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Season 2015 - A pit crew's perspective by Steph Esterbauer

posted Nov 17, 2015, 5:11 PM by Ross Campbell   [ updated Nov 17, 2015, 10:03 PM ]

So my one rule for Franz's motorsport adventures was 'absolutely no open-wheelers under any circumstances'. After seeing a helmet go rolling down the track when a Formula Ford got t-boned a few years ago, I was not having my husband do something that seems to add more danger to an already dangerous sport.


That was, until he came home one day and told me "I want to race a Formula Vee, this is how much it's going to cost". I kept asking questions to find out what expense he was not telling me about because for motorsport it seemed too cheap. After a long discussion, it all seemed legit. And how can you say no to a full year of racing for half the cost of a tarmac rally. Franz's head suddenly didn't seem as important (I'm kidding).


Cameron Edwards had told Franz that Steve Pearson had a Vee that he was willing to lease for the year so we met with Steve, Austin Pearson and Anthony Merton one night and looked over the car. The car was a 1200, and it was available because Austin was stepping up to 1600s. They were super helpful, telling us all about the car and how to drive it fast and which videos to watch on youtube. Well, after seeing how helpful they were, I had certainly changed my tune. We left there with me practically begging Franz to do it.


We went ahead and leased the car, so Franz took it out for a tuning day. He warned me that it's not what he's used to driving and it is his first time in the car so don't expect too much. I was like, "you're Franz, you'll figure it out"! We compared his lap times to recent races on natsoft. Hmmm, not great. I started getting nervous. Had we found Franz's kryptonite?

The first round for the season arrived, and off he goes to qualify for his first race. Of course he qualified fastest 1200. So for the start of race 1, I was pooing my pants. When I said Targa West 2014's Maryville Downs stage scared me, that was NOTHING compared this! They gridded up and off they went, and I realised I had become an instant Formula Vee driving expert, yelling at him from the spectator point. He was ALLLL over the shop, sliding around corners and all sorts, then he went off into the sandtrap at turn 7. I went running down to see how much damage he had done to the car.


I bumped into Kelly Maloney on the way and she asked how Franz was going and I told her that he had just thrown the car off the track trying to be a hero. When I met him in the pits to ask what had happened (and to tell him he's an idiot for going off in his first race), he told me that the throttle was stuck open which is why he was struggling from the beginning, trying to brake while the car was still accellerating. Ooookay, so I may have jumped to conclusions.  Lucky for Franz, there was another incident with the restart after the safety car so that race was cancelled and results didn't count. Phew!


This was where we got our first insight into the Formula Vee 'family' attitude. We were in a bit of a panic trying to find the problem and get him back out for the next race (anyone who knows us will understand how funny it was, us trying to find the problem, because we knew nothing about this car). We called Steve over and he found that when the brake bias is wound all the way to one end, the bolt that moves it gets stuck on the side of the accelerator pedal, so when you use full throttle, it slips over the pedal and it can't come back up. Move the brake bias, problem solved.


Race 2 and 3, Franz finished 2nd in both races (one of them by 0.02 sec) and 2nd for the meeting. Better than I expected after the practice day, but I mean...still first loser!


Round 2, Franz won all 3 races, and therefore won the meeting. NOW we're talking! Mr. "I don't know if I will be any good" had proven me right again. Proud wife right here.


Image by Kirsten Graham

Image  by Kirsten Graham 

Heading into the V8 round, which was the 3rd round for the series, Thinkin'IT came on board as Franz's major sponsor. We unveiled the new bright orange colour scheme that weekend. With the possibility of TV coverage, Franz was pretty nervous. He really wanted to do well.


After qualifying 3rd 1200, a car spun in front of him in the first race on the last corner of the last lap and with nowhere to go, they made contact. Franz's car flew about a metre into the air and when he landed, skidded across the finish line (which luckily, for the V8 round, is at the first flag point on the main straight instead of the usual place further down the straight), finishing in 2nd place. This ended up being both the worst and best thing to happen this season.


Photo by Andrew Graham

My Mum heard me swear for maybe the 3rd time in my life and while I was freaking out she said "it's ok, he's getting out of the car so he's ok". I said "I know, but the car is a mess, he just went flying in it, this is going to cost us a fortune".

