Football, family, fast cars
I’m from Collaroy on the northern beaches of Sydney, which is not an area well known for motor sport.
I was never a surfer, like many. My group of mates and I weren’t into it. We were into what we called football but most people in Australia call soccer. So as you can imagine, I’m pretty excited now the FIFA World Cup is here and I’m watching as many games as I can.
I guess when you go to school it’s like anything in life; the guys that you end up being mates with are people who have similar interests, and football was something that we all shared in common.
I never felt any pressure to change my interests at school; motor racing and football were my thing and that was OK. In saying that, I’ve always been into all kinds of sport. Living in Collaroy and being born in Manly hospital, it was inevitable that I was going to support the Manly Sea Eagles in the NRL. You have no choice when your dad’s workshop was literally a block away from their home ground, Brookvale Oval!
Despite now considering myself a Melburnian, I will say that I enjoyed it when Manly beat Melbourne 40-nil in the NRL grand final back in 2008. I was sitting in the stands at the ground actually, so that makes it even better when you get to go and live it. We went to the Manly after-party afterwards and I got a photo with the trophy, which was exciting.
However, my dad, being Italian, was into motor racing from the get-go and when he made his way over to Australia this interest only strengthened. Motor racing is 100 percent Italy’s second love after football. It goes without saying that names like Ferrari and Lamborghini are synonymous with Italy, and so it obviously just goes with the background, I guess.
So it was probably inevitable that I was going to get into motor sport via my dad. Although I loved football, I had the talent to go into motor racing and be a race car driver. I started karting when I was 12 years old and loved it!
At the age of 18, I got my break and began competing in Formula Ford. From there I went on to race in Formula 3, where I was fortunate enough to win the Australian championship before getting my break in the Super2 Series of Supercars.
In 2008, I got a nod from Garry Rogers to be a full-time driver in the Supercars Championship and I’ve never looked back.
Although I’m really into sport and I’ve been living in Melbourne for 12 years now, I’ve never really taken to AFL. With all the other sports I follow, let alone my own everyday life as a Supercars Championship driver, unfortunately it’s just too much to follow.
Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one in Melbourne who’s not into the AFL. When I go out in Melbourne, it seems like all everyone talks about is the footy. I’ll be sitting there and I’m often the only person not talking about it. People say, ‘Oh, who do you support?’ and I say, ‘Nope, I’m not really into it’, and their usual response is, ‘What do you mean you’re not really into it?’.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Melbourne lifestyle. It’s pretty special that they have such a great sporting culture down here.
With all that being said, there are only two sports on my mind – the Supercars Watpac Townsville 400 round this weekend, where I’ve enjoyed some great racing in the past, and the FIFA World Cup.
A WORLD-CLASS CHAMPIONSHIP SERIESIt’s a great time for Aussie motor sport.
Recently, we had that weekend when we saw two Aussies win their respective categories – with Daniel Ricciardo winning the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix and Will Power winning the Indy 500. Both guys are at the absolute top of their game, which was pretty cool to see because whether you’re into motor racing or not, we Aussies love sport so much.
They both did it in their own way, obviously Ricciardo with his engine problems and Will winning a race that no Aussie has ever won before. It was amazing and it’s a credit to the depth of talent we have in motor sport here.
Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one in Melbourne who’s not into the AFL… People say, ‘Oh, who do you support?’ and I say, ‘Nope, I’m not really into it’, and their usual response is, ‘What do you mean you’re not really into it?’
I guess a lot of people forget about us here in Australia, because we’re this little island at the bottom of the world, but we do motor racing really well here, and we’ve had a lot of successful drivers compete all over the world.
It says a lot about how strong our local motor racing is. I was racing against Will Power in Formula 3 some years ago before he left to race in America, and he has said that the talent we have here is world class.
Then you have people like James Courtney who was a Test driver in Formula One and has come back and had great success in our championship too. I remember when a lot of international drivers came over and drove with us at the race on the Gold Coast a few years ago. It was a big surprise to them the level of skill, talent and competition not just from the drivers themselves, but the entire category as a whole.
The Supercars Championship is even more competitive now. There’s often less than a second separating 26 cars and you’re splitting hairs most of the time talking about first to fifth.
I’m so proud to be a part of it.
bouncing on two wheelsI’ve been looking forward to this weekend’s racing, especially as we’ve had a few weeks off and I’m excited to get up to the warm weather. The Watpac Townsville 400 is a great event and one that the whole town gets behind.
I’ve really enjoyed racing around the streets of Townsville in the past. Street tracks are true test of a driver’s abilities given the room for error with the concrete walls whilst trying to maximise your speed. I’ve had great success at street circuits in the past and love the adrenaline rush.
