The 2012 Australian GT Championship had proven a mixed experience so far for the Trofeo Motorsport team, with drivers Jim Manolios and Rod Wilson recovering from a conservative start at the Clipsal 500, to record a strong run in challenging conditions at Phillip Island for round two.
Things started brilliantly at Winton during opening practice for round three too, with the big American Chevrolet Corvette Z06 GT3-R third in opening practice in slippery cool conditions after holding down P2 for much of the session.
“The car was a jet in the wet,” Rod Wilson admitted afterwards. “And what was promising was that I could feel where we could improve, in fact the lap I pulled in to check tyres, I was up by over a second on my best lap, so to be just six tenths off young sportscar star Jonathon Reid in the Maranello Motorsport Ferrari, and just a quarter of a second off Mercedes pilot Peter Hackett, was a great result; let’s hope the rest of the weekend goes that well.”
Jim Manolios took over the car for sessions two and three in the slippery conditions in preparation for the two one hours mini-enduros set for the weekend ahead.
Qualifying saw dry conditions for the teams, stark contrast to Friday’s persistent rain, with Rod Wilson qualifying the big Corvette in position nine.
“The track might have been dry, but it was terribly cold, so it took me four laps to build heat in the tyres, and every lap after I was baulked by a slower car, so that was it,” he shrugged afterwards. “I really felt we had a mid 22 in us, but it wasn’t to be.”
Rod got a storming start during the opening race, taking both reigning champion Mark Eddy and Ford GT pilot Kevin Weeks in the opening laps to be sixth by the time he handed the car over to Jim.
Jim rejoined in position eight, running consistent laps to remain inside the top ten until a late race pit stop dropped the team back to position 11 by the flag.
“The car was beautiful in the wet, but we’ve got a bit of work to do with the balance of it in the dry,” Jim admitted afterwards. “It starts off quick, but the understeer develops over the course of each run which is down to the bulk horsepower and the big rear wheels, you really have to manage your throttle application to avoid wheelspin out of the slower corners. It’s just a balance issue, and we’ll get on top of it, we just missed our testing opportunity on Friday with all the rain.”
Jim started race two and he held down P10 early, but dropped back in the pack before pitting on lap 20 to hand over to Rod.
Rod turned in some strong laps over the final sector of the race to cross the line in 12th position, admitting afterwards that the result hadn’t been ideal, but that the technical stop-go nature of the Winton circuit wasn’t ideally suited to the big American muscle car.
“Typically, Winton in winter threw just about everything it had at us,” he said afterwards.
“With that much horsepower and those big rear wheels, it’s a matter of managing the way you come out of the slow corners so that you don’t get on the power too early and light them up,” he explained. “It’s about getting the right balance on setup to suit the conditions, but in this intense cold, with conditions regularly changing, it was difficult to find the right setup for the races, because things changed so quickly during sessions.
“It wasn’t the result we wanted, but we did our best in the conditions. We’ll go away and work on the balance of the car to be prepared for similar conditions in future, and I think there’s a bit more testing to come before we can be truly competitive with the lead pack, but Rod showed with his pace in the wet, that we’re not a long way off.”
“Another challenging weekend of competition all round. Victoria in winter is always interesting, and the changeable conditions make you busy, especially when you’re chasing a nice balance on the car. The Corvette in the wet was exceptional, one of the nicest cars I’ve driven, but whilst we were off a bit in the dry due to a lack of laps in those conditions, I think we learnt that we could be pretty competitive with the right balance, so we’ll go away and work on that for our next event.”