For most 21-year old Aussies, steering a Porsche 911 GT3-R for the first time at the Bathurst 12 Hour with FIA WEC champion Marc Lieb and Porsche lifer Pat Long alongside might be a daunting proposition. James Newbold explains why that won’t be the case for Porsche junior Matt Campbell.
Rewind the clocks 12 months. For a few hours between final practice and qualifying, Queenslander Matt Campbell is the unofficial Mount Panorama circuit lap record holder. The 21-year-old’s time of 2m02.287s in Tony Walls’ Objective Racing McLaren 650S GT3 was almost three tenths quicker than Laurens Vanthoor’s pole time the previous year and hinted that this was a talent to keep an eye on come raceday.
But such is the fickle nature of motorsport that his feat was soon scrubbed from the history books by Shane van Gisbergen, the Tekno Autosport McLaren shaving a full second off Campbell’s previous benchmark with a qualifying lap half a second faster than anybody else could manage. Campbell ultimately didn’t get a chance to show what he could do in the race, after team-mate Warren Luff shunted at the Dipper in the early stages, but his whirlwind 2016 was only getting started.
In his second season in the national Porsche Carrera Cup championship, Campbell trounced a strong opposition featuring Steven Richards, Alex Davison and Nick McBride, taking seven pole positions and winning 13 times. This included a stunning hat-trick of wins on the mountain, while suppressing the excitement of realising his childhood dream – competing in the Bathurst 1000 – on the same weekend.
By the end of the season, Campbell was confirmed as a Porsche junior and had been taken under the wing of Mark Webber after impressing at a shootout in Germany.
In addition to his second crack at the 12 Hour in the Pro-Am Competition Motorsports Porsche and a full season in Europe contesting the Porsche Supercup, Campbell will also have another season of endurance in Supercars to look forward to in 2017, alongside none other than reigning champion Van Gisbergen at the factory Holden Triple Eight Race Engineering team.
What a difference 12 months makes…
— Porsche Motorsport (@PorscheRaces) February 2, 2017
Campbell was a last minute addition to the Competition Motorsports line-up alongside David Calvert-Jones, Marc Lieb and Patrick Long and will face strong opposition for Pro-Am honours on his first appearance in the GT3-spec 911, but is confident of hitting the ground running at his favourite track.
“I thoroughly enjoy Bathurst, it’s definitely my favourite circuit and I’ve always gone quite well there,” he told Racing.GT.
“Thankfully I know it very well and have always felt extremely comfortable around that top of the circuit – it’s very different to the other tracks we have in Australia but also around the world as well.
“It’s important not to overthink it and just to enjoy the circuit. I’ve been fortunate enough to race there a fair few times now and at a very young age as well.”
Indeed, for one so young, Campbell has a remarkable amount of experience in different machinery to call upon and showed he could learn on the job by jumping straight from the Porsche to the V8 without first serving his apprenticeship in the Development Series.
From four starts, his best finish was a seventh on debut in the Sandown 500, alongside Todd Kelly.
“He put a lot of faith in me, obviously not having any V8 Supercar experience behind me and skipping the DVS level, I’m very appreciate of everything Todd and Rick [Kelly] have done for me,” Campbell continued.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have raced and driven a lot of different cars, so I think that has had a really beneficial effect in my driving career – you learn to adapt maybe a little bit faster or a little bit easier or something like that.
— Competition MSports (@CompMSports) February 3, 2017
“In three race weekends between Sandown, Bathurst and Gold Coast, we had sessions back to back where as soon as I got out of the Porsche, I was running to get in the Supercar and there wasn’t any time [in-between]. Thankfully I knew those tracks very well and I was very comfortable in both cars, but once you get into the different car, obviously going from left-hand drive to right-hand drive, there’s a bit more margin for error, especially on tracks like Bathurst.
“It can be a little bit challenging at times, but you know what you’ve got to do when you jump in that next car, and it helps that you get so much track time on those particular weekends.”
All the ingredients are there to suggest that Porsche have found a gem, but Campbell insists this year will be about learning the ropes of racing in Europe and not putting too much pressure on himself, the same approach which served him well during the shootout.
“We want to go and do the best job we can to be successful, [but] I didn’t go into it thinking I was going to win it or anything like that. I really just wanted to go in and have a lot of fun,” he revealed.
“Just the opportunity to be part of a very professional shootout with three factory Porsche trucks in the first place and coming from Australia to be a part of it was very surreal. It wasn’t about trying to do anything special – I just went out there and did my own thing, had fun and really enjoyed myself. I think if went over there with a different mindset, maybe I wouldn’t have had this outcome.
“I’ve never raced outside of Australia or lived outside of Australia, so it will be a big step, a big change for myself, but it’s something I’m really looking forward to. It’s the next step in my career and as a Porsche junior, being part of their family, it’s going to be a real honour.”