2000 Australian Grand Prix

Wednesday March 8, 2000

 We got to the track area at about 12 noon, but we made a wrong turn
(many wrong turns actually) and wasted another hour driving around in
circles.  The track was open for FF teams from 7 AM til 1 PM, but
we only just made it in time.  I was stressing bigtime.  All the other
teams were there already, but paddock spaces were assigned by the club,
so we got our original space.  Fords were lined up in a row of several
tents and drivers names and car numbers were on big signs over the
spaces.  The other side of the paddock space was for V8 Supercars, and
one end was for the NASCAR-type cars.  At the end of the FF row was the
space for the McLaren 2-seater.  There was a nice snack bar thing in the
middle and the area is normally a cricket field so it was well-kept
green grass.

 Spent the rest of the day getting the car and drivers gear inspected,
and taking care of registration paperwork with CAMS.  Overall,
everything was very well organized.  The FF club had their own tent in
our area with a TV, BBQ, and PR stuff.  Left the track about 6 PM and
drove to the hotel.

Thursday March 9, 2000

The drivers meeting Thursday morning was with the V8 Supercar guys and
was the standard fare about not ignoring yellow flags, staying off the
curbs, etc.  Got to talk to a few of the big boys, which was kinda
cool.  About half the Supercar field were FF drivers in the last few
years, so they all have a soft spot for the class.  It seems to be the
natural career path for Aussie drivers to do karts, FF, then Supercars
or Formula Holden (like FAtlantic).  I was told that 90 percent of the
FF field started racing go-karts when they were 12-14 years old.  I
definitely noticed most of the drivers were under 22 yo.  When I saw
Jensen Button in the pits I thought he was another of the Ford drivers.

 We were the first session of the morning with a 25 minute practice.
The weather was nice, about 80 degrees and clear.  Pregrid was pretty
similar to the SCCA routine, but we stopped out on the track in the F1
grid spaces.  I didn't know that was the plan, so missed my box by a
ways.  Luckily, there's no penalty during practice.  We sat for about 5
minutes; I think I may have been the only one with my engine running,
and I proceeded to overheat.  It cooled down okay once I got moving-
wouldn't do THAT again.  I've been running the course in the F1
simulator game, but the computer doesn't do justice to how beautiful the
place is.  Lots of green grass, freshly painted FIA berms, overhanging
trees, and big turn braking markers.  The program also doesn't do
justice to how difficult the course is.  No real high-speed corners
(much to my regret) but a couple of 3rd gear sweepers and tough
medium-quick 2nd gear chicanes.  Felt really good in the car and started
to pick out solid references and expand my line to include the curbs.
When I tested at Eastern Creek I tried to figure out why I was 2
seconds  slower than the leaders.  I figured it was the treaded tires
and I thought maybe I was sliding them too much.  At Albert Park I
concentrated on being smooth and not sliding so much.  It's tough
because the Van Dieman is very stiff and the tires tend to be low on
grip anyway.  At the end of the session I had turned a 2:15.9 which was
23rd out of 34.  I was satisfied with that because I knew I had more and
the field is very strong.  Quickest time was in the 2:10 range.

 Qualifying was at noon for 20 minutes and the temperature was in the
high 80's with high humidity.  I went out intending to tear up the
track.  When I started my hot laps, I got real sideways everywhere.
Thinking it was because I was pushing hard, I kept it up.  Turned out,
the secondary butterfly return spring had broken and was sticking open.
When I went into the turns, taking my practice line and braking points,
the engine was still pushing me forward.  My best time was 2:15.4.
Everybody else improved a lot more and I ended up in 28th.  Tim figured
we might be able to raise top gear another tooth so he changed it before
the race.

