KARTING 1988 – 1992
My dad is a car-racing nut and I travelled with him to races for years. I didn’t have the money to start myself before I was 14, when I bought my first kart, and then I just went to my local karting track, Gippsland Kart Club.
From mid-1989 I was working as an apprentice full time and using that money to fund the karting. It got pretty hard sometimes, like in 1990 when my dad was working overseas and another friend had damaged his tow-vehicle. We ended up karting seven karts around in an econovan and trailer to around 25 race meetings a year.
Even so, go karting was the most fun part of my career; you don’t think of it as that then but as far as driving goes you do more in a go-kart than what you’ll do in Australian motorsport.
I guess one of the things I enjoyed most is that as a driver you’re involved in everything: you’re working on the go-kart, learning all the time, driving, organizing logistics… It makes it very enjoyable.
My only regret is not winning the Australian title. I even extended my karting career in 1992, when I was driving Formula Fords, to have one last shot. Unfortunately I blew my good motor the weekend before and was forced to piece together another. It wasn’t as good and I think I finished third but that was the end of my go-karting career.
1st Place 1991 Victorian Closed Titles 1st Place
1992 Victorian Open Championship 5th Place
1992 Australian Championships
1989 1st Senior Club Championships Gippsland Go Kart Club
1988 1st Junior Club Championships Gippsland Go Kart Club
1990 2nd Victorian Go Karting Championship
7th Australian Go Karting titles
1991 1st Victorian Go Karting Championship
Member of factory DAP Go Karting team
1992 3rd Australian Go Karting titles
OPEN-WHEELERS 1992 – 1997 + 2000
My father and I bought a Formula Ford from Matthew Howard in 1992 and were preparing it out of our own
garage. At the time it was a bit overwhelming because I knew nothing about preparing a race car and wasn’t happy putting my career in my own hands but that’s how a lot of people did it back then.
My first and second years in the state series and the races we did at national level surprised a few people, even though we probably let ourselves down mechanically a little bit because we didn’t know what we were doing. That drew some interest. Up until then we’d been self-funded but in 1994 we only had enough to do the first three races: Amaroo Park, Phillip Island and Gold Coast Indy, which was going to be my last race. I qualified on pole and was approached by two businessmen, Paul Mulhearn and David Ratcliffe, who helped me get through that season.
In 1995 I picked up the factory Van Dieman Formula Ford drive in Australia along with Webber. I put a proposal to Skilled Engineering, who I was working for as a machinist, and Valvoline approached me because of the Van Dieman link, so for the first time I was able to race full-time.
I won the championship that year, which is one of the most satisfying years of my career. I was still running out of my dad’s little workshop with him, my uncle and one of my mates helping on race weekends whereas Mark Webber had a full-time mechanic and Mark Noske was part of a four-car team run by Alan Jones.
In 1996 I took off to America to compete in Formula Ford 2000. The calendar there suited me coming back to Australia, where it was easier to find sponsorship, so I was racing Formula Holden at home and then using leftover money to race overseas.
I was driving for the factory Van Dieman team Primus Racing in the US and I won the second round at St Petersburg. I led the Championship pretty much the whole way up until the last race, when I was pipped by four points racing against Buddy Rice, Steve Knapp, Sam Schmitt, Robbie McGee, Sam Hornish Jr. I got second place in the Formula Holden as well.
In 1997 I didn’t have the budget to stay in America so decided to come back to Australia and race in Formula Holden, again preparing my own car out of a workshop in Adelaide. I won the championship, which led to plenty of opportunities in V8 Supercars but I still had ambitions to race overseas in open-wheelers so I kept communication lines open with teams in America.
In 1999 I managed to organise a test in an Indy Lights car in October. My employer at the time, Stone Brothers Racing, cornered me in October to make a decision on whether I was here or there. That’s when I chose to give open wheelers one last crack but it was a gamble because at that stage I didn’t even know I had a drive; I hadn’t even gone over for the first test.
Fortunately the test went very well and opened the door to a test with Dorricott Racing and a position in that team for 2000.
My rookie season went very well and I was leading the championship by round six and already had a round win under my belt. Unfortunately I had a big crash at Chicago, which obviously cost me points because I didn’t compete in that round. Then there were also some changes in the team that led to some components being assembled badly for the car. This went undiscovered for three rounds and created some lack-luster results relegating me to sixth in the championship.
I did the Indy race on the Gold Coast that year, which was obviously very satisfying because that is what I was doing it for. I qualified 25th but was up to fifth before Max Papis and I collided as a result of Roberto Moreno hitting the wall in front of us.
