Track Review: Sydney Motorsport Park Gardner GP Circuit
When it comes to competition racing, we are limited for choice in New South Wales with just two race circuits available – Sydney Motorsport Park or what used to be known as Eastern Creek Raceway and Wakefield Park Raceway near Goulburn. In this track review we will take a closer look at Sydney Motorsport Park.
Sydney Motorsport Park can run as four different configurations – the Gardner GP Circuit, Brabham Circuit, Druitt Circuit, and the Amaroo Circuit. The circuit used most for competition racing is the 3.9km Gardner Circuit made up of 11 turns and a one kilometre main straight making this a fast and popular track with drivers.
The main straight at SMSP really is something else, it has a slight down hill grade and its one kilometre length means that some cars reach speeds exceeding 250km/h. For Formula Vee’s with their flat four 1600cc motor it means hitting speeds in excess of 180km/h, however due to this lower high speed it means that Formula Vee is one of the only categories that does not have to brake through turn 1.
Turn 1 is a sweeping left hander and it is not uncommon for formula vees to round this turn three, and sometimes even four abreast at full power, this means placing a lot of trust in those drivers around you because if it goes wrong, as it has in the past, the resulting high speed accident can be extremely dangerous.
Once you have navigated turn 1 it is a matter of keeping your foot flat to the floor until you reach somewhere between the 100 to 50 metre mark before applying heavy brakes to wash off around 100km/h in preparation for taking the tight hairpin that is turn 2.
There are two main methods in attacking turn two – the double apex, this is good when covering the inside line from an overtake and then there is the single apex and this can be taken from mid turn, or as many do, take a late apex to help with exit speed and the best line into turn 3. Turn 2 presents one of the best overtaking opportunities on the Gardiner Circuit and it is also the scene for many cars coming together or cars exiting the track due to coming unstuck. Turn 2 is taken at about 70km/h in third gear.
The exit from turn 2 is crucial to getting a good run through turn 3 and if you can hold level while overtaking on the outside through turn 2 you will set yourself up for the inside run at turn 3 almost guaranteeing the pass. Turn 3 is a gentle turn rising over a small crest where you will pull fourth gear before dipping down to the right, left combination of turn 4 and 5.
The entry to turn 4 is down hill and requires a slight lift or small dab of the brakes to set the car up. Turning in from wide on the track you want to hit the apex and take some curb to maximise your speed and depending on the condition of your tires you may experience some understeer on the exit of turn 4.
After exiting turn 4 you want to move the car to the outside of the track, even taking some of the white painted curb, in order to open the line through turn 5 where there is a slight lift or feathering before the apex and then it is flat to the floor drifting out as far as possible while still respecting tract limits. The exit of turn 5 offers a significant paved run off area allowing drivers to maximise speed on the exit of the turn and to maintain momentum as they climb a small rise between turns 5 and 6.
The key to turn 6 is braking as late as possible, and a little trick that someone passed onto LBR was to look for a small bump in the road on approach to turn 6 and brake sharp at this point, a quick downshift to third gear, get the car turned in to the apex, and get back on the accelerator before the apex. The apex of turn 6 can look daunting but it is ok to take quite a bit of the curb here as it does not unsettle the car. Make sure you maximise the use of the track on exit even running partially over the grate to build speed up the small climb before pulling fourth gear near the overpass.
After turn 6 is turn 14 (because we are not using turns 7-13 as these are part of the Brabham Circuit) and it is a sweeping left hander taken flat out. The exit of turn 14 will set you up for your preferred line into turn 15 which is another hairpin and generally most drivers take this as a single apex turn taking advantage of the paved run off area to maximise exit speed, however if defending you may choose to cover the inside line and if overtaking you may opt for a late apex and switch back that can be very effective on this turn. The approach to turn 15 requires hard braking at the 50-meter mark and a downshift to third before getting the car turned in to the apex. Turn 15 is another excellent overtaking opportunity but is one of a few areas that is monitored for drivers exceeding track limits so caution must also be exercised.
Coming out of turn 15 you want to get hard on the gas, pull fourth gear and set yourself up for the turn 16, 17 and 18 complex which is a quick right and left followed by a sweeping left hander before entering the long straight.
Before entering turn 16 you want to position the car as far as possible on the left hand side of the track to help open up the complex, hitting the apex of turn 16 will also help open up turn 17 where you can take some inside curb to help straighten the line. Once you have navigated the quick right left in fourth gear you want to take advantage of the large paved run off area to maximise speed as you enter the final turn, but be aware that there is a hump in the runoff where Formula Vees scrap so it is not unusual to see sparks coming off the floor of cars in front as you. The rise can also unsettle the car resulting in a spin.
The final turn, turn 18, is a long sweeping left hander taken flat out in preparation for your run down the long straight. Depending on the available torque, which can be affected by your exit from turn 17, you may consider a downshift to third to ensure you carry adequate revs onto the straight before grabbing fourth gear for the run to the finish line and beyond.
The exit of turn 18 will impact your speed on the main straight and taking some outside curb on exit is normal. If you are going to take advantage of a slipstream on the straight it is important to exit turn 18 as close as possible to the car in front, conversely if you are being chased, once established on the main straight you may try to break the tow by moving from one side of the straight to the other before making a decision whether to defend the inside line approaching turn 1 which will almost certainly also give you the inside line into turn 2 or take the outside line, either way it you are overtaken on the straight it’s important to tuck in behind the overtaking car as soon as possible to take advantage of any tow.
SMSP is a great track and lots of fun to drive, it is a high-speed track and as such it can put a lot of strain on components and the car generally. Another element that makes this a great place to race is that it is the only track that has flood lighting to make night racing possible which is a lot of fun!