After the 2017 Formula Renault EuroCup Championship ended, I made my way back to Australia as the options to do another year of racing in England and Europe became quite limited. I was very thankful to have had the chance to race in the UK and Europe for the past two seasons which included BRDC British F3, a couple rounds of the British LMP3 Cup Championship, two rounds of the Formula V8 3.5 Series, and the last half of the 2017 Formula Renault EuroCup Championship. During December of 2017, I was quite unsure of where my racing career was headed; I had won the Toyota Racing Series at the beginning of the year, however the next category up in Europe needed a budget that we could not achieve. It was at this point I sat down with my Dad and my manager, where my manager said to me: “How would you feel if I told you Tim Edwards wants you to drive for him next year?” The smile just erupted on my face, and 12 months on from that meeting I am here to tell the story of how it went!
I had decided to move back to Australia after living in the UK for two years. I signed the contract to race in the Dunlop Super2 Series for Tickford Racing, previously known as Prodrive Racing or Ford Performance Racing. This was a huge deal for me, and still is. I have firstly got to thank my parents for all their hard work and support, and Rusty French for his support over the last few years also. I had gone from a team with roughly seven staff to a team with over 70 employees. I am still learning names! Tickford Racing have a massive history in Supercars here in Australia with 72 wins, 81 pole positions, one driver’s championship, back to back Bathurst 1000 victories and multiple success in the second tier (Dunlop Super2) category. They debuted in the Supercars championship in 2003 and their first win came from Craig Lowndes. CEO Tim Edwards used to be the team manager of Jordan Grand Prix F1 Team, and other members of Tickford Racing have vast experience in categories all around the world. Not to mention being in a team with drivers such as Mark Winterbottom, Chaz Mostert, Cam Waters and Richie Stanaway to learn from. I really was the new kid on the block.
As testing got underway in February, that was when I discovered what a Supercar was like to drive, and how hot it got in the cabin. We were testing at Winton Raceway with ambient temperatures of over 40 degrees Celsius and cabin temps up to 60 degrees Celsius. These cars are equipped with a helmet fan and a cool suit purely because they get so hot inside. I started running and training with a jumper and track pants after that day.
When the first round arrived in late February/ early March at the Adelaide 500, and with peak crowds (over 250,000) expected across the weekend, I was ready to kick things off with a bang. Unfortunately, that became a reality as during the first race of the weekend I suffered a power steering failure through the fastest corner of the circuit with no run off except for four and a half tonnes of concrete wall to slam into. The car hit the wall that hard that it couldn’t be repaired for the remainder of the weekend and I ended up switching chassis for the rest of the season. Apart from the ‘minor’ setback, we showed good speed in the practice and qualifying sessions, and still to this day I have not completed a race at that circuit yet.
The second round at Symmons Plains in Tasmania was another new track for me, and this really became my introduction into Supercars. I finished the weekend eighth for the round, however it taught me a lot about door to door racing, and how much contact you can get away with before you start breaking components on the car. I have been so used to open wheelers and if you bang wheels, there’s a good chance someone might end up on their head!
Roll onto round three at Barbagallo in Perth. Once again, another new track to me, but this became the best weekend of the season for me. Qualifying the car on pole, with the top 20 cars separated by less than one second was very cool and grabbing my first ever podium in the category completed a dream weekend. The last rookie to grab pole position and a round podium in the Super2 Series was Scott Pye in 2012. In the Super2 Series there is only a weekend podium, and not a podium per race. At this stage I was feeling very confident with the car and the team. I had full faith in my engineer David Paterson, as he knows how to set up one of these cars. He had previously worked with guys like Chaz Mostert and Cam Waters who is an ex-champion in the Super2 Series, so I had my trust in him, which is very important in the driver to engineer relationship.
As we headed to round four in Townsville which was familiar territory to me (however I had never raced a supercar there) I backed up my qualifying efforts from Perth to qualify on the front row. I finished the first race in fourth place, and in race two I qualified eighth and suffered a puncture with two laps remaining, forcing me to pit for a spare.
The fifth round at Sandown was at my home track. For some reason however, Supercars decided to put our category on a different tyre compound for this round only, and with no prior testing, apart from the final practice session on Friday, I managed to qualify the car in 10th spot, where in the first race of the weekend, I moved up to finish in third position on a damp track. The second race I finished in eight place, putting me fourth overall for the round and just missing out of my second podium of the year.
Bathurst, this was the race I was waiting for all year. The penultimate round of the championship headed to the holy grail of Australian motor racing, the mountain that is, Mount Panorama. I had never previously driven a lap of this circuit, and in a wet first practice session (my first time driving this car in the wet) I went to the top of the timesheets. No one could better my time for ten minutes, however as the rain stopped and the track dried out, the track got quicker. On both my final two flying laps I was caught in traffic, so I ended up finishing the session in fifth place. A dry practice two saw me complete three flying laps so I knew qualifying was going to be a big task. I put the car on eleventh place for the race which I knew was a relatively good spot. This was our longest race of the season, 250km, 41 laps and a pit stop for fuel and tyres. I made my way up to eighth in the race however during my pit stop I received a drive through penalty for a pit lane infringement (crew not back behind the line when I was released) which really hampered my chances of a great result. The pace was amazing, I ended up being the third fastest car over the race length and we would have been on for a podium. In the end I finished the race in eighth position.
The final round of the championship took place at Newcastle street circuit, which again was my first time racing there. I had two shocking qualifying sessions which were marred with yellow flags, traffic and all sorts. We didn’t get it together and both races I started mid pack. Race one lasted around ten seconds after I made contact with another car which put me out of the race instantly. Race two was abandoned after a car hit a wall that hard that it needed to be repaired.
What topped off the season was being awarded the Mike Kable Young Gun of 2018 which is an Australian award for the best young driver in Supercars. The trophy is awarded to the rookie of the year for the season in either the main series (Virgin Australia Supercars Championship) or the Dunlop Super2 Series. It is voted on by the motor sport media, including Mike Kable’s former colleagues, which provides an independent perspective on who has been the best rookie throughout the Supercars season. The previous winners include Chaz Mostert, Marcos Ambrose, Mark Winterbottom, James Courtney, Cameron Waters, and Scott McLaughlin. This is a huge achievement for me and one that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
So, there you have it, the summary of my 2018 Dunlop Super2 Series campaign. To have raced in such a competitive championship against some very experienced drivers with a team like Tickford Racing was a dream come true. In fact, one of the drivers I raced against started racing in Supercars before I was born. I was up against guys who had previous experience in the main Supercars championship and other drivers who were also co driving in the endurance rounds in 2018. It has been a terrific learning curve and I can’t wait to get 2019 underway.