 Ok, so I can see a theme here and I feel like I should clarify. I really do care about my husband's safety, but I guess I just feel like he is invincible. And in a normal car, that sort of accident would be maybe $10k of damage? Without knowing how much parts cost for these cars, in my head I was adding up the repair costs as if he had done a jump over another car in his Evo.


When he got out of the medical centre, we saw for the 2nd time how amazing the Vee guys are. Tim "Millsy" Mills (absolute champ!) started pulling the car apart and looking at what was broken. Next minute, we had a swarm of fellow competitors and their crew helping us to pull the broken bits off the car and telling us what parts we needed. We worked out that the 'H-beam' was stuffed and Jason Fowler, the person that Franz was dicing with for 1st before he crashed, gave us the keys to his garage and sent us to his house to get his spare H-beam so we could get back out there. Try and find another class of motorsport where your direct competition goes out of their way to get you back out there to give you an opportunity to try and beat them? This blew my mind.


So Danny Cerro and I jumped in the car and drove 2 hours to Jason's house, and on the way back we were sent on a bit of a treasure hunt. "We need you to stop in at Go Gear Racing Services and Dick Ward has some tube and other bits and pieces for you, then take them to Ktec Autohaus and they are going to make something else with them, and we need you to get brake fluid too, etc". We rushed back to the track and while we were gone the guys had stripped all the broken bits off the car and were waiting for us to arrive with the new bits. There was absolutely NO way we were going to get back out for the 2nd race. But the guys all got to work and the car was all back together with just a few minutes to spare. I nearly cried. I had never seen anything like it.


Franz was strapped in and ready to go because we had just a couple of minutes to get him on the dummy grid before he missed out on the race. We just had to put the gearbox fluid in and we would make the 2nd race. As Millsy started pouring it in, we found out that the force of the landing when he crashed had bent the plates on the side of the gearbox where the shafts come out so the oil was coming straight back out the bottom.


One thing I remember very well was Dave Caisley in his race suit with his hands in Franz's car still trying to work out a way to patch it up while the rest of the field was starting to go out, and he kept trying right up until the last minute when he HAD to get in his car or he too would miss the race. Sadly we didn't make it out, and I was devastated for all the guys who had put so much effort in. The positive side to this is that I got to see alot of the mechanical parts of the car, and I loved that!


Overnight we managed to fix the car enough to get back out for the last race. Franz started rear of field and after a few laps the safety car was deployed and the race was cut short, finishing behind the safety car in 7th place.


We took the car to Gerrykay Mechanical for a major overhaul to get it back to race spec for the next round and, as it turns out, it didn't cost as much as fixing an Evo!


Thankfully after those little incidents, the car was perfect for the rest of the season and carried Franz home in no less than 2nd place in every single race for the rest of the year. That's the Franz I know.


There was great racing all year with my personal favourites being the battles Franz had with both Jason Fowler and Myles Lockett. I just loved watching you guys race.


2015 08 23 - SETS Spring Race Meeting - Race 3 - Close racing

Another thing I love is that I am now able to diagnose some simple issues and keep an eye out for signs that something might not be right with the car. I really have learnt SO much about these little cars this year with the help of Steve and the rest of the Vee guys (I'm not just the "torque wench" anymore). The cars are so basic and everyone has been so patient when I stick my head in while they are fixing something and ask what they are doing, and why and how. So when you combine that with a super friendly bunch of people and good, hard, clean racing, it definitely made for an awesome year of motorsport! I'd say one of the best so far.


So the results. As far as we can tell, Franz has won 3 of the 4 championships for Formula Vee 1200s this year, including the State Championship.


And I am one super proud wife, brolly girl and pit crew. Apart from his 3rd outright in Targa West, I don't think I have ever been more proud of his motorsport achievements. Obviously I think my husband is an amazing driver, and we all know he can jump into almost any car and do well, but for him to take on something so different to what he is used to and still excel, well that is just something else.

 And as for next year? Well the Formula Vee nationals are being held in Perth in 2016, lets see what we can do.