V8 Supercars star and Motorsport.com columnist Rick Kelly tells us how he helped a postman become a professional racecar driver in England.
It was exciting to head over the UK to take part in the GT Academy International Finals, and even better to come home with a Team Australia victory!
For me to be selected as the mentor for Team Australia for the second time was pretty cool, so heading to Silverstone this year knowing a lot more about the programme and how to attack it was an advantage.
I have to say, the six finalists we had representing Australia were a good selection of young driving talent. We had a solid team, but were up against some very stiff competition.
It was an interesting week; you go through a lot of different challenges – fitness tasks, driving monster trucks, buggies in the sand, and you’ve got eliminations and challenges that aren’t absolutely about driving a racecar.
It’s always tough to see who handled those different situations well, and at the end of the week we ended up with the right guy in the car for the final – Matthew Simmons.
He performed outstandingly in all of the challenges, showed very good consistency, and very good composure under pressure in all of those different environments, which is important.
Personally, it was good that I got the opportunity to sit next to Matthew in a racecar around Silverstone to really understand his capabilities; there’s no hiding when you are sitting next to a person in a racecar.
I was really surprised by how fast he was, how few mistakes he made, and how smooth his driving was.
Matthew started from pole, he got a good start, was swamped at the first few corners and got pushed back to third before he fought his way back to the front.
He didn’t crack under the pressure, and had a good dice with Turkey for the lead.
It looked like watching a couple of very experienced race car drivers having a battle, which was very good to see from a couple of guys who were effectively gamers just weeks ago.
He unfortunately had an engine overheating issue, which robbed him of power, and dropped him from the lead to three seconds off the pace.
It was pretty shattering from his point of view and mine, and for all of Team Australia; at that point we thought it was all over.
So it was a very pleasant surprise to hear him announced as the winner, and he was a very deserving winner at that.
The amazing thing with Matthew is that before he won he was an Australia Post courier, now he is a professional racecar driver.
He put a lot of work into it achieve the result, he didn’t just turn up to the Gold Coast and qualify.
He tried out last year, missed out, but then he put in 12 months of hard work and dedication into training himself into every aspect that he knew would be important to win the competition.
When he finally made it into the top six in Australia, he attacked every exercise and challenge with 110 per cent, and he never cracked under the pressure even though he knew what was riding on it.
A normal person who worked that hard to get into position in the final would be a bit shaky, but he wasn’t.
It was great to see him put that work in and achieve it, and secondly, it’s also awesome to see that he is prepared to go that extra mile. I hope that he takes it and runs with it as best he can.
I think he will.
SMP: Victory Breakthrough
I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel this weekend; Sydney Motorsport Park is certainly one of the more enjoyable layouts on the tour, and a place that holds particularly fond memories for me.
Rewind back to the second round of the 2004 championship, and Eastern Creek Raceway as it was known then was the venue of my first ever solo V8 Supercars race win.
At that stage I was lucky enough to be teamed up with the Kmart Racing Team, and in 2003 we won the Bathurst 1000 with Greg Murphy.
The formats in that era were a bit different to the modern day, and following the Clipsal 500 we fronted in Sydney for a sole single driver 300 kilometre long race.
Race day was rather wet, as has been the case a fair few times over the years, and unfortunately I was starting back in 17th position, alongside Garth Tander.
I’ve always loved racing in the rain, whether it was in go karts or going up through the circuit racing ranks. It’s a great leveller from a car point of view, I and just really enjoy the challenge.
The race wasn’t without drama; we actually had a jammed wheel nut in one of the pit-stops, and I remember being parked there and very frustrated, giving the window net a workout while they tried to get the wheel sorted out.
From there it was a pretty wild race with five safety cars, but I managed to come through for the win, with Craig Lowndes in second from Garth in third.
It was quite enjoyable, especially since a lot of the grip on the track was right on the outside of the corners, so I had to resort to the old wet weather go kart race lines. It was a fun exercise, but a little risky!
Being my first solo race win it was an important milestone, which helped me forge my way ahead in the sport on my own without having Murph’s help.
I’ve done a lot of races in V8 Supercars, and if you asked me about 80 per cent of them, I wouldn’t even remember doing them, because you sort of get on with the next race and you never really look back.
That first win has certainly stuck with me, it’s one race I remember very well.