Alexandre Premat continued to get to grips with V8 Supercars when the first Frenchman to tackle the championship full-time hit the city streets of Hamilton in New Zealand for round three last weekend.
Having only arrived Down Under in February, the former Audi DTM ace set about learning the ropes in a series that stirs as much emotion as Australia’s other leading sports, namely Aussie rules football and cricket.
Driving a Holden Commodore for the Melbourne-based Garry Rogers Motorsport (GRM) team, Premat began by taking a leap into the unknown around Adelaide’s concrete-lined streets in March where a new car, track and opponents awaited. Following a solid start, progress continued in the Tasmania Challenge at Symmons Plains Raceway on April 1/2 where he finished 13th after qualifying 11th.
“During those first two races I acquired a lot of information for the team. We are progressing very quickly,” said Alex ahead of the ITM400 in Hamilton, a city located 130km from New Zealand’s capital, Auckland. It’s an event feared by even the established V8 Supercar stars thanks to the various pitfalls littering the 3.4km urban layout and, in particular, Turn 4’s tricky chicane.
The usual mix of two qualifying sessions for each 59-lap (200.6km) race would make up this fact-finding trip for the Frenchman whose free practice pace suggested a promising weekend could be in store. But after being deemed to have jumped that Turn 4 chicane once too often during the first qualifying session, a result of the same captor problem that would ultimately affect his entire weekend, Premat’s 13th fastest time was annulled, leaving him to start the opening race from 23rd.
The subsequently superb comeback drive, which left him fighting on the fringes of the top ten, was ultimately cut short. “Unfortunately 20 laps from the end I touched the wall on the outside of Turn 7,” admitted Alex. “Despite being quite slight it was nevertheless strong enough to break the steering. Fortunately my mechanics did a fantastic job to get the car ready in time for race two.”
That initial joy would once again be short-lived however when the same captor issue returned during qualifying, prompting further chicane cutting and another cancelled time to leave the #33 Commodore starting from the tail of the field. In a re-run of the opening race a scintillating performance helped Premat climb back up the order only for a stop-go penalty – a result of excessive curb climbing – to ultimately leave him 24th overall.
“Obviously it is disappointing but that’s the price you pay sometimes when discovering a new series and circuit with its traps and tricks,” he underlined on Sunday night. “The positive to take, despite the captor problems which we faced all weekend, is that we now have the pace. During race two for instance I set the seventh fastest time, proof that we are making progress. I am certain that we will soon be fighting in the top ten.”
It’s an objective Alex will be hoping to achieve as early as the upcoming round in Perth on May 4-6 .