Please try and take the opportunity to catch up with family and new and old friends to celebrate what a great year it was and recharge the batteries for another big year ahead.
All the best and bye for 2014.
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I thought I’d wait a few days to let the roller coaster of emotions from the weekend sink in and for my brain to get back to a normal operating range before I started hitting the keyboard to tell you my side of the story.
All in all what an incredible race and week it was for motorsport. I have never seen so much action and carnage in all my life and it was one of my most enjoyable weekends behind the wheel of a race car. Once again I am really proud of the fact that for the 3rd year in a row car #1 took the battle down to the last lap of Australia's greatest motor race.
I have never had a tougher lead up to Bathurst since joining the team back in 2006. The weekend started with a bent tail shaft from Sandown which put us out of practice 1. We then struggled for straight line speed with a slightly sick engine which the boys had to replace Thursday night. The next couple of days saw two relatively heavily crashed cars - a going away present from Luffy on 888 and myself trying to find a couple of tenths that just weren't there. Trying to find that speed ultimately ended when I arrowed it into the fence in qualifying at the cutting and put our starting position for the great race 3rd last. Combine all this with a badly balanced car which was genuinely 20th fastest in the final practice session and we were not in a good place at all heading into the final day.
I am not sure what happened Saturday night, I’m suspecting the French Genie made an appearance to the garage and we came out Sunday morning absolutely flying. Starting from virtually last, the mentality was to push hard and thats what we did. After 15 laps we were in the top 5 which made up for our poor qualifying performance, but like everything, nothing comes for free and the side effect was we had another bent tail shaft and a well fatigued driver in a hot (but fast) car early on. As I said on tele, I was very doubtful that the tail shaft was going to last the day so I believe we got lucky (like many others) with that mid race red flag to repair the track as it allowed us to fix the tail shaft and race on to the end.
Just as we caught our breath the next drama unfolded with me making a slight error down at the chase and running wide which had massive consequences with a spin, blown tyre and a drive through penalty, causing us to go 1 3/4 laps down. There was talk at this stage to circulate and save tyres for the next round but in my mind this wasn't even an option. We were there to race and race hard and that's exactly what we did.
To not only get our lap back but to lead the race on the last lap makes me so proud of my team, I can hardly explain the pride. Throughout the entire week it seemed that the more curve balls that came our way the more it lifted the crew and the harder they worked and fought for the prize - which to me means absolutely everything.
There is a bit of confusion on what was going on after the final safety car which I’m happy to clear up for you. I had clear radio and knew I had the job of conserving fuel and sticking to a fuel number. At this point I was negotiating the most important 6 laps of my life on a tricky track full of sun glare and debris, and on worn tyres with no cool suit. I bent the rear view mirror away and had my head down doing what I do, I was fully aware of my fuel number and while I didn't hit that number every lap I had a clear calculation on the average and was absolutley on target to achieve that number before the chequered flag. The thing was that the game changed when we hit the reserve fuel tank, we know it’s capacity is 2.5 laps but we had 3 to go. It was clear then that we were in a bit of trouble and the numbers we were working to weren’t correct. In hindsight.....................................actually looking back only gives you a sore neck, we rolled the dice, gave it everything we had and ended up 5th. I’m sure the 12 other stories from our opposition are all a bit different, but this is our story on why we didn't win the great race.
I can't thank you guys enough for the 1000's of calls, messages, emails and texts you have sent my way the last few days, with many of you suggesting my performance was the best you had ever seen. Once again my performance is our performance and it's very humbling that you feel this way.
As Jeff Fenech once said, I love youse all and lets do it all again next week at the GC600.