Erebus Motorsport’s new recruit Ash Walsh hasn’t had the easiest of introductions to V8 Supercars. In Adelaide, he was the unfortunate casualty of a Race One incident between Andre Heimgartner and Dale Wood which put him out of the race. However, Walsh soon showed why he was signed by Erebus by fighting back through the pack to finish an impressive eighth in his second race.
This weekend he tackles the Albert Park street circuit, a track he hasn’t raced on since his Formula Ford days. He sat down with RF1 to talk about his transition into V8 supercars and the year ahead of him.
It must be a great feeling to finally be a full-time V8 Supercars driver, is it a load off your chest?
Yeah definitely, it’s obviously something I’ve been working towards for a long time in my career and to finally have it happen is just amazing. To be racing here on a world stage is pretty cool, it’s something that I’ve never really done before
How was the track during practice and qualifying?
Certainly greasy at the start, but as qualifying went on the grip levels rose, certainly by the end of the session the track grip was right up there. You would have seen some pretty big slides and people going off the track earlier on in the session. It’s certainly a bit different to Adelaide where we have the car quite soft and the track grip comes up really high over the weekend. You drive the car throughout the weekend with the grip really high, then you come here and you start all over again because the grip is so low.
Do you expect a big improvement in track conditions once the Formula 1 cars have hit the track?
Well that’s what they’re telling me and as my engineer is saying the track will evolve a lot, I’ve never raced here properly before, I’ve been here once before in Formula Ford but you do so little running that it’s really hard to get a grasp of the track, it was also five years ago so I sort of have no recollection of the circuit.
How do you prepare for a race weekend where you’re not familiar with the track?
We will look at videos and look at data, all the things that we have here at our disposal. Other than that we will watch last year’s race and see the idiosyncrasies of racing here, where will people try and make a dive on me? Where’s a good passing opportunity? Where do the crashes happen? They’re things to look out for. The start is different too, I haven’t done a rolling start before so there’s a lot of homework to do.
Going back to the last round in Adelaide, it was a bit of a mixed round for the team and yourself because you got hit in the first race by Dale Wood.
Yeah I came around the corner and got caught up in their incident but then I managed to get a top 10 in the next race. It was fantastic, I learned a lot from the first race – although it wasn’t a successful race – I managed to learn a lot about how to tune the car throughout the race and what to expect from the car so we could make it better for the second race. It just sort of panned out after that, I thought Sunday’s race was going pretty well, I had stalled in the stop which put me back and then I had the electrical dramas which was taking my focus away from what was going on. The dash and everything was going crazy and the engine was misfiring, there was so much going on.
You mentioned the issues you had throughout the weekend, it seems like the biggest problem Erebus has at the moment because you had a clutch failure, engine failure and electrical problems. It hasn’t been going smoothly for you has it?
Yeah well you can’t really dwell on the issues that we’ve had, the guys are going to fix that stuff and get on top of it and move forward. What we need to look at is trying to improve the car and trying to get further up the grid.
Is that what this weekend is for? Because there aren’t any points on offer so is it a matter of ironing out the kinks?
Yeah we’re trying a few things out this weekend to move further up the grid and I just need to keep learning as I go because so much is new to me, I’m just trying to learn it as fast as I can and just do a solid job. I can’t be going out and doing silly things I just need to try and race every lap that I can. It would have been nice in Adelaide to get through the 250km race, just to get one under my belt.
As a driver, you’re right, you can’t go out and do silly things, but surely you have to do something to make some noise and get noticed?
Well it depends on how you look at it, I’m not going to take any unnecessary risks, but at the same time I’m giving it 110%. I’m here to race and I’m going to do the best I can and obviously I’m going to do that, but at the same time being the new guy you can’t do stupid things otherwise you have that stigma attached to you. So really it’s just me trying to find my place in the main series and also trying to get the best out of myself without doing silly things.
What’s the biggest learning curve jumping from the Dunlop Series into V8 Supercars?
Just the intensity is unreal, like in the Dunlop Series you’ve got like five drivers that are really good at racing and quite experienced in the cars. In the V8s you can be last and racing against a guy whose second last and he’s as good as the guys at the front of the field, so the intensity of the racing is just unbelievable.
How have you settled into the Erebus team?
I feel like I’ve settled in really well, I’ve spent a lot of time at the workshop in the off-season trying to get there three to four days a week and spend time with the guys. It’s good to build a relationship because you settle in much nicer with the team. In terms of mechanical feedback, I felt pretty comfortable from the start when I jumped in at Eastern Creek and that’s why I’ve been able to get to a decent speed straight up. I feel like I’ve fit in really well and I’m working really well with Will [Davison] and the guys who are working on my car, it’s gelling really well. Now it’s just about building on that which is probably the hard part I suppose.
Do you exchange information with Will?
Yeah definitely it’s very open, we overlay data and share setups and talk about what we’re going to do. Most of the time it’s quite similar, we have pretty similar feedback with what’s going on in the car so we’re working together to try and move forward. We’re not challenging for wins so we need to help each other to try and move up the field.
What would you consider a successful result in your debut year?
Well as I said before a top 10 finish in the season would be my ideal goal and we managed to achieve that last round, so I’m really happy with that. We can’t change the expectation until I start to qualify further up the grid, so if I can aim for top ten finishes because I’ve achieved it that’s where I want to be. I have to try and get the consistency there.
Images via George Hitchens Photography