LIFE IN THE FAST LANE Article courtesy of Rangers News and the official Rangers website, www.rangers.co.uk. ASK Rangers fans who John Martin is and the majority will tell you about the eccentric goalkeeper who played against the Light Blues...
LIFE IN THE FAST LANE
Article courtesy of Rangers News and the official Rangers website, www.rangers.co.uk.
ASK Rangers fans who John Martin is and the majority will tell you about the eccentric goalkeeper who played against the Light Blues for Airdrie in the 1992 Scottish Cup final.
Give it another few months before hitting them with the same question again and the hope is it's the club's Superleague Formula driver supporters will speak of instead. It's fair to say that when ex-Diamond Martin's Australian namesake was chosen to represent the Ibrox outfit this year in the motorsport series, few knew who he was.
The feeling was mutual, with the 25-year-old's awareness of Gers and their long, illustrious history minimal to say the least. Martin was given the opportunity to race for the SPL champions by Alan Docking Racing, the Silverstone-based team which runs the club's car. He replaced Glasgow-born Ryan Dalziel - an arguably more logical choice given he was raised as a fan of Walter Smith's men - in the seat for the 2009 campaign.
Martin's chance came by virtue of the fact he also represents Docking's Team Australia in the A1 Grand Prix competition. Now he's aiming to enjoy the same sort of success which has become synonymous with those connected to Rangers in the months to come.
The Queenslander said: "To be honest, I didn't know a lot about the club at all before I became involved with Superleague Formula.
"Coming from Australia, we don't hear too much about Scottish football and information back home about it is a bit thin on the ground.
"But since signing up I've been reading the Rangers website a lot and I managed to watch a couple of games towards the end of last season.
"It was great to see the team win the SPL and I'd love it if I was able to get along to see a match in person at some point.
"I've never been to a live game and it would be really cool to come to Ibrox at some point later in the year if it was possible.
"I'm trying to find out more about the club and it would be good if the fans learned a lot more about me in the next few months too because I have a good season myself.
"I think Superleague Formula is a great concept because it brings together two sports that didn't have an association with each other before.
"A lot of people in motorsport love football and the guys in our garage know as much about that as they do about my car.
"It would be great if the two could keep growing in tandem through Superleague and if I'm successful in it too for Rangers then all the better."
Martin came into Superleague this year with a fair amount of pedigree, despite his relative youth. A winner of the Formula Ford Victoria competition in his homeland four years ago, he then claimed the equivalent national title 12 months later. Success Down Under was the platform for a move to the Northern Hemisphere and an introduction to the British Formula Three championship.
Although he is without any more individual wins since leaving Australia, Martin is seen by officials as one of the big prospects on the 2009 Superleague Formula roster. It probably says something about the rise in stature the racing project has had over the last year or so that a driver of Martin's potential has been recruited. Launched in early 2008 as ‘The Beautiful Race,' Superleague Formula aims to fuse the thrills of motorsport with the passion of football together. A total of 18 cars compete with each one representative of a leading world soccer club and AC Milan, Liverpool, Lyon and Atletico Madrid are amongst the others involved.
It would be naive to claim the concept was welcomed with open arms by all and sundry and there were some who dismissed it as gimmicky and a non-starter. Yet over time it has grown and more than 100,000 fans attended the six weekend-long meets last season, with high hopes that figure will be eclipsed this time around.
Now broadcast in most major European countries - as well as in the USA, Canada, the Middle East, Australia and Africa - more commitment is being shown to Superleague. Former French Grand Prix venue Magny Cours, for example, gave it the same weekend slot it used to allow Formula 1 organisers to host races on at the end of last month.
And while the season format hasn't yet been expanded the way it was hoped it might be initially, that's due mainly to the current economic situation around the world. Once the financial climate allows, organisers plan to start events in locations such as South America and Asia in addition to the current schedule. Indeed, it's their intention to have a nine-race itinerary replacing the current six-race one next season - including one non-European event - but only if it's affordable.
The fact they have stressed they'll hold off making such moves until the time is right is to be applauded. Rather than speculating to accumulate, their more cautious approach should ensure Superleague continues to run beyond the second and third seasons that are already secure. President Alex Andreu and those around him are displaying common sense aplenty and thanks to their prudent business model, attitudes towards their objectives are changing.
