Motor racing: Ellingham boys find torque zone

By Anendra Singh

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SLICK TEAM: Simon Ellingham (right) John McIntyre.
SLICK TEAM: Simon Ellingham (right) John McIntyre.

Whoever said talk is cheap didn't know what they were talking about. Torque, for that matter, isn't cheap either.

As Brem Ellingham makes a beeline from his palatial office at Shed 5 along the picturesque Ahuriri waterfront in Napier for the airport, he tactfully interrupts the interview with his son, Simon, a budding motor racing driver.

"You might like to mention we're off to Bathurst to support John McIntyre over there," the group managing director of Fastway Global points out to his 21-year-old as he drags his two-wheel travel bag behind him to catch his flight to Sydney after a rushed interview.

Peak marketing account executive Simon, who is based in Sydney these days but rubs shoulders in the high-octane world of John McIntyre and Jono Lester in New Zealand, simply lets his smiling eyes do the talking.

You see, that's how the Ellingham boys ensure they keep in touch with the family while meeting the daily demands of work and play.

The 56-year-old's other son, Hamish, 20, also a petrolhead, is a Victoria University commerce degree student.

"We have a lot of fun doing that [getting out of the offices, university] but, having said that, I've probably been away overseas half my working life anyway," said the senior Ellingham.

"With a father away working reasonably hard, I think it gives me longer time with my sons who tend to go away at the age of 18 or 19 to university or work."

Simon and Hamish belong to the Fastway Racing stable who have kept up with the pace, when not setting it, in the New Zealand Endurance Championship and the New Zealand Production GT Race Series.

After round one in Invercargill recently, Brem joined his sons for a few days of R&R in Queenstown on the way to Timaru for the second leg.

The trio went to the Shanghai Grand Prix in April but Hamish will miss Bathurst this weekend because of varsity exams.

So where does mum Linda fit into all this?

"Hates it. With an absolute passion," Brems says as Simon cracks up.

"She finds it very hard to watch her sons. She is very supportive of what they do and what they've achieved but finds it very difficult to be at the track."

The father has found it easier to work with Hamish because he became more race savvy with Simon as the guinea pig.

Brem always had an interest in motorsport but that didn't graduate to a stint behind a steering wheel.

He worked for an engineering company that sponsored a Porsche series involved with the Wellington Street Races in the 1980s.

As his teenage sons became partial to souping up cars Brem "wanted to put it to better use than just the street".

Simon has built a rapport with Aucklander Lester, a former Porsche series champion.

"I think he was the youngest guy in the world to win a Porsche series."

Scott McElvie, the son of Bay's Ross McKelvie, drove an Evo 9 in what was then the NZ production series.

"He was moving to the V8 series and the car was for sale so we took the plunge, bought the car and put Simon in it," Brem says of the elder son, who competed in the production series four years ago.

The following season Simon claimed a podium place.

Something more structured beckoned so the Ellinghams invested in a Porsche series in the South Island taking in Invercargill, Timaru and Ruapuna in a three-hour endurance event with two drivers racing in relay fashion.

The premier drivers now are McIntyre, Daniel Gaunt, Johnny Reid among other V8 and SuperTourer campaigners.

Lester, who competes in Japan, drove and Simon backed him up, finishing third overall in last year's endurance series in the 997 GT3 Cup Porsche in the latter's debut.

The Ellinghams' idle Evo 9 was passed down to Hamish, who was NZ Production GT series champion last year and runnerup in the NZ one-hour endurance champs.

In the one-hour endurance series this year, Simon is third in his class but first overall after the last round this week.

This season the older Porsche cup car gave way to a 2011 model from Asia which packs more grunt.

With Lester having Japan commitments, Simon enlisted the help of McIntyre and the combination won the opening round in Invercargill.

Two weekends ago wasn't that flash. Lester returned to clock the fastest lap time, got into pole position and got Fastway 30 seconds ahead when a yellow safety flag popped up.

