Sailors pit side at Grand Prix

This article has photo gallery Published on Ms Natalie Staples (author), CPL Veronica O'Hara (photographer)

Location(s): Australian Grand Prix

Topic(s): Training, Events, Team Navy, Industry Outplacement Program, V8 Supercars

Able Seaman Electronics Technician Mark Richards poses with the Supercheap Auto V8 Supercar driver, Chaz Mostert before a race. (photo: CPL Veronica O'Hara)
Able Seaman Electronics Technician Mark Richards poses with the Supercheap Auto V8 Supercar driver, Chaz Mostert before a race.

Three sailors have temporarily traded the sea for the pit lane, working at the Australian Grand Prix Supercars event in Melbourne recently.

Leading Seaman Marine Technician Jerry Rupnik, Able Seaman Electronics Technician Mark Richards and Able Seaman Aviation Technician Aircraft Tenae Drummond are part of a Navy program that places personnel in jobs with industry leaders.

The year-long outplacement is designed to broaden the technical skills of Navy and the sailors involved.

Able Seaman Richards spent the Grand Prix working on Chaz Mostert’s car, and said the outplacement was highly rewarding.

"While the days can be long, it is really worthwhile, especially when you get to celebrate a good result with the whole team at the podium," he said.

"On race days, I can be doing anything from cleaning to fuelling the car and helping with pit stops and setup changes.

"Back in the workshop, I have various roles which include building wiring looms and cables and fault finding electrical systems.

"Getting this level of exposure to complex electronics is fantastic and I will be able to bring these skills back to the Navy in the future."

Highly skilled and trained, the three sailors have been placed with the maintenance support crew of Prodrive Racing Australia – a motor racing team which competes in the Supercars Championship.

They are more used to working on state-of-the-art helicopters and warships, but there are parallels between the roles, according to Leading Seaman Rupnik.

"There is a lot of responsibility in both jobs. The equipment we are looking after is high-tech and has a very low margin for error," he said.

"Safety is also a big deal on a warship and at the track. You need to be on your toes and know what is going on around you.

"The teamwork involved in a successful race weekend is a direct parallel to the way we work as a team in the Navy on any given day as well."

Leading Seaman Rupnik, who last year was working as a refrigeration maintenance specialist on HMAS Choules, said the change of scenery has been challenging but exciting.

"Working on Mark Winterbottom’s car is surreal. After following the Supercars series for a number of years, I am learning a lot about the cars and what goes on behind the scenes," he said.

"My first race experience with the team was at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide. There was a lot to take in and a lot to learn at the track, but I got into it quickly.”

This is the sixth year that Navy has had a relationship with Prodrive Racing Australia.

Marine Technicians operate, maintain and repair the ship’s machinery, gas turbines, diesels, ventilation, as well as power generation and distribution, and electrical control systems.

Electronics Technicians maintain, repair and operate a variety of electronic systems associated with guns, missiles, radar, sonar, navigation, combat data, communications and their related information technology, electrical, hydraulic and mechanical systems.