Rally aces on Production Touring learning curve

The well-worn adage is that ‘you learn something new every day’, and rookie NSW Production Touring Car drivers Nick Cox and Russel Winks are living proof, both now and in the beginning.

“In our very first rally together, we hit an embankment,” recounts Winks, “and we learned that to finish first you must finish. Trying to recover a car in the forest, when you’ve got no idea where it was…”

“…in the rain…”, adds Cox.

“…was the next challenge,” continues Winks. “We got recovered by the sweep, which took us back to rally control, and we forgot to record where the car was.

“Lessons learned – that’s one of them.”

While both are now experienced rally drivers – Winks is a thrice ACT Regional Rally Series two-wheel drive champion, and Cox his navigator before driving himself – circuit racing is a new challenge for the Canberra duo who share Cox’s BMW 130i.

“We are so comfortable in rally,” Winks explains. “There are many four-wheel-drives that we beat, in an old ’84 model Commodore, and you come from that – being very successful on dirt – and you come out here and you’re just circulating – we’re not as competitive here.

For two men who have spent the best part of two decades throwing a car sideways on gravel between trees, who indeed possess first-hand knowledge of Canberra’s infamous ‘Mineshaft’, Cox in particular speaks glowingly of the thrill of circuit racing, declaring that “racing in and around cars, in traffic, is just the best adrenalin rush.”

Of course, when one spends years racing only the stopwatch, the presence of other cars is a new test, and it’s something that both are only just starting to come to terms with.

“You’ve got to respect other drivers in this environment,” says Winks. “In rallying, you don’t have that issue so your personality and your driving style don’t affect someone else.”

“I just didn’t get it to start with. I struggled and it wasn’t until when we went to Eastern Creek in July, which was the second time I got to run in the Beemer, that I actually had the concept come clear – how to position yourself on the track, or worrying about your mirrors and people overtaking you, and just positioning yourself to get past people.”

That’s the obvious; what’s not is that according to these two seasoned rally drivers – who muse that they’re more comfortable driving sideways – the wide and relatively sedate Sydney Motorsport Park, for example, is a trickier and less predictable environment than the middle of a forest.

“Braking is totally different for us,” Winks reveals. “You brake really deep into a corner on dirt but if you do that here you just end up sideways.

“The other problem I had is that I brake very heavily and then come off suddenly, and on bitumen it lifts the front up and you get an understeer, so trying to switch your mind between the two is difficult.”

Cox has a similar opinion.

“In a rally you turn in, and unlike here you have grip until you don’t,” he says.

“Here, it shocks you, like the time I came off on Wakefield Park when I hit that corner on the oil – that was an absolute shock because it happened all of a sudden.

“On dirt it’s progressive. You know you’re coming into a slide, you know there’s something coming at you – a tree or an embankment – and you can stop it fast enough.

“This [circuit racing] is definitely a learning experience.”

 

It might sound like an ordeal, but both are fans of the NSW Production Touring Car Championship – they wouldn’t already be entered for next year’s opening otherwise – and not just for the relative ease of maintenance of the 130i versus a rally car, which Cox likens to “latte racing.”

“The social aspect’s pretty good,” reflects Cox. “There’s definitely a community or group feel to it.”

Indeed, his family spent the Saturday of the recent Sydney Motorsport Park meeting at nearby Wet‘n’Wild, before joining the Quick As A Wink Racing team the next day.

“That for me is the bit that’s the fun why I keep coming back.”

Cox and Winks will be coming back when the 2015 NSW Production Touring Car Championship commences at the Bathurst Motor Festival from 3 to 6 April.

To join in the fun, visit the website <nswproductiontouringcars.com.au> or contact the following:

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