Motorsport: Young Kiwi under Porsche's wing

By Eric Thompson

Jono Lester was one of only five