Racer kicks goals
An Aussie conquers Europe in a new competition, writes Mark Hinchliffe
WEBBER, Ambrose and Reed might be Australia’s top motorsport stars, but one Queensland miner’s son is quietly staking his claim in the international racing spotlight.
John Martin, 26, this year won more races than any other driver in the European-based Superleague series and pocketed more than $500,000 in prizemoney.
Next year, the former national Formula Ford champion could be racing in front of a home crowd as the international football-themed series seeks to spread to an international audience.
‘‘There’s been a lot of talk about coming to Australia, also Brazil, Abu Dhabi and another race in China,’’ he says.
The Superleague put up its hand last year to fill in for the A1GP when it failed to show for the Gold Coast ‘‘Indy’’.
‘‘They’d still really like to come to Australia and are really pushing for it,’’ Martin says.
‘‘I’m in the loop a bit but they play their cards close to their chest so we won’t know until they are near a deal.
‘‘(Superleague co-founder) Robin Webb has been out here a couple of times in the last couple of weeks.
‘‘I’ve heard that Adelaide and a few other places have been mentioned. Adelaide would be good because it’s a former F1 track.’’
Martin scored six pole positions and 10 podiums this year for his Beijing Guoan FC team. He won six races, including two super-finals, but finished ninth in the convoluted points system.
‘‘ The year didn’t go quite as planned, but it was still a good one,’’ he says. ‘‘We wanted to challenge for the championship but had a few problems. But towards the end of the year we went really well.’’
Since he arrived back in Australia last month the Gosford-born former Queensland karting champion has been racing karts at Rockhampton and Bundaberg ‘‘for some fun’’ and to keep his eye in, winning all four races.
He says he will race a full season of Superleague next year but has not yet signed a contract.
‘‘Motorsport is a crazy world and things change all the time,’’ he says.
‘‘I’m still just chasing the F1 dream. I’d also like to be in GP2 but I don’t have the budget for that.
‘‘ Maybe if I make some more money out of Superleague I can think about GP2 or an F1 test.’’
Martin says it costs about $675,000 to race a season in Superleague and about $2.7 million ‘‘just to turn up’’ in GP2.
‘‘And then there’s crash damage and things aren’t cheap to fix,’’ he says. ‘‘My prizemoney this year paid for my season, so basically I raced for nothing. Sponsors and my family help out with living expenses.
‘‘My dad (Greg) worked as a mining contractor at Blackwater (in Central Queensland) and he’s spent a quite a bit on my career.’’
Martin has congratulated Perth 21-year-old Daniel Ricciardo, who has scored a contract with F1 team Toro Rosso as the third and reserve driver for next season, but says there are drawbacks.
The former Red Bull reserve driver will drive in the free practice sessions on the first day of each GP, alternating with regular drivers Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastian Buemi. If either is injured or their performance is diminished, Ricciardo is likely to get a drive.
‘‘That’s the way into F1 these days, not being a test driver,’’ Martin says.
‘‘There’s not much testing in F1 these days because they put a ban on it, so it makes it harder to get in.
‘‘A few years ago when Webber started he test-drove for several years and go lots of miles in.
‘‘But as a reserve driver you do a lot of standing around hoping someone gets sick. Also, it takes you away from other competition.
‘‘You need to be racing to keep your name out there and keep your race craft up as well.
‘‘You can do all the time in the gym you like but you have to go out and get match fitness.’’
Six wins: John Martin celebrates a big year competing in the Superleague in Europe.