 We had the first of three 8 lap races at 4:45 PM.  It was pretty hot
and humid.  Because the Supercars, NASCAR, and sports cars (no F1's on
Thursday) had run, a good grip line had formed to improve lap times.
Off-line there was a lot of dust and ground up dried grass.  As we
pulled up on the dummy grid before the warm-up lap, I looked to my right
at the pit wall and saw Ralf Schumacher leaning on the pit wall looking
right into my eyes.  It kind of freaked me out.  I was later told that
the F1 crew and several drivers would wander to the pit wall for the
start of all our races.  This was my first standing start (at least in
18 years) and I was so far back I couldn't see the 10 seconds-to-go
board.  F1 starts with the lights counting up one, two, three, four,
five, then the lights go out in 3 to 5 seconds.  We get a 10 second
board, then all the lights, then 3-5 seconds before they go out.  I got
my revs up just in time to drop the clutch just after the lights went
out.  I lost a place with the demon start, and tried to settle in to a
groove.  Two guys got on either side of me to go 3 wide into turn 4,
which has only enough room for one.  I pulled out to avoid contact.  I
was surprised with the level of aggression back in 29th place.  ALL
these guys are out for blood.  Somebody spun in front of me, I went thru
the grass to avoid him, then found myself in last place.  For the rest
of the race, that fact wigged me out.  I couldn't concentrate and made
lots of little mistakes.  I could follow closely behind the two last
cars, but couldn't put it together to pass them.  About the 4th lap, I
pulled out in the draft on the front straight to pull alongside the car
in front.  I didn't plan on passing, but had brain fade and left it too
late to pull back in behind him.  At about 140 MPH I found myself
sliding in the dust heading for turn 1.  I tried to pinch to the inside
of the turn and lost it completely.  I would have made it through,
except they put a tire bundle right on the apex.  I hit it with the left
front tire almost broadside.  I spun across the track and came to rest
in the grass on the outside of the turn.  Shit, I'd done that often
enough in the simulator, but there aren't any tires in the way...  While
I was trying to start the hot engine, I looked up to see myself in the
big screen TV.  I heard catcalls behind me when my exhaust belched flame
and I got restarted.  What an embarrassment!! I was now 40 seconds in
last place and drove as hard as I could to catch up.  My best lap was a
low 2:16.  I had seriously bent the left tie rod and had about 20
degrees of toe-in.  I think that may have been my worst race ever.  Tim
replaced the tie rod and we aligned it the next day.  We left the track
just after dark.  I beat myself up all night and tried to figure out how
I was going to stay off the back the rest of the weekend.

Friday March 10, 2000

Friday was another warm beautiful day.  We spent most of the day
aligning the car, changing gears back to the qualifying top, and just
waiting.  We watched the F1 practice from various spots near the last
turn and the pit lane.  They're really awesome up close!  My race was at
5:25 but we had to be ready at 4:45.  We rolled out to pregrid and I
tried to focus and visualize the track.  Even though I finished near
last, there were six cars behind me.  One of the quick guys had spun and
actually finished behind me.  The other 5 cars had DNF'd in the first
race.  I practiced a start from the warm up dummy grid and it felt
pretty good.  The gearing here is way different from the US because of
the standing start.  You don't use 1st on the track at all, it's a stump
puller and you can easily light up the tires.  I warmed up the tires
aggressively and found out later (from the VHS tape I got from the
network) that all the quick guys actually throw the car sideways to warm
the tires on the warmup lap.  I'll remember that for future races.  We
pulled into our boxes, the red lights came on and... the yellow flag
came out.  Somebody was waving his arms because of a stalled motor, and
we had to go around for another warmup lap.  By the time we got off the
second time, everybody was overheating.  Because I had the problem
before, I took it easy on the revs during the second warm up.  Temp
started to come down as we pulled into position the second time.  The
red lights came on, then went out, and again I was a little late getting
off.  I only lost one position to the fast guy next to me.  I followed
him into turn 1 hoping to latch on while he carved his way thru.  He
went way deep on the outside, three wide and I anticipated his problem.
He tangled with another car causing general mayhem.  I dove inside and
missed the carnage.  About 10 yards in front of me there was a car
sideways blocking the track.  Without looking, I took violent evasive
right and power-slid around him.  Luckily, there was space for me to get
through and I got clear.  I started pulling away from the few cars that
made it through the first turn and settled into a groove.  Two cars went
off in the 3rd gear sweeper turn 11/12 ahead of me.  One of them shot
back across the road and I missed him by inches.  Since you're on the
limit in that turn, I had no choice but to maintain my line and speed.
He slammed into the wall on the inside and pretty much destroyed his
car.  I think the crashes (and driving through them) cleared my head
because I was in the zone.  I caught and passed a couple more cars, and
then saw somebody going thru the grass in turn 6.  I almost got by him
at the chicane but had to pull in behind.  He was a top ten car and I
had no problem staying on his tail.  The race was shortened to six laps
and the checker came out before I had a chance to size him up for a
pass.  I finished 21st and clocked the 15th fastest time of the weekend
with a 2:12.9.  If I had managed that time in qualifying, I would have
started 14th.  Needless to say, I felt pretty good about the day's
result.  Anxious for race three on Saturday.

Saturday March 11, 2000

We got to the track early to take advantage of a pit lane walk for FF
drivers.  We were allowed 45 minutes to basically go where we wanted.
We went in at 8 AM and the F1's had practice at 9 AM, so things were
busy.  I stood over the Arrows team as they practiced pit stops.  I
stood behind Ross Braun and Jean Todt in the Ferrari pits and could
almost hear what they were saying.  I stood next to an engineer in the
Williams pits while he was warming up Ralf's car.  He had his head in a
standup computer terminal and stared at a complicated readout.  When he
moved a joystick the engine revved!  There was nobody near the car, but
he had full control from the computer!  That's sick...  They had to
almost push most of us out of the pits but we reluctantly went back to
the real world of dinky little FF's and grease.  We had to do shifts
signing autographs with the V8 guys.  People even came to our pit and
asked me to autograph the FF poster!  Never done that before...  Tim and
I just polished up the car and waited for the race, again at 5:25.  I
went to the other side of the track and took some pictures of the F1
second practice.  We watched qualifying from an area inside the last
turn where only competitors could go.  It was only about 10 yards from
the track directly across from the Schumacher grandstand.  Behind us was
a big screen TV for that stands so we could watch that when we couldn't
see the cars.  Not bad!!!  The temperature was in the mid-nineties and
the track temperature was around 125.  It got even hotter 3 hours later
when we raced.