Martin added: "People are definitely taking Superleague Formula more seriously than they did when they first heard about it 18 months ago. "The first time I was told about it, it was a bit of an unknown quantity and I wasn't sure how it would go. "But it has really taken off and I think it is something which can get stronger and continue to do better and better as time goes on.
"You could see that was the case last season as the number of fans at races got bigger each time. "I was at the first round at Donington Park in August last year and there were a few people there but nobody really knew what was going on.
"It has come on leaps and bounds since then. There are a lot more people coming along and it has had a season to bed in and establish itself. "Now everyone understands what it is all about and they seem to be buying into it which is a really good thing.
"There were 12,000 people at the first race this season in France which was great. If that's a sign of things to come, the future looks bright." For all the high expectations of him, Martin had a disappointing first round at Magny Cours on June 28/29. After a bright start and a good qualifying campaign, he crashed out on the first lap of his first race then lost more time than he'd have liked during a pit stop in the second contest. There are five more meetings between now and the end of the season in which he'll look to make amends, starting this weekend at Belgian circuit Zolder.
From there, Superleague will roll into Donington Park (August 1/2), Estoril in Portugal (September 5/6), Italian venue Monza (October 3/4) and Jamara, Spain (November 7/8).
This season's format has changed slightly, with each 45-minute race followed by a third 10-minute version between the top six performers to decide an overall weekend winner.
Rangers are currently last in the standings after Martin was placed 17th and 16th in France but there are still plenty of points to be won.
And having tested at Zolder prior to the opening weekend of the campaign, Martin is confident he can come back from his early setback strongly.
He said: "We started off very well at Magny Cours and I was second in the first practice session. "I was quite quick in the second one too. We only did two laps as we were trying to save our tyres but I still did two fastest sectors. "I was then third in my qualifying group and fifth overall which I was happy with but from there it went downhill.
"I had gone into the first race feeling confident but I got caught up in an accident at turn three and that put me out. "In the second race, the grid is a reverse of the finishing positions in the first race and I was on the front row as a result. "I built a good lead over the first nine laps and was pulling away but then we had an issue when I came in to make my pit stop.
"The car fell off the front jack and that cost us a lot of time so I came out in 13th when I might still have been leading otherwise. "We knew in France that we had a fast car and we could definitely have got up to the front end of the race, if not actually win it.
"From that point of view, there's still plenty to be optimistic about going into the next round in Zolder and I'm sure we'll be quick there. "I went around the track there a few times in testing a couple of weeks ago and I've raced there in the Formula Three competition over the last two years.
"I know the circuit well and I'm getting more used to my car as well so it all bodes well for a good weekend."
Martin knows how costly his final results at Magny Cours could prove to be to his championship hopes in the long run.
With 50 points available to the winner of each individual race, Rangers are already 66 behind leading team Liverpool at this stage and that gap must be closed quickly.
From a financial point of view, success for the Aussie on the track could turn out to be highly profitable off it for the Light Blues.
A maximum of €111,000 can be collected in prize money by a club in a single weekend if it wins every race and secures pole position ahead of the first one.
With no costs incurred by Gers due to the fact Superleague Formula and its racing teams fund everything, it's a win-win situation for the Ibrox outfit and its fellow competitors.
It goes without saying that it pays to be placed as high up the standings as possible and for Martin, his professional pride means he's determined to reach the very top.
He added: "I want to win the championship and at the moment, the odds are stacked against me because we had a bad first round.
"But that was due to bad luck and we can still come back from it. Who is to say the other teams won't suffer similar problems at some point further down the line?
"Unfortunately, we're in a poor position at the moment and I'm not going to lie. That has definitely hurt our ambitions.
"It's going to be hard to come back from that because there are only six meetings in the Superleague Formula season.
"But anything can happen and I'm just aiming to win every race I possibly can. If that's good enough at the end of the year, I'll be delighted with that.
"We need to minimise the mistakes we make for the rest of the year and if we do that, I think we'll be there or thereabouts.
"I'm certainly not going to drive conservatively, especially after the weekend we had at the end of last month, and coming out on top remains my goal."
To find out more about Rangers' rookie driver John Martin, see his newly re-launched website at www.johnmartinracing.com.