The Townsville circuit is an interesting layout – it complements true street racing with 90 degree corners and lots of kerbs to bounce the car over on two wheels. There is an open fast-flowing section of the circuit which pushes the cars to their grip limits, making it exciting to drive and for the fans to watch both trackside and on TV.
Tyre degradation is also something we have to manage as it is quite hot up there. I’ve enjoyed racing up the pointy end of the field in Townsville, achieving top 10 results, so I am hoping I can take it one step further this weekend and be standing on the podium.
The thing about motor racing is it’s not the same as being in a football team, where you’re only relying on human performance to a big extent. There are so many aspects to motor racing – it all depends on the combination of the driver’s ability, the car and the team’s ability.
For me in motor racing, it’s a mental challenge as much as a physical one. I train six days a week with my personal trainer and do other forms of training outside of that as well including cycling and running. My physical and mental state is so important and gives me a really good gauge of where I’m going to sit for the weekend before I even get into the car and drive it.
There are many elements that make up what we do at a race event. Heading into an event, I have several meetings with the team and my engineer to make sure that the car is as good as it can be and we have the best opportunity to perform our best.
My physical and mental state is so important and gives me a really good gauge of where I’m going to sit for the weekend before I even get into the car and drive it.
Nowadays, it’s probably different to when I was a young kid. Back then, it was all about the adrenaline of going fast. Nowadays, it’s understanding what objectives you have to achieve when you go out in a session.
The engineer sets out a list of targets that you have to tick off, so it’s about making sure that we’re pushing the car to the limit when it needs to be, and understanding what the car’s doing to give the best feedback possible to assist in improving the equipment and ultimately improving your opportunity to get the best results that you can.
Being satisfied with what you’ve done is the best feeling for me.
When you achieve a really good lap and you’re on a roll, it’s confirmation of what you’ve done day-to-day in the lead-up. In motor racing, you spend a lot less time driving than you do working behind the scenes. Unlike footballers, we can’t just go out and practise our sport in the park every day, so there’s a lot of things that you do away from the track.
With as many as 50 people in our race team, there’s a lot of different people that make up what’s going to happen each weekend, and when they are working hard to do their job right, you obviously want to make sure that you’re doing your job to the best of your ability too.
In our team, we’re starting to see a rise in our performance. We’re running in the top five each weekend which is great, and which gives us an opportunity to hopefully get on that podium.
I COULDN’T DO THIS ON MY OWNI’m not just driving for myself nowadays. I have a family of my own now so I’m putting in every ounce of effort that I can to do them proud. For me, family is the most important thing, and comes first in life. That is something that was embedded in me from a young age.
I’ve been with my wife Danielle now for 12 years, and we’ve been through so much together in that time including moving to Melbourne together so I could chase my Supercars dream in 2008. I’m very fortunate that I have somebody who loves me for me, and who loves and supports me in everything I do.
Dani comes from a similar background to me. Coincidentally, we lived very close to each other our whole lives – effectively just a couple of kilometres from each other. Despite having mutual friends, we actually never knew each other until we met at a local pub down the road one night. We share the same values, and I find that particularly important especially when you have kids.
We’ve got two little girls together and another child on the way. My girls watch my races on TV and they come to some of the races, which is really nice. The best thing about having kids is you can have the absolute toughest day and you get out of the race car and they say, ‘You did so good today, Dad’.
As a father and husband, I don’t think about the fear factor when I’m racing even though – like all drivers – I’ve had some pretty bad crashes, including one on the same corner where Todd Hazelwood had his crash at Sandown.
But I have a lot of trust and faith in the guys who work on my car, and I’m very fortunate I’ve been at my team for a long time and have a really good relationship with the guys. They’re pretty aware of the responsibility they have, so that’s a big part of why I don’t feel fear when I race.
But I think the main reason is that I love motor racing and it’s something I want to do. I never go out there thinking I don’t want to be in this car. I try to make the most of every moment. I don’t like coming in and thinking, ‘Oh I’ve left a little bit on the table’. That’s not my style.
I started motor racing when I was 12 years old and I’ve had lots of people help me out along the way. Obviously, my dad and mum are two of my biggest supporters – they’re the people that would understand and appreciate, just as much as my wife, both the hard and good times and they are a constant part of each moment in my career.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to have lots of good sponsors. Both Autoglym and Robson have been very good to me. They’re both great family-run companies here in Australia, which means we ultimately share the same core values. You can talk to them on a human level, which is always a positive.