The old military truism that ‘no battle plan survives contact with the enemy’ can apply equally to sport. So it was for Team Navy and Prodrive Racing Australia at Mount Panorama for the Bathurst 1000 race from 8-11 October.
Prodrive full-time drivers, Mark Winterbottom and Chaz Mostert won the 2013 and 2014 Bathurst races respectively, so the goal was a third consecutive team win. However honorary Lieutenant Mostert had his weekend come to an abrupt end on Friday afternoon when he crashed heavily in qualifying, breaking his left femur and wrist, and putting him out of action for the rest of the 2015 season.
Watching Mostert’s sickening crash on CCTV in the pit lane were three sailors on outplacement to Prodrive for the 2015 season - Leading Seamen Marine Technicians Sarah Battenally and Kate Greenwood, and Able Seaman Aviation Technician Aircraft Sam Dever.
Leading Seaman Greenwood was working as a mechanic on Mostert’s car at Bathurst while her colleagues were working on other Prodrive supported cars.
“I looked around the room and everyone was just devastated, but the main thing we were worried about was obviously Chaz’s health and to make sure he was okay,” Leading Seaman Greenwood said.
With Chaz safely extricated from the car and taken to hospital conscious and in a stable condition, the crew put the setback to one side, turning their focus to preparing and fine-tuning the team’s remaining cars.
Bathurst is round 11 of a 15-round championship, so the sailors have had plenty of time to become fully integrated members of the team and to contribute to its success.
Each is the ‘number three’ mechanic on a race car belonging to Prodrive or one of its customer teams. During races they have all had the opportunity to work as part of the pit crew, and at the track between races they have a variety of roles, repairing and readying the cars to go back into battle.
But what is not obvious to spectators and race fans is that most of the time is spent not at the track, but back at the team’s headquarters, workshop and engineering facility in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.
Here Leading Seaman Battenally works in the engine shop.
“It’s very similar to my role on a ship where I’m a diesel maintainer,” Leading Seaman Battenally said.
“My experience comes into play here where I rebuild V8 Supercar engines day-in and day-out.
“It was easy for me to get familiar because I’ve been using tools on engines in the Navy for six years - tools are tools and an engine is an engine.
“At a race weekend we have an engine in each car and a backup, and spares in the truck, so they all have to be maintained at all times.”
Race team members, like members of a ship’s company, have to be multi-skilled and perform a variety of roles.
“I feel it’s very compatible with the Navy,” Leading Seaman Battenally said.
“I have whole-ship duties at sea; I have my duty statement as a sailor, as well as a marine technician, and with the diesel team, at sea and alongside,” she said.
Leading Seaman Greenwood works in ‘sub-assembly’, which comprises all the cars’ drivetrain components.
“In there there’s only three technicians and we’ll work on all the bits of equipment, such as the gearboxes, hubs, steering racks and clutches, everything basically aft of the engine flywheel.”
Leading Seaman Greenwood also believes her Navy service has put her in great stead with the outplacement.
“It’s very high-pressure, everything’s really hot and hard work, but it’s so rewarding,” she said.
Typifying the intense pressure V8 Supercar teams work under, the next race weekend was a mere fortnight after Bathurst.
In that time Prodrive transported the team, cars and equipment home to Melbourne, prepared a new car to replace Mostert’s wrecked chassis, and readied another three team and customer cars, then deployed it all again, this time up to the Gold Coast.
“Chaz’s car was not looking good and we needed to assess it once we got back to the workshop,” Leading Seaman Greenwood said.
“There's always hope we’ll be able to salvage some parts off it, but we make sure there's another car ready for the next race.”
When the chequered flag was waved, Mark Winterbottom and his co-driver finished in second place, which is a great result in what can be a soul-crushing sport, and which helped preserve his lead in the overall championship.
Able Seaman Dever received a surprise in the garage at the Bathurst 1000 when Commander of the Fleet Air Arm, Commodore Vince Di Pietro dropped by to personally present him with his champion technician cuff-rate.
Able Seaman Dever was at Mount Panorama working as a mechanic on Prodrive Racing Australia’s entry in the second-tier Dunlop Series races, and for a customer team in the 1000km main race.
Before his outplacement he was part of a five-person team which won the aviation category of the Navy Engineering Challenge.
The competition involved teams conducting mechanical and electrical repairs on a sample of simulated aircraft structure and associated systems.
As well as a medallion and $5000 worth of tools, Able Seaman Dever and his teammates are entitled to wear the cuff-rate which identifies them as champion technicians.
Back at the Prodrive headquarters Able Seaman Dever fabricates composite bodywork for the race cars.
“At the workshop my job is solely composite materials. I make the body kits for the cars from things like carbon fibre and Twintex,” Able Seaman Dever said.
“Hopefully down the road I’ll be making more interior components like switch boxes and dashes.”
The bump and grind of touring car racing means in between races plenty of composite repair jobs always need doing in the pit garage to ready the car for its next battle.
Commodore Di Pietro said the skills Able Seaman Dever is learning at the team have a lot of relevance to naval aviation, which increasingly involves composite materials, especially in the MRH-90 Taipan fleet.
“We need to develop our ability to repair battle damage to composite aircraft at sea, away from the workshop and under extreme time pressure, and these [V8 Supercar] guys are at war every weekend,” Commodore Di Pietro said.
Imagery is available on the Navy Image Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20152837.