At the time Champ Car was going through a changing phase, having lost the Indy500, and there tended to be more drivers than teams going into 2001, which ended my open-wheeler career.
1992 4th Victorian Formula Ford Championship
1993 2nd National Formula Ford festival at Winton, Victoria
1994 3 rd overall in Australian Formula Ford Championship
1st Australian Grand Prix support race at Adelaide – Formula Ford
1995 Australian Formula Ford Champion
1st Australian Grand Prix support race at Adelaide – Formula Ford
1st Australian IndyCar Grand Prix Formula Ford support race
Nominated for Australian Motorsport Young Achiever Award
Nominated for Australian Motorsportsman of the Year Award
1996 USA FF2000 Championship round wins St Petersburg and Mosport Park
2nd overall in the USA FF2000 Championship
USA FF2000 Rookie of the Year
Formula Holden round wins at Calder Park (x2) and Mallala
2nd overall in Formula Holden
1997 Formula Holden Champion
Formula Holden round wins at Albert Park, Phillip Island, Sandown (x2), Eastern Creek (x2) and Mallala
Sports Cars 2000 – today
I’ve always wanted to do more international stuff so when there was a sports car race in Adelaide on New Year’s Eve 2000 I threw my hat in the ring with Panoz, who I knew from racing in the States. I tested the car at Sebring in early December.
They were already running Brabham so with me and Greg Murphy we ran a ‘Down Under’ team racing on the full GP circuit, which I’d never done in something that fast!
The Audis were certainly the quickest car there and we had a couple of incidents in the race but still finished third overall, which definitely gave me a taste for sports cars.
After that I did the 24hr at Bathurst in 2003 with Peter Brock, Todd Kelly and Murphy in a Monaro. We had quite an advantage because our biggest competition was our team-mates in the other Monaro: Garth Tander, Nathan Pretty, Cameron McConville and Steve Richards, who won the year before.
The cars basically ran pretty faultlessly, we both had little dramas but were on the lead lap not too far apart with an hour to go. Garry Rogers, who was running the car for Holden, decided it would be good for the cars to battle it out at the end whereas for the whole 24 hours it was pretty much hold-station for whoever was in front.
Garry told Murph to slow down, and at the time we thought it was for a formation finish, but he got on the radio and said that “all bets are off, first to the flag wins, just don’t bend it.” Fortunately Murph was able to hold onto the lead.
The next time I got in a sportscar came about through driving for Prodrive with FPR. They were sending out their Team Principle from the Aston Martin team to our race meetings to oversee some of the operation and he asked me whether I’d be interested in going over for a test and possibly doing some races.
I tested at Vallelunga near Rome and it went really well. It’s a big step from a V8 because of the downforce and they use a much better tyre than we do. Once I’d got my head around that though I thought it went quite well, which led to being offered some more races.
The first race was at Sebring in a 12 hour race overnight alongside Pedro Lame and Stephane Sarrazin. I’d tested there before with FF2000 on part of the circuit and with the Panoz on another part of the circuit.
The lighting at that circuit is nowhere near as good as at night races I’d done before so it was difficult getting used to a fast car on an unfamiliar track. We finished second overall; I thought that it all went really well and I enjoyed working with the team.
It was only really bad luck that meant I didn’t do Le Mans that year, when the Chinese round of the V8 Championship was cancelled, meaning the Winton date got moved onto Le Mans weekend.
My latest go in an endurance race was in a Shelby Mustang this year. It was a pretty late call and put together pretty quickly but it was a chance to go to Bathurst and do a race, which I never pass up. We didn’t have time to test the car properly before we went to the race but it was still a pretty good experience and hopefully if we do it again next year we’ll have a bit more time to test it.
I thought we started off the weekend a fair way off the eight ball but the pace was close to the Evos by the time we got to the race. Even so, there are a fair few things you need to win that race, like fuel economy, but we still won our class.
Supercars1997 – 2018
Winning the Formula Holden Championship in 1997 led to a drive in Tassie with GRM after Steve Richards, who was also competing in the two-litre series, had to skip that round.
The race was saturated but what I thought was bad luck initially, having my first race in the wet, turned out to be good luck as I happened to be on the best tyres for the weekend. That race alone led to a drive in the enduros for SBR that year and offers from GRM and SBR for 1998.
I decided to go with SBR and we managed to get a few podiums during the series and won Bathurst, which was pretty good. I stayed there in 1999 until I decided to give open-wheelers another crack in 2000.
