Josh Hughes endured a bit of everything in the 2010 Commodore Cup Endurance Challenge at Winton on the weekend, including a last-minute driver swap, a cruel strategy blow and an untimely mechanical failure.
Hughes contested all three practice sessions in the wet on Friday after his original co-driver, Paul Morris, did not arrive at the racetrack due to illness. He was fifth in the last two sessions.
"In the first session, there was no toe on the front wheels, so the car just wouldn't turn into corners," he reported.
After the session, the team discovered a loose front-left shock absorber, which was repaired immediately.
Changes were made for the other two sessions, with Josh reporting that the car was handling a lot better. However, by Friday afternoon, it was revealed that Paul Morris would not be able to attend the event. Fortunately, another talented driver was available at extremely short notice: 2007 Australian Formula Ford champion and current Fujitsu V8 Supercar competitor Tim
For qualifying, Hughes and Blanchard each contested a 20-minute session, with the times added up to set the grid positions for the weekend's opening 45-minute race.
Hughes drove the car in the first session and set a few good laps before the tyres overheated.
"There was lots of understeer in the last few laps of the session, so we adjusted the tyre pressures during the red-flag that happened in the middle of the session," Hughes said.
Blanchard's first drive of the #12 Octane Alley Race Engines / Blackwoods / Bertiestreet.com Commodore came in the second qualifying session, and he was on the pace straight away, ultimately setting the seventh-fastest time in the session.
"It took some time for me to get used to the car, it's a bit different from the V8 Supercar," he said.
Despite his unfamiliarity with the vehicle, Blanchard still managed an impressive seventh in the session, giving him and Josh a grid position of sixth for Race 1.
Josh started Race 1 and moved up to fourth, overtaking Adam Beechey and Matt Chick. Before long he also overtook the ailing Commodore of Tony Bates to move up to third.
On Lap 9, the safety-car was deployed when Chris Stevenson crashed on the main straight. In what looked to be a strategic masterstroke, team engineer Tim Pattinson called Hughes into the pits for his compulsory wheel change. The team performed an efficient stop, but unfortunately the officials closed pit exit and Josh lost almost a lap on the cars that elected to stay out an
extra lap before coming into the pits.
"I don't understand why they closed the pit exit," Josh said after the race. "It basically cost us any chance of a podium finish."
Hughes did a single lap before coming back into the pits to hand the car over to Blanchard, who did an admirable job for the remainder of the race, overtaking Darren Hossack and Shane Price to move up to ninth place by the finish.
"Ninth was really disappointing, we really should have been second behind Lee and Brett Holdsworth in that race," Hughes said.
There was a morning warmup for Race 2. Josh reported that the car was feeling great and immediately jumped to the top of the timesheets, where he stayed for the duration of the session.
The team elected to install Tim Blanchard in the car for the start of the second race, and he again drove extremely well, moving from ninth up to fourth in the first five laps. Unfortunately, that was all the driving Tim would get to do, as the race ended prematurely when the throttle cable snapped.
"Overall, it was a disappointing weekend," Hughes said. "The car is going really well now and we just keep getting faster and faster, so it's a shame not to have any result to show for it.
"Thanks to Tim for coming to Winton at such short notice to drive with me, my sponsors Blackwoods and Octane Alley Race Engines, my new sponsor Bertiestreet.com and all the pit crew who worked really hard over the weekend. Hopefully I can reward you all with a top result soon," Hughes concluded.
Round Results Summary - Josh Hughes
Race 1: 9th
Race 2: DNF
Overall: 16th (74 points)
Commodore Cup national series - top-10 pointscore (after 4 of 6 rounds)
1. Adam Beechey - 518
2. Scott Andrews - 469
3. Tony Bates - 449
4. Nick Parker - 434
5. Ross McGregor - 399
6. Josh Hughes - 390
7. Matt Chick - 360
8. Chris Stevenson - 320
9. Adam Lloyd - 319
10. Matt Hayes - 311