What’s the cost of winning?

12 October 2018

By Marcus Taylor, Stanwell Power Station Facilities Manager

As we’re part-way through Safe Work Month, Stanwell Power Station Facilities Manager, Marcus Taylor, reflected on the events of last weekend’s Bathurst racing, to note some important lessons on putting your health and safety above your desire to win.

OK, I confess. I, like many people, had way too much ‘couch time’ on Sunday watching Australia’s premier motor racing event – The Bathurst 1000. For the uninitiated, this is the pinnacle of the V8 Supercar calendar. It was first held in 1960 in cars, on a track, and over a distance that differs significantly to that combination displayed on Sunday. The event can only be described as the glorious pursuit of excellence in a range of disciplines. The aim of which is to get a car to travel 1000 kilometres, around a track that can only be described as death-defying,  in the shortest possible time.

I’ll be the last person to claim to be a V8 Supercar racing expert, but every year the race regulators seem to introduce new rules or limitations to make the race safer or bring the competition closer. The ambition of the organisers worked to perfection on Sunday, with the entire field being split by less than two minutes for what seemed like 99 per cent of the race. It’s truly amazing, when you consider every car had numerous stops for fuel, tyres brakes and, of course, driver changes.

Is winning everything?

This brings me to the topic in question – safety. With 40 or so laps remaining, the race leader and 2017 event champion David Reynolds was showing signs of exhaustion and dehydration. He was not scheduled for a driver change and Erebus Motorsport’s long-established plan for success was for him to drive through to the finish. An extra driver change would certainly see them lose the lead.

There was much commentary throughout the day about how Reynolds had been having trouble sleeping and maintaining nutrition in the lead-up. He was in a bad way. With 28 laps remaining, the team finally convinced him to come in for hydration, but for whatever reason, no driver change occurred. A pit lane infringement, as a result of his physical condition and fatigue, resulted in him incurring a penalty stop return to the pits. This was the point the team made the long overdue driver change decision.

How often in the pursuits of our own objectives, is our judgement blinded by our own ambition or the desire to not let others down? When things are most critical we often need to be at the top of our game. Piloting a one-and-a-half tonne car, at up to 300 kilometres an hour, on the edge of its physical limits of control, I can only imagine requires an almost ‘supernatural’ level of skill. When that goes wrong, the driver, other competitors, officials and sometimes even spectators, are placed at risk of serious injury or death.

A mid-field result, was likely the best outcome

Fortunately on this occasion, the consequence for Erebus Racing and David Reynolds was just a demoralising mid-field result after dominating the entire race. No heroic finish in 2018, but hopefully a valuable lesson for the team in the importance of making the right decision early and ensuring everyone understands who has the power the make the call.

Erebus Motorsport has the opportunity to turn this around by putting up their hand and admitting they got it wrong. They failed to recognise the effect of ignoring driver fatigue and the message that sent to the audience. The predominantly young, male, car-driving audience saw their idol willing to put everything on the line to win the race. Surely at a time when road safety statistics are not improving at the desired rates, Erebus can find the way to turn this into a positive lesson.

Tough decisions are made easier when you’re backed by strong safety values

What a person, team or organisation is prepared to do (or not do) to achieve success is an excellent litmus test of maturity, character and culture. From time-to-time, leaders need to make decisions that cause unfavourable outcomes, especially in the heat of the moment. Those kinds of decisions demand courage, however those decisions are much easier to impose when underpinned by strong personal or organisational values.

Let’s hope Erebus Motorsport and V8 Supercars can recognise the cultural and community impact of the decisions made on Sunday. Australian test cricket was forced to its knees after embracing a ‘win at any cost’ culture during the last season and that ended in tears.

For us at Stanwell, it’s a timely reminder that safety should always be our greatest priority. No other deadline, target or personal ambition should ever stop us from making the call to “switch drivers” when we know we need to.

Now let’s talk about the Sydney Roosters and Cooper Cronk …