I came back that year for the enduros and drove for DJR at Bathurst, getting another podium. It was then I got offered a contract by HRT to replace Craig Lowndes, who was going to Ford the following year. That contract gave me the option to pursue my American career up until January 15 so I signed in November.
HRT was the benchmark in V8s and had a lot of success with Skaife and Lowndes. It was a big pair of boots to fill but I managed to get the monkey off my back pretty early by winning Clipsal. Then I had trouble getting the car to work for me at a lot of the tracks and it wasn’t until late 2001, when I had some new components, that I got on the pace. By then, though, we had lost the championship.
2002 was probably a better year results-wise but I didn’t finish as well in the championship. At the end of that year I was offered the opportunity to head up Team Brock with Phil Keed as my engineer. It allowed me to concentrate more on driving and car set up, whereas driving for a factory team is very busy on race weekends.
We came out of the gate alright, despite driving the older model VX Commodore, getting pole at Clipsal and winning the AGP support race. Then, as time went on, other cars started to come on a lot stronger and I was held back by the older car and engine.
Team Brock only lasted one year and then became PWR run by Kees Weel, which was probably the best crack I’ve had at the championship. We were very strong that year and deserved a better result than history shows; we were certainly the best Holden car out there and had very good pace at all the rounds. In the end though Ambrose was very quick and we had a shocking time at the enduros and then got put in the wall at Indy.
In 2005 I started driving for FPR in the CAT Falcon because at the time I was setting up my own team, Britek Motorsport, and Ford offered me a five-year contract for my own enterprise if I drove for its factory team for two years.
My time at FPR was very enjoyable although challenging because it was a team that had been struggling quite a bit despite having all the right resources to fix any problems. By the end of the first season I felt that we were quite competitive and went into 2006 confident that we could be a contender in races and the championship. Unfortunately the championship didn’t start off very well with a disastrous run at Clipsal and New Zealand leaving me with plenty of ground to make up. By mid-year we were in contention to get pole and wins, which we did, but unfortunately it was too little too late.
I left in 2006 purely because I wanted to drive for my own team and to give Britek a proper chance. 2007 started off quite well and I was happy with where we were running initially, which was in the 8th-15th bracket with a reasonable amount of improvements to come. During that season we probably lacked a bit of engine performance due to budget but we had a good run at Bathurst 2007. We were running in third with perfect strategy and a very fast car but it was still wet across the top of the mountain. When the whole group of us came across I saw initially Frosty was in trouble in front of me. He touched the wall, so I did, Skaife and Ingall and unfortunately it was enough damage to put us out of the race.
By the end of the season Ford indicated its intention to pull out, which slowed our future development. We still had new components and a new engine for the 2008 season but with a lot of other teams becoming customers of front-running teams our performance improvements did not translate into track results as the standards had gone up a level.
With Ford pulling its funding at the end of 2007 it wasn’t viable to run Britek as a standalone operation going forward so I decided to run as a customer at Stone Brothers Racing. We started the year in the older model BF Falcon due to time frame constraints in building the third car at SBR. Whilst I hoped this would be an advantage early in the season, as it was with Team Brock in 2003, it wasn’t to be the case. It wasn’t until we received the FG Falcon in Townsville that allowed us to compete regularly for top ten positions and podiums.
1997 9th V8 Supercar debut with Garry Rogers Motorsport – Symmons Plains
3rd Sandown 500 with Alan Jones Racing
1998 1st 1998 Bathurst 1000 with co-driver Steven Richards with Ford (SBR)
1999 Round win at Hidden Valley (SBR)
Highest average qualifying position of the field in 1999 Shell Championship Series
First driver to qualify in the top six in every round of the Championship
2000 2nd FAI Bathurst 1000 (DJR)
2001 3rd 2001 V8 Supercar Championship (HRT) with round wins at Adelaide and Eastern Creek
2001 Held the Championship lead during the first half of the season
2002 4th 2002 V8 Supercar Championship (HRT) with round wins at Barbagallo and Winton
3rd Bathurst 1000
Bright qualified on the front row of the grid more than any other competitor during the season
2003 4th 2003 V8 Supercar Championship (Team Brock)
2004 3rd 2004 V8 Supercar Championship (PWR) with a round win at Barbagallo
1st Australian F1 Grand Prix Support Race
2005 9th 2005 V8 Supercar Championship (FPR)
2006 5th 2006 V8 Supercar Championship (FPR) with round wins at Sandown and Bahrain
2009 Pole position at Phillip Island and a podium at Homebush (Britek)
TCR 2019-The Future