Motorsport isn’t the first thing most people would associate with the trendy Auckland suburb of Ponsonby. Yet just off the main drag is the headquarters of International Motorsport, one of New Zealand’s most successful racing teams.
Founded in 1960 by Lyall Williamson, International Motorsport has won the Bathurst 1000, New Zealand Grand Prix, the Toyota Racing Series as well as countless touring car and Porsche championships. Some of the country’s best drivers including Shane van Gisbergen, Earl Bamber and Fabian Coulthard, have driven with the Ponsonby team.
More recently International Motorsport has concentrated on GT racing and they’re looking forward to testing themselves against the best Australian GTteams at the Laser Plumbing & Electrical Hampton Downs 500 (October 28-29) and the Highlands 501 (November 10-12).
“We’re hoping to have three cars on the starting grid at Hampton Downs,” says Nick Williamson, the Team Manager. “The plan is to make it to Highlands as well but you never count your chickens in motorsport. It’s still four weeks out from the event and motorsport can be a cruel mistress sometimes.”
Jon Udy and Michael Scott will pilot an Audi R8 LMS at Hampton Downs and International Motorsport are close to confirming a couple of world class Kiwi drivers in the other two cars. Udy, a commercial property manager from Auckland, is a typical International Motorsport customer, a ‘gentleman racer’ keen to test himself against the best.
“I’m just an amateur having go,” says Udy. “I follow the Australian GT series and it’s a great opportunity to have a crack at the Aussies and see how we end up.”
Part of the secret to the success of GT racing globally has been the mix of professional and amateur drivers. The sport is underpinned by the involvement of enthusiasts who are passionate about their racing, who bring in experienced teams and drivers to help develop their craft. Udy, whose background is in drifting, was bitten by the GT bug at last year’s Hampton Downs 101 where ‘Mad Mike’ Whiddett made the transition from skidding sideways to circuit racing look easy.
“I think the drift guys are often underestimated in terms of their driving ability,” says Udy. “Mike showed last year that the fundamentals are there and I was really impressed at how quickly he got to grips with circuit racing. I’ve a little bit more experience than him on the track so hopefully, I’ll go alright.”
Udy talked to Nick at International Motorsport about his GT aspirations and he helped advise him on which car to buy.
“I stumbled upon this Audi on a website in Japan,” says Udy. “It’s a 2012 Audi R8 LMS. It’s been run in the GT300 Series in Japan and in the SuperGT, which is their endurance series, before it was parked for a few years. It’s set up to do these longer endurance races and we tested it at Hampton Downs recently and it handled beautifully. It’s like a really fast road car.”
“It’s probably the oldest, slowest car in the field but it’s all about setting a challenge for yourself. I’m keen to test myself against some of the other guys in newer equipment and I really enjoy the endurance format. It’s a good test of your mental and physical abilities as well as the car and the team. “
Nick Williamson is also passionate about GT racing.
“I was at the Hampton Downs 101 last year as a spectator and I love that form of racing. It brings the team into play a lot more. With the sprint races you put so much hard work into the car but once it heads out of the pits it’s up to the driver. Before you know it the cars are crossing the finish line and your race is run.”
“You have to play the long game in endurance racing and what happens in the pits is so important. Pitstops, fuelling and race strategy all play their part. It’s pretty epic and the cars are purpose-built for endurance racing. I remember in the past you had to nurse some of these flash cars around the track but not anymore. Now they just keep going, foot to the floor, lap after lap.”
“The initial start-up costs in GT racing are dearer than some categories but you’re buying a car that is built to do the job. They’re fast, exciting cars to drive and you get to do a lot of mileage. When it comes to resale value, it’s a worldwide category and a worldwide market.”
After the Hampton Downs 500 and the Highlands 501, International Motorsport will look to the Bathurst 12 Hour in February.
“The two Australian GT events in New Zealand will be a great litmus test to see where we’re at,” says Williamson. “It also gives the drivers a chance to test themselves against a lot of the guys they’ll be racing against at Bathurst.”
Williamson is confident the Kiwi drivers can foot it with the best of the Aussies, especially on home soil.
“We don’t go to any race without thinking we’re in contention. But 500 kilometres is a long race and a lot can happen. We don’t want to get in amongst it and ruin anyone’s championship chances because we’re only doing a couple of the rounds. But we do want to go there and hold our heads up high and come away unscathed.”
“Running three cars in one race might be daunting for some people but that’s what we do. That’s our job. At the first A1GP race in Taupo we ran something like 27 cars over the weekend in different categories. On race day we’ll have 18 people out at the track looking after Jon and Michael and the rest of our drivers.”
“I literally have to turn up, put on my helmet and drive the thing,” says Udy. “It’s a pretty cool setup.”