Aussie Driver Search – Sandown Raceway

Becoming a successful race car driver is a dream that many people have but barriers like funding can stand in the way of achieving this dream.  The Aussie Driver Search was founded by Kyle Austin and is the only competition that provides anyone an opportunity at motorsport no matter their background, budget or experience level, with some great prizes on offer.

The competition is being held over three Australian states.  The Queensland event was held at Morgan Park Raceway on Tuesday 29th August 2017.  The Victorian event was held at Sandown Raceway on Friday 8th and Saturday 9th September 2017 while the New South Wales event will be held at Sydney Motorsport Park on Monday 2nd October 2017.  The finale will be held at Sydney Motorsport Park on Tuesday 31st October 2017.

This year’s Aussie Driver Search consisted of four different competitions.  The Pro Competition consisted of 10 minute drives in a Toyota 86, BMW 130i and Nissan Pulsar SSS.  Five entrants at each track are chosen to go through to the finale with the prize being a full season in the 2018 Toyota 86 Racing Series.  The Amateur Competition consisted of 10 minute drives in a Toyota 86 and Nissan Pulsar.  Again five entrants from each track are chosen to go through to the finale with the winner receiving a $20 000 Racing Budget.  The V8 Ute Competition involved a 10 minute drive in a V8 Ute.  Five entrants from each track will compete in the finale with the winner getting a drive in the final ever V8 Utes race at Newcastle later this year.  Finally, the Rookie Competition consisted of a 10 minute drive in a HSV GTS with one participant from each track winning a drive around Mount Panorama in a V8 Race Car.

Having entered the Aussie Driver Search in the Rookie Competition held at Marulan Driver Training Centre in 2016, I was lucky enough to be invited back to compete in the Amateur Competition held at Sandown International Raceway.  The track is 3.1km’s in length and runs in an anti-clockwise direction.  At Sandown, three-time V8 Ute Champion Ryal Harris was the judge for the ute competition.  Former full time V8 Supercar driver Ash Walsh and Australia’s leading female race car driver, Renee Gracie were also judges at Sandown.

The day consisted of a morning and afternoon session.  I decided to compete in the afternoon session and arrived at the circuit at 10.30 to organise my CAMS Licence (L2S), Insurance and fill out ADS and CAMS Disclaimer forms.  I was also given 2 timers (1 for the Toyota 86 and 1 for the Nissan Pulsar SSS), a wrist band and a sheet with my approximate times on track.  The driver’s briefing was held by Kyle Austin at 12.00 where he discussed what the judges were looking for in order to progress to the next round at Sydney Motorsport Park in October.  Ash Walsh also discussed the nature of the circuit, with a big emphasis put on consistency, smoothness and mechanical sympathy.  He also discussed the importance of respecting the vehicles and not pushing over your limits.  Speed was obviously an item that was judged on but wasn’t the most important aspect.

For the morning session, the weather was good with a dry track greeting competitors.  I was second in the order for the Amateur Competition and was out in the Toyota 86 race car at about 1.15pm.  By this time, the weather had deteriorated significantly.  Light rain started to fall as I headed out of pit lane so extra caution was required.  I’ve never driven at Sandown before so the first lap was spent trying to learn the circuit and the car and try and not make any mistakes.  I struggled with the gearbox for the first part of the drive and a few times I found it difficult getting into second gear, particularly heading into turns 4 and 9.  After only three laps, I was feeling more comfortable with the car and track but had to come in.

The rain really started to come down after this resulting in a number of on track incidents including spins and one of the cars met the wall.  As a result, Ryal and Kyle spoke to us about the importance of driving to the conditions and respecting the cars.  Some of the instructors went out to test the track conditions and they reported 4th gear wheelspin at 160km/h on the front and back straights in the V8 ute and HSV’s.  Because of this, the V8’s were deemed too dangerous to drive in these conditions and due to them not having full wet weather tyres this was the right decision.  People driving these cars were required to come back the next day on a drier track.

I was due to drive the Pulsar at about 2.30pm however with all the weather delays I was unsure if I’d get the drive.  Fortunately I managed to get 7 laps in after heading out at about 4.30pm.  I was very lucky as there was a 5.00pm curfew on the track.  I found the Pulsar much easier to drive and had no issues with finding gears.  The track was very wet at this time with particular caution needed heading into turn 2.  I was hitting 160km/h on the long back straight which was certainly fast enough for the conditions.

Unfortunately I didn’t progress to the next round however I was up against some very talented drivers.  I was happy with my progression during the day but a bit disappointed with my lack of pace.  I guess there’s always next year!

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