It’s all about teamwork at GRM

The sheer logistics of moving a V8 Supercars team around Australia is a major task, but it’s nothing like you expect. Prime Mover talks to the GRM team as they prepare for the next round of the championship.

Although the task of getting a V8 Supercars team to the track and ready to compete is very much a transport and logistics task, it is a task like no other in the trucking industry. All of the imperatives involved in moving freight from A to B have to be thrown out the window and the very nature of motorsport creates a number of very strict rules on how and when to get your team to the track and ready to race.

Since its inception in 1997, the V8 Supercar championship has grown both in size and in sophistication. The 18 teams are bigger and carry more equipment – in both quantity and quality – to the racetrack for each event, making the whole issue of ensuring everything the team may need over race weekend is at the track and in the right place even more important.

From a situation where most teams travelled the country in a semi-trailer, this sport has now grown to the point where just about every team in the championship is using at least a B-double to get to the track. The high-tech transporters with their custom built bodies and spectacular custom paint jobs have become part of the spectacle of the championship and become involved in transporter parades at a number of the V8 Supercars venues each year.

Garry Rogers Motorsport, better known as GRM, have been an integral part of the V8 Supercars seen since its inception. The team was founded by Garry Rogers, who has been involved in the sport since 1963. In recent years, he has seen a number of the current V8 drivers pass through the GRM team, including Stephen Richards, Garth Tander, Jason Bargwanna, Jamie Whincup, Cameron McConville and Lee Holdsworth.

The current drivers are Michael Caruso and Alexandre Premat. Caruso joined the team in 2008 after a career working his way up the rungs of the Australian motorsport ladder, via Formula 3 and the V8 Supercar Development Series. In a varied career, Frenchman, Premat has driven for a number of motorsport teams from around the world before joining GRM in 2012 and beginning to find his feet in this very Australian sport.

Prime Mover met the team as they arrived for the Coates Hire Ipswich 300 leg of the championship at the Willowbank Raceway on the outskirts of Ipswich in Queensland. The racetrack is a hive of activity as the teams only have a short time to prepare. They are not allowed to arrive before 8am on the Thursday morning before the race weekend. The day is spent unloading the transporter and getting the whole team layout set up in the pits and organising the team area around the transporter itself.

After initially getting onto the site at 8am, most of the equipment is out and in place sometime after lunch. Then the team goes through a process of fine-tuning, making sure everything is just right in preparation for the practice sessions and race ahead. The cars are checked over to make sure nothing has changed during the journey from how they were set up back in the workshops in Melbourne.

Hauling the trailer itself is a Freightliner Argosy, painted red and emblazoned with the team's major sponsors, powered with a Cummins engine rated at 550 hp. The B-double set, when fully loaded and heading for a race, weighs in at a grand total of around 56 tonnes. For some of the longer races like the Bathurst 1000, a larger number of spares and extra equipment are required and the vehicle will get quite close to its maximum allowable weight. The entire combination comes in just under the 26m limit. The truck itself does around 40 to 45,000 km each year heading out from Melbourne to each of the 15 events in the V8 Supercars calendar.

The B-double transporter is driven by Colin Schwartz, who comes from a trucking industry background and served his time running line haul B-doubles up and down our highways. He also has a strong motorsport pedigree in his background. His grandfather is a former Sprint Car Australian champion in speedway driving and his uncle has been a serious go kart racer for many years. A lot of Colin's leisure time in his younger years was spent involved in motorsport events, in one way or another. Now, it's a full-time profession.

“The difference between working in motorsport and transport is funny,” says Colin. “A lot of people who come into motorsport from trucking soon find out it's not quite what they expect. There's a lot more involved than just being a truckie. A lot of the truck drivers in the pit lane have other responsibilities within the team. A lot of them do the tyres for the cars, and that's my job. I do the tyres for car number 34, Michael Caruso's car.

“For each race we get allocated so many sets of tyres for the car. Here at Queensland Raceway we are allocated two sets of hard tyres and four sets of softs. When they're ready we have to check and document them. I work with the engineer to sort out what the pressures will be for the race. I'm responsible for making sure the right tyres at the right pressure are available at the right time. Another job is to watch the tyres for practice and when the car comes in I have to go out and check the pressures again and bleed them to make sure they are right.”

During the race, Colin is actually part of the pit crew. He is responsible for changing one of the wheels, the man with the gun getting one wheel off and the new one back on again without mistakes and as fast as possible.

“There's a lot of pressure to get it right and we had a major problem when we raced in Perth this year,” says Colin. “The guy who jacks the car up has to keep his eye on everyone and is looking for hands to show we are finished. It's a big responsibility for him. He had a panic moment and I had trouble getting the wheel off. I was just putting my wheel back on and gunning it up when he dropped the car. Of course, as soon as the car is dropped its the automatic reaction of the driver to set off. As he set off he shot the wheel back off again and so we had to jack it up and get it back on as soon as possible. It is very important because you can make up quite a bit of time in pit stops, it's a big thing.

“Before each race the pit crew have a briefing session which gives us a rough idea of the strategy. However, it is only a rough idea, anything can happen during the race. Then, as soon as the race is over and it's all done and dusted we come into the trailer and have a bit of a meeting about how we went and how we can do it better. If you do make a mistake you may get an honourable mention in the debrief.

“The feeling within the team is pretty good, everybody gets along well. We are probably one of the most fun and relaxed teams to work around in the pit lane. Everyone in the team has got a really good attitude. We can have fun, Garry himself is a big joker. At the end of the day, everyone knows their role and gets on with it.”

The entire team including those working back at base in Melbourne and those on the road with the race cars comes to around 37 people. Actually on the road are eight members of the team, in the pit crew, plus team management. Each car has two engineers, two mechanics plus a backup mechanic who can also perform other tasks within the team like fabricating body parts.

Colin is also responsible for the large parts inventory held in the trailer. If there is a crash and a need to repair the car, he has to go and get the pieces required and help get them onto the car. He is also responsible for all of the sponsor stickers which cover the outside of the car. It is commercially very important for the team to have the correct stickers on the correct part of the car at all times.

The trailer not only functions as a transporter for the team but also as a parts warehouse. Above the driver's room, at the front of the second trailer is a storage area for most of the car components. Bulkier components are stored in the top half of the lead trailer, above the area which serves as a meeting room and workshop during the race event. Each part has to be documented as it is used in order for Colin to be able to restock the parts inventory when the truck returns to team headquarters and starts preparing for the next race meeting.

The design of the trailers is an on-going evolution with each trailer being an improvement on its predecessor over the years. Garry Rogers uses his experience with the previous trailer when working on the design of the next one, a process which has seen the team fine tune how they carry their equipment from race to race.

Another aspect of the job for everyone involved in any V8 Supercars team is the importance of presentation to the public, to customers and sponsors. From the outside everything the team does has to look well organised and seamless. The major sponsors pay a good deal of money to be involved with these teams and have a right to expect everything should look its best when the race event is on.

The level of precision required in thinking through and then executing the task of getting these two race cars plus all of their ancillary equipment through to the race events is extremely high. This is not about getting some freight from point A and transporting it to point B, it's about ensuring all the equipment and components the team need arise in the best possible condition alongside the two racing cars.

The transporter itself has to be an integral part of the team and do its job within a team environment. The cars have to be at the race in the best possible condition and at exactly the right time, the imperative is about the quality of the transport rather than its speed and efficiency. As an ex-truckie, Colin seems to have made the transition and is clearly enjoying being part of the team.

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