It was very special to drive out of the garage with the famous 17 on the window. Before the first practice session, I had a few brief moments to myself to reflect on this opportunity.
I don’t like looking back, but I also use it as fuel and motivation. Amid some of the darker moments from last year, when I was watching everyone else go out, I wondered whether I’d get the chance again.
I worked really hard in the difficult times, I kept believing, I kept the faith and I obviously ended up with this amazing opportunity.
It was a ‘pinch yourself’ moment when I was in the first car to roll out of pit lane in such a beautifully-built DJR Mustang.
After the short moment of pride, I had a lot of energy and motivation. I felt so many nerves, like a kid starting his first day of school.
From my side of the garage, we accomplished our goals for the weekend, which was executing with minimal mistakes, and being in and around the top seven.
That was where I thought we should end up. Bathurst is a challenging circuit, and there are major consequences if you don’t get it right. Heading there with minimal practice and learning a new car made it an ever-greater challenge.
The weekend was a constant juggling act of knowing when to push without making a silly mistake while I was still unfamiliar with the car.
In practice, I felt like a fish out of water. The car felt very foreign, and I still had some comfort issues with the seat. I didn’t maximise practice on Friday, but we only got better from there.
I was really happy to have qualified in the top five in both races. That was a huge tick. I got more and more comfortable in the car during every session.
We ran through all the ‘firsts’ with the team; communication, dealing with pressure, getting to know each other at a race event versus being at the factory, race starts and pit stops. Everything ran smoothly.
I completed every lap in the races, learned a lot about myself as a driver, and what I need from the team.
I made a little mistake in the second race when I ran wide at the last corner and let Jamie Whincup through. I was kicking myself over that.
Having scored the podium on Saturday, I certainly believe we could have been in the top five again on Sunday. I was told there was fluid at Murray’s Corner, but I locked the rear brakes. I’ll put my hand up and accept fault, although I was surprised that I lost the rear of the car.
On Saturday, I had my eyes on Tim Slade when he was behind me in the closing laps. I knew he had a quick car and he was quick all weekend to that point.
Once I cleared him after the second pit stop, I had my eyes on him, I saw he closed the gap to me before the incident. Chasing a podium, there was a lot at stake for both of us.
I made sure I pushed in response, just so he knew I had speed up my sleeve. Out of the Dipper, I looked behind to see where he was, just as a reference. When I came out of Forrest’s Elbow, I looked again, and he was gone.
I was confused, knowing it was uncommon for a car to run off at that part of the circuit. Richard Harris, my engineer, came on the radio to say he was okay. I didn’t know what Rich was talking about, and then I saw on the big screen that Tim had suffered a pretty big accident.
I think Rich assumed I’d seen the accident in my mirror, so when we spoke on the straight, he explained Tim had had a big crash, and he was out of the car.
When I came around the Esses again, I saw the marks on the road and the witness marks on the wall. I was simply gutted for Tim. I spent a lot of time with him last year, because we were both on the sidelines and we do the same running group together every Wednesday.
I was thrilled to be back on the grid with him when I found out he got the Blanchard drive, which was my old car! He also drove the 17 last October with Scott McLaughlin, and now he’s in my old car, so we’ve swapped a few war stories, if you’d like.
I was thrilled to see him do well, and it was heartbreaking to see it end how it did.
For Anton and I, it was crucial that we scored points while the team is in its infancy with a new driver line-up. We’ll certainly hit the ground running at the next round at Sandown, because we’ll have continuity.
I was disappointed for Anton after what happened on Saturday. He’s got one race weekend with the team under his belt, and he’ll no doubt learn from what happened on Saturday. He’s a quality driver.
He was kicking himself. Stepping into a championship-winning team, you put a lot of pressure on yourself. With experience behind you, you learn when to push, and when not to.
This game is all about fine lines, but he’s got a lot of will to do well, and he’s obviously got a lot of speed.
We get on well, and we’ll work well together to push the team forward. Youth and experience is always an interesting chemistry, and I think it’s going to be a strong combination.