 Racing in California prepared me for the heat of the afternoon.  I
sweated so much it soaked my suit and cooled me off a little.  I was
really stoked for the start and determined to get off the line well.  I
concentrated on the lights, nailed the revs on 5200 RPM, and dropped the
clutch just as the lights went out.  It felt as if I was moving and
everybody else was standing still.  Now that's how you're supposed to do
it!  I think I'm going to like this standing start business.  I jumped 2
cars on the start and passed a 3rd under braking for the 1st turn.  I
started battling with a black car and we went at it hammer and tong for
the next 2 laps.  I think we were in about 17th.  I had him behind me
for a lap, then noticed a yellow car pulling up on us.  I got a little
sideways at the exit of turn 1 and both cars drafted me down the
straight leading to turn 4.  The black car pulled to the inside and the
yellow car pulled to the outside and there we were going into turn 4
three wide again!  I wasn't about to back out this time and put my nose
right on the gearbox of the black car as we entered the turn.  The
yellow car was still on the outside and started moving into my left.  I
pinched down to avoid locking wheels and clipped the tires (fuck those
things) sitting on the apex of the curb.  The right front wheel bent
straight up and I coasted to a stop near a hole in the fence between
turn 4 and 5.  The upper A-arm was bent in half.  I climbed through the
fence and took off my helmet.  I heard some people yelling "Jim,
Jim..."  and couldn't figure out who might know me.  Of course, I forgot
that my name was on the car.  The crowd offered me beer, champagne, and
water.  I took some water and had a nice conversation with the turn
workers.  Everybody said the accident was the other guy's fault, but I
guess they would say that since he wasn't standing there with me.  I
should have taken him out, but instinct made me choose hitting the tires
instead of another car.  When the checkered flag came out I talked one
of the turn workers into helping me pull the A-arm sort of straight so I
could drive back to the pits instead of on the tow truck.  I limped back
with the steering wheel turned 90 degrees left.  It was kind of fun
because the crowd cheered when I went by...bunch o' drunks!!

Sunday March 12, 2000

 Sunday wasn't as hot as Saturday and I went to the track fairly early
to visit a friend in the TV compound.  Tim left Sunday morning for
Adelaide to pick up a car so he missed the race.  Geoff was the Comms
Manager for the race coverage and got me into the compound no problem.
He gave me the grand tour and introduced me to his wife, who was
directing the show.  Even though Aussie TV didn't show any Ford coverage
this year, they recorded all 3 races for me on VHS.  I watched it and it
was quite educational.  I was usually too far back to see except for a
flash, but watching the front runners helped me see how I'm not using
the tires right.  Maybe next race I can work on that.  Watched the F1
race from the same spot as qualifying and it was a hoot.  No beer in the
paddock, but I had a few before the race got going.  The crowd went
berserk when the Ferraris finished one-two.  I sat in the Schumacher
stands to watch the drivers interviews on the big screen.  The stands
had emptied immediately onto the track as soon as the race was over.

 Overall it was well worth the money.  I probably dropped about A$10K
between the car rental, new suit, hotel, entry fees, and about $500 in
suspension damage.  An experience that can't be repeated and something
I'll remember the rest of my life.  Just wish I had more time to move
toward the front...


My weapon of choice- Van Dieman RF92 run by Tim Beale at Anglo-Australian Motorsport.
Testing at Eastern Creek Raceway near Sydney in February.
Paddock space at Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Polesitter and eventual winner Christian Murchison with one of the Karcher girls.
I'm somewhere way in the background...
Just before the start on Thursday.
In front of Chris Dell in the first practice.  There's a story here...
I had just passed these guys at the beginning of the second race.

Nice side shot of the car.

Very clean McLaren two-seater.
Couple of Ford Falcon V8 Supercars.
Russell Ingall with his Holden (GM) Commodore V8 Supercar.
Prost pit.  Note the fancy graphics on the modular walls.  Behind the back wall
is a hospitality area and offices, all modular.
Jaguar spare parts lying around.
Jordan pits.  The front wings are slip-on fakes to disguise setups.
McLaren pit is clean but kind of cluttered for 1 hour before final practice...
Ferrari mechanics were still putting Schumacher's car back together after Friday crash.
Ferrari brain trust Jean Todt and Ross Braun.
Up close and personal during an Arrows practice pit stop.
Murchison accepting the Alan Jones Trophy from ... uh ...