Bathurst 1000: Open door puts Aaren Russell out of sync in qualifying

An open door disrupted Newcastle driver Aaren Russell’s Bathurst 1000 qualifying campaign at Mt Panorama on Friday.

Russell’s Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport Commodore will start from the back row of the grid after he clocked a best lap of two minutes 6.4233 seconds, more than two seconds behind leader Scott McLaughlin.

The 26-year-old had hoped to break inside 2:06 and was quick in the first, uphill section of the track, but he struggled for grip coming down the mountain.

“We’re leaking time over two corners, and it’s a bit frustrating for us drivers,” Russell said. “It’s hard because I look a lot at my predicted lap time [on the dashboard].

“We kind of get to this point coming down the hill, at The Dipper, and we lose two or three tenths, and coming into Forrest’s Elbow same deal.

“The Dipper, because there’s so much of a dip there, you feel disconnected with the road.

“When you land the front wheels just shudder and you push wide and it just absolutely wrecks your run for the next couple of corners, and then the Elbow you can’t carry any corner speed so you just give away time, and that relates to the whole straight.

“You sit there and watch your predicted lap time go up and up and up as you’re going down the straight, and that is the most frustrating thing on Australia’s longest straight.”

I have no idea why it came open. There’s no wall grazing, so I didn’t hit the wall.

Russell’s job became harder after his left rear door flew open on the second lap of the qualifying session.

“I have no idea why it came open. It was closed on the track, and then it just came open,” he said.

“There’s no wall grazing, so I didn’t hit the wall, even though there were some very, very close occasions where I thought I did.”

He said the disrupted lap might not have been his fastest, but it had upset his plan to gradually improve his times during the session.

“It just puts the whole scheme behind. You have to come in. Once you do a banker on your first set, that takes the pressure off your next set, so then you can have a real crack.

“I’ll stick my hand up and say I probably didn’t do the best job then with stringing a lap together.”

The other LDM car, driven by teenager Alex Rullo, was last in qualifying, more than a second behind Russell. 

The LDM Commodores are the oldest in the field, running 2013 specifications.

Russell’s co-driver, Taz Douglas, was 20th fastest in the cold morning practice session with a 2:06.8726 after ending his final lap of Thursday’s practice in the sand when he out-braked himself at the last corner.

Douglas, who was second at Bathurst in 2014 with James Moffat, crashed out of the Sandown 500 three weeks ago on the first lap.

Russell finished 17th at Mt Panorama in 2015 with brother Drew when racing a Commodore in the family’s Novocastrian Motorsport team.

He and Andre Heimgartner raced at Mt Panorama for LDM last year and were in line for a creditable finish but broke a transaxle on lap 114.

Russell is driving for LDM during the Enduro Cup rounds at Sandown, Bathurst and the Gold Coast and will compete at the inaugural season-ending Newcastle 500 on November 26.

The Novocastrian was frustrated with the car and himself on Friday evening, but he was relieved the Commodore was still in one piece.

“You set a goal and you always want to hit it, and unfortunately today it was in the car but I just didn’t put it together.

“It’s such a tough track. Even if we did a five-nine, we might have moved up one or two positions.

“On Sunday it’s not going to get us much further up the grid or in the race that much.

“I think they wanted a little bit more speed from the car, as I did, but at the end of the day our car’s not on a tilt tray.”

The team will run the car in Saturday morning’s final 60-minute practice session before the leading drivers contest the Top 10 Shootout from 5.10pm. 

Sunday’s 161-lap race starts at 11.10am.