With the brand new Interlloy Chevrolet Camaro GT3 arriving in the country just days out from the opening round of the 2015 Australian GT season, the Melbourne-based M-Motorsport team knew they were up against it heading to Adelaide, but whilst the results might not have been everything they were looking for, there were few people that left the Clipsal 500 event unaware of the big American inspired GT3 racer.
“When we made the decision to change from the Lamborghini to the Camaro for the 2015 season, we knew that time was against us,” M-Motorsport team-boss Justin McMillan admitted.
“The Camaro is still a relatively new car on the world scene, and Reiter Engineering (who are also responsible for the construction of the successful Lamborghini Gallardo GT3) needed to finish the two cars they sent to Australia just prior to the start of the season, so we had little time to ‘shake’ the cars down. Almost inevitably, we struck teething problems throughout the event.
“There seems to be a number of small electrical pulse issues which Reiter themselves have admitted may well be due to the nature of the Adelaide street circuit and the high kerbs, as they haven’t discovered these problems in Europe or in Thailand where the other Camaros are competing. Ultimately it sidelined us at times during practice - both cars - and again, frustratingly, during qualifying, neither Dale Paterson’s Camaro, nor mine were able to record a good qualifying time.
“That said, both Tomas [Enge] and Steve [Richards] were able to sit on top of the practice times during both sessions, despite limited laps - in the end I think we were fourth fastest and seventh fastest of the 34 cars after practice was completed, so there was no question the speed is there.”
“It’s a pity we didn’t have time to run the cars and iron out any of the problems before Clipsal, because these cars would really have starred here if we’d been able to have a clean run,” three-time Bathurst 1000 champion Steven Richards admitted.
Both Richards and Reiter Engineering favourite Tomas Enge (former F1/Indycar driver) were fast during the opening 30-mninute race, scything through the field from the back, Richards going from 28th to ninth, Enge from 34th to 12th, despite almost a third of the race running behind the Safety Car and two hefty compulsory pit stop penalties by virtue of their status as professional drivers.
“That was fun,” Enge beamed post-race. “I was being a little cautious with the slower cars, so just missed the top ten, but as we predicted, these cars are perfectly suited to the nature of this circuit, with some very slow speed corners running onto long straights.
“I was able to follow Richo once we were through the slower cars, then we had the Safety Car period and pitted, but with our 45-second time penalty because of our driver gradings, we lost all those positions again. So we started from the back again after the restart and worked our way forward.”
Sadly for Enge, he would not turn another lap of the Adelaide Parklands circuit, after team-mate Justin McMillan suffered an ECU failure in the second 60-minute race in which Enge was expected to take over at the compulsory pit stop, whilst the Paterson/Richards Camaro was sidelined with its own electrical issues.
Fortunately Reiter Engineering had sent engineering staff to the event to oversee the operation of the two cars, providing M-Motorsport with valuable support to locate and rectify the problems, something they were able to do ahead of the final 30-minute race on Sunday morning where McMillan and Paterson would once again start rear of field, a position which ultimately kept them clear of the impending drama at the front of the field. A cautious start by the two Sareni Camaros on the run to turn one proved to be the right strategy, as they entered the relatively blind turn one chicane to the scene of one of the biggest accidents in Australian GT history after the leading Ferrari struck the barriers on the outside of the chicane, before bouncing back across into the path of the chasing pack.
Neither Camaro was damaged in the incident, but with the field circulating behind the Safety Car for almost half the race, overtaking opportunities were limited, McMillan ultimately working his way through for 17th and Paterson 20th. “We’ve still got a couple of small issues, but we’re getting there with the car,” McMillan explained post-race. “It was fastest outright through the speed trap, so we’re pretty impressed with the speed the car has, we just have to fix those couple of new car issues.
“In conjunction with Reiter Engineering, we’re going to undertake a two-day test at Phillip Island in the next few weeks and we’ll get this car well and truly sorted.”
Whilst a tough weekend for the M-Motorsport team, there were a number of positives to take away from the event, notably the fan reaction to the big 7.9-litre V8 and the attention the car received every time it hit the circuit.
“I’ve never seen so many people come up and ask for photos or to have a look at the car,” McMillan admitted. “They all commented on how good it looked, and on the sound - something which has to be heard to be believed!”
For the M-Motorsport team, the focus now shifts to test-mode ahead of the only endurance race in the 2015 Australian GT Championship, the 101-lap race at Phillip Island on 22-24 May.