The 2021 GT World Challenge Australia championship is well under way with the first two rounds at Phillip Island and Bathurst done and dusted. As round three at Tailem Bend approaches, we took the time to catch up with one of the stars of the Bathurst round, Trophy Series championship leader Brad Schumacher.
Sweeping the Bathurst round and scoring a second place in the season-opener at Phillip Island has earned Schumacher the lead in the Trophy Series class, a category for pre-2016 GT3s and a boon for motorsports historians.
Although the Australian racing scene has always been well represented by Audi due to Melbourne Performance Centre’s active involvement in GT3 racing, Schumacher’s 2015-built Audi R8 LMS Ultra GT3 traces its roots back to the European continent: the Czech Republic, to be precise.
“The car originated from the Czech Republic and was owned by ISR Racing, with Anders and Thomas Fjordbach as drivers in the Blancpain Series,” the Schumacher Motorsport principle says.
“Following this, the car was imported to Australia by Vince Muriti and then purchased by us at Schumacher Motorsport.
“We bought this specific model as it’s the correct specification for the GT3 Trophy Class: pre-2016. Being our first foray into the national GT series, we thought the Trophy class was the best steppingstone for us this year.”
Maintenance for the six-year-old R8 is crucial for success and the safety of the driver and is no small task, as Brad explains: “Audi Customer Racing provides a detailed life schedule on all serviceable parts which is followed to the book. Besides this schedule, your usual consumables and fluids are replaced after each outing along with ‘set downs’ and ‘set ups’ documenting all vehicle parameters.
“Typically, you will also wear off carbon fibre components on the track surface such as splitters, diffusers and underbody-trays, so these are also removed and sent to carbon repair specialists between rounds or replaced.
“In the past we have run Porsche Cup cars which in comparison to the Audi have far lower running costs and less serviceable parts but of course these are not comparable in speed.”
Despite the age of the car, Audi Customer Racing – represented in Australia by Melbourne Performance Centre – do provide trackside support for the older model.
“Audi Customer Racing (Melbourne Performance Centre) provide exceptional service and support the likes of which we had never received before aligning with Audi.
“As a privateer team racing with a budget, we can only keep so many spares in our truck. Melbourne Performance Centre have a complete spares transporter and engineers at all sanctioned test days and race rounds and any parts or technical information required between events are easily obtained.
“For us, this makes the decision easy to remain with Audi into the foreseeable future.”
In Australian GT’s first year under the auspices of SRO and Australian Racing Group (ARG) – and renamed GT World Challenge Australia – it is quickly becoming a popular option for drivers partially owing to its alignment with the global GT World Challenge platform.
“We made the choice to join the GTWC Australia as it’s the pinnacle of GT motorsport in Australia with ties to the world series,” Brad Schumacher explains.
“As a driver I felt I was ready to test my skills against the best GT drivers Australia has on offer and this was the best avenue for me based on my previous racing experience.”
This is Schumacher Motorsport’s first year in the national GT championship, but Brad is impressed with what he sees.
“I don’t have first-hand experience in the former Australian GT Series other than the two Bathurst 12 Hour events I drove in for Ginetta and MARC Cars, however, since the championship has been taken over by the SRO and ARG I’ve been impressed with the professionality, planning and exposure the series has provided. It seems that the SRO and ARG are taking GT World Challenge in the right direction, and rightfully so, as the modern day GT3 cars belong at the pointy end of Australian motorsport, ticking all the right boxes for drivers and fans alike.”
A quick glimpse at the championship standings show Brad Schumacher atop the GT Trophy Series charts with 68 points after four races. So far, his season is off to a good start.
Brad’s stand-out moment in the championship so far came at Bathurst when he almost took the outright podium and held off Chaz Mostert until the final corners of the race.
“Rubbing shoulders pace wise against seasoned Pros certainly gives you a confidence boost in your ability, you definitely need to be fast to be in the realm of drivers like Chaz Mostert, but the reality is that in the Trophy class you’re driving a car that’s inferior compared to the Pro-Am current-spec entries where an additional set of tyres over the weekend are also available to them. You can easily get caught up in the moment of glory like race 1 at Bathurst but at the same time you need to remember your racing your own class podium, and a heroic push for an outright podium could result in a mistake that costs you more than it’s worth.
“Heading into the Chase on the last lap the safe option was to give Chaz room – I could have defended but there’s always the possibility of a tangle up, and I think he was coming down the inside no matter how wide I made that car. We actually caught up after the race and discussed my pace across the top which he mentioned was impressive, so it’s cool to gain feedback like that from a guy of his calibre.”
Schumacher’s moment in the limelight came a day after his team pulled an all-nighter repairing the Audi after it was heavily damaged in an accident during practice on Friday, making his double victory and battle with Mostert at Mount Panorama all the more impressive.
“The crash at Bathurst on Friday afternoon practice obviously wasn’t ideal for us. It was a rear right tyre failure at 250 kilometre per hour down Conrod Straight resulting in heavy impact to the wall. I had just come off a cool-down lap, then committed to a practice qualifying lap late in the session and had green sectors for one and two.
“As I left the exit of Forrest Elbow I had a little drift out towards the wall which at the time I thought it was due to pushing a little hard mid-corner, but actually it should have been my warning that the rear right tyre was deflating. I hadn’t made any contact with the wall or dropped a wheel on the ripple strip earlier so we still don’t know what caused the failure, but as you can see from the footage it was certainly a surprise.
“Initially after getting out of the car and seeing the damage I thought it was weekend over for us, but once we got the car back into our garage and dissected the damage we deemed the car repairable.
“At the time it was unknown if we would be able to get it repaired overnight, but our guys at Schumacher Motorsport did an all-nighter and ultimately an amazing job, having the car finally on a flat patch setup only 20 minutes prior to qualifying 1 the following morning. A combination of our spares inventory and Melbourne Performance Centres parts and engineering support at the circuit made this possible.
“Our guys were pretty ‘wired’ the following day after no sleep, but I was thrilled to reward them with a solid result in qualifying and ultimately a race win that day.
“It was pretty daunting for me heading out in qualifying at a track like Bathurst in a car that had received such a big repair overnight – it’s not really a place where you want to shake down a car after repair but our guys at Schumacher Motorsport are professional and committed to success so I put all my faith in their work and ultimately, the car was just as good as it had been prior to the accident. I truly cannot thank them enough”.
If the Bathurst adventure is a sign of what Schumacher Motorsport is capable of, the team justifiably has the highest of ambitions for the current championship.
“Of course, we are hoping to achieve first place in the championship. For me, there is never any other thought that goes through my mind entering a race weekend other than to put the car in pole position for qualifying, then take consecutive race wins. If your mind isn’t in that train of thought regardless of the conditions, then you’re generally not going to perform well.”
Heading into the third round of the season, Schumacher is aware of the task ahead.
“The points standings after the first two rounds currently leaves us in the championship lead by 13 points so it’s important that we maintain the momentum by gaining good results at The Bend Motorsport Park for round three.
“It’s a technical circuit that I haven’t driven before, so I need to get clear track time and maximise my progress during the practice sessions before qualifying.”
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