The Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour race is now threatening both its 1000km cousin and Melbourne’s F1 round as the most prestigious race meeting on the Australasian calendar. Thousands of Kiwis were glued to the live stream of this year’s race, as our own Shane Van Gisbergen fended off a fast-finishing Katsumasa Chiyo to give McLaren its biggest sports car win since the 1995 Le Mans.
Curiously, The Giz was not the biggest star of the event. Most of the talk this side of the Tasman revolved around the breakthrough appearance of a bloke simply called ‘Joey’ – or Clint Bridger as his parents named him.
I kept an eye on Shane’s progress during the race, as he was clearly the best chance of an outright win in a marque so dear to most Kiwis’ hearts. But I found myself frequently distracted by video despatches from one of the field’s lesser lights – the Ponson-by-based International Motorsport.
The Lyall Williamson-headed equipe has always had a strong presence on these shores, but running an Audi R8 in Australia was a significant step up with the big boys. It also seemed to herald a new approach to media releases, fronted by an engaging spokesman whose style was as loose as a goose.
The only Clint Bridger I’d ever heard of was the talented designer of Red Bull Racing’s livery, so I wondered if the two namesakes had ever met.
“That’s me, too,” assured Joey when I finally caught up with him back in Auckland. “I won a competition in the last years of Triple Eight’s Vodafone sponsorship and they seemed to like my work.”
Triple Eight are a fairly serious outfit, and Lyall himself occupies a decidedly patriarchal position in the New Zealand racing scene. So why are they involved with this amusing screwball?
Joey, too, is amazed at his good fortune. “I’ve always prepared International’s press releases and social media posts, and been disappointed with the response. Clearly it was time to try something different so we filmed a light-hearted video as we left Sydney. It was off the cuff and the punters loved it.
Team management drew him aside to establish what the hell was going on, but Joey was able to assure them he was not leading their hardearned reputation into Gomorrah.
Thus ensued some of the funniest videos ever posted at a motor racing circuit, as Joey played up to his role as a hanger-on while the rest of the crew were his straight men.
“The intention was to highlight the importance of our race technicians to our sponsors and customers – to draw them into the limelight. It turned into so much more, especially with the access we gave the Aussie fans. We kept a largely open pit bay so they could see what our guys were doing at all times of the day.”
The battle to be accepted by those same race technicians played out beautifully on film. ‘I was begging them for some of the cool stuff so it looked like I belonged – anything like a headset, or gloves.” Instead the team provided him with some gardening gloves that promptly fused to his hands when he manhandled hot machinery.
“I was playing a catchers role, behind the pit lane. They would slide trays of glowing brake discs and pads towards me, while I stood waiting to catch the worn tyres. The next thing I knew, my prized Air Jordans were melting as they rested against the 450 degree Centigrade discs.”
I asked him about his nickname, ‘Joey’. Apparently it stems from a resemblance to the Friends character Joey Tribbiani. Bizarrely, it was also my nickname as a kid, mainly because I liked to experiment on small animals, just like Josef Mengele.
In fact, I felt a real kindred spirit with Joey/Clint. We’re both shameless self-promoters and use humour as an effective way of broadening our reach. After watching him in action, I’m now left wondering if a move to the small screen might be something I should consider.
But no – on second thoughts, I’d probably make a complete Clint of myself.