Motorsport: Lester set for race of his life

By Eric Thompson

Kiwi ace to share Mercedes-Benz team duties with former F1 driver

New Zealand's Jono Lester is looking forward to a new experience - in some fairly illustrious company - with his drive in Malaysia this weekend.Picture / Getty Images
New Zealand's Jono Lester is looking forward to a new experience - in some fairly illustrious company - with his drive in Malaysia this weekend.Picture / Getty Images

Racing night to day is a new concept for me.Jono Lester, endurance driverNew Zealand endurance driver Jono Lester will be pacing the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia in anticipation of probably one of the biggest races of his career so far. Not only will he be getting his head around the idea of punting a race car around a track for 12 hours, he's got the added pressure of sharing the driving duties with one of the greats of sports car racing - Bernd Schneider.

Lester has been paired with the Mercedes-Benz AMG brand ambassador in the team's number one car along with regular Super Taikyu teammate Dominic Ang. The three of them are hoping to secure the Petronas Syntium Team's third consecutive win at their home event against a field of 15 GT3 cars.

The 49-year-old Schneider has a resume that includes five German touring car DTM titles, 32 Formula One Grand Prix races and an unbeaten record of wins so far in 2013.

In eight months Schneider has won the Bathurst 12 Hour, the Dubai 24 hour race, the 24 Hours at Nurburgring and the Spa-Francorchamps 24 hour race.

"This would have to be the biggest race of my life so far," said Lester. "I'm so excited to be able to race with someone of the calibre of Schneider.

"He was instrumental in developing the SLS AMG GT3 from the ground up with Mercedes-Benz AMG, and his knowledge of the car and obvious skills are proven in his results this year alone.

"I'm in awe of his achievements in motor racing and it's an honour for both Dominic [Ang] and I to be able to challenge for the MMER win with him, and soak up as much of his knowledge and experience we can in the process."

The 12-hour Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race is unusual in that the lights will go out on the packed grid at midnight Saturday Malaysian time. This will allow teams and drivers to make the most of the cooler evening temperatures with daytime temperatures regularly topping 40C with 100 per cent humidity.

"Racing night to day is a new concept for me and at least half the race will be in darkness, which will be a new challenge. I know from visiting Sepang that the temperatures are suffocating during the day so the format will certainly help the drivers, crew and cars last the distance.

"The race is also a great chance for me to be able to show what I can do among such high-class competition. Not only is Schneider one of the best, there's also another former F1 driver in the field.

"Mika Salo raced for the Ferrari F1 team and he's racing this weekend for the Ferrari AF Corse team and he's won some pretty big endurance races in the past [class winner 12 Hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2008 and 2009]," said Lester.

Lester is no stranger to the SLS AMG GT3 car as he contests the Japanese Super Taikyu Championship with the Petronas team and along with his co-drivers sits second in the series after leading early in the championship.

The Petronas Syntium team has a good record at the Sepang 12 Hour winning the last two events with Schneider at the wheel in 2011.

Lester will not be the only Kiwi fizzing around Sepang and he'll have some stiff competition from a couple of other New Zealanders who know a thing or two about racing sports cars.

Craig Baird has been lured to the peninsula to race for Clearwater Racing in a Ferrari and the Malaysian-based Earl Bamber (who leads the Asian Carrera Cup championship) will be behind the wheel of another Ferrari for the Naza Nexus squad.

"It'll be great to have some Kiwi competition with Bairdo and Earl racing," said Lester.

"The Ferraris are very quick over one lap and are getting more consistent so we're going to have be at the top of our game."

- NZ Herald

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