"We put Simon out as part of our structured run. He did his 45 minutes and just on his in lap a car spun out and whacked him in the front so that was disappointing and we've got a bit of road to get back in line for the championship," Brem says, although he hastens to add the third, fourth and fifth placegetters didn't complete the race either so Fastway Racing have an outside chance at a park in Cromwell next weekend.

Tony Quinn, who owns the park, also owns the Australian GT Series which he intends to bring to New Zealand.

"That would be the best race meeting New Zealand's probably seen for some time and there'll be tremendous interest in that."

Brem laughs when asked to crunch numbers.

It's about $20,000 a weekend in the Porsche series.

A grinning Simon pipes in: "And that's before you plough into another car."

Motorsport Services carry out the logistics for the team, such as transporting cars and ground refuelling.

Fastway take their own team manager and roadshow crew.

For Brem a big challenge is going through the motions as a father watching his sons on the racetrack.

"It's a totally different feeling to when the other driver gets in, although you care for everyone, of course.

"When it's your own child travelling around at 300km/h then it takes some getting used to but as the boys get more racing under their belts it becomes slightly easier."

Simon's elevation to the top, alongside McIntyre and Lester, is a tension Brem shares.

Talking his boys out of it was never an issue.

If anything, Brem believes it's boosted Simon's self-confidence, mental fortitude and ability to belong to a "tremendous racing community".

Lauding Fastway's support, Brem says the cars become a great tool for giving clients a ride during business meetings on both sides of the Tasman.

So were the Ellingham brothers, former Taradale High School pupils, fringe boyracers?

"Given the car I had when I was 18 years old, most people would say that," says Simon who had a penchant for souping up his Mitsubishi Evo 9.

He didn't graduate from Victoria University.

"I was a typical teenager in school, getting the same report [as his mates], 'Has the potential but could do better'."

A trip to the Taupo Raceway got his competitive juices flowing after he spent $100 to occupy the track for the day.

The first motor racing event he went to was the V8 Supercars meeting at Pukekohe in his pre-teens with his father and his mates.

"I've always loved cars and always knew everything about the latest models and all the specs [specifications]."

With his father's engineering background, Simon was always on a collision course with Holden Commodores.

Learning to drive with his father was "no major dramas or big fights and no scratches or dings".

WRC Developments, of Onekawa, with a reputation for working on Colin McRae's car, also modified his teen racing car.

Since the age of 8, he was counting the days to his learner's permit.

It came on his birthday and every impending restricted licence came on the first day of application.

He eased into the driver's seat of a manual VW Golf for his christening.

"The car was too good for a 15-year-old to drive. It wasn't expensive or anything, just perfect for a learner driver," he says, ending up on a derelict stretch of road in the Onekawa industrial area alongside his father.

He went to a garage to modify his vehicle one day so he returned home to casually mention Scott McKelvie's car was there to the tune of around $45,000.

"I said to him, 'Shit, that'd be pretty cool, wouldn't it?'

To which his father replied: "If you sell your car, we can think about it."

Cost is often in the back of his mind but it's pointless dwelling on it.

"You're going to crash if every time you think about it when passing someone."

At school his diet was "disgusting". Not very active as a cricketer and golfer, eating stuff like pizza after school didn't help his cause.

Now a four-times-a-week gym bunny, Simon places importance on cardiovascular exercise, too.

"Diet's a lot better but it's still not great. It's still leaps and bounds but it's not perfect."

When you're wearing a thermal, fireproof-type of garment underneath, a three-layer suit, a balaclava and a helmet in a 50C cockpit for more than an hour, fitness is vital.

"You can hardly concentrate if you're not fit."

With a "sharp car", this year's simply about finishing the series.

With the Porsche series going broke, he yearns for endurance racing in Dubai and Malaysia.

A late bloomer in racing, Simon accepts he won't ever enter the realm of the Murphys and Dixons.

"It'll be pretty good to be able to do it without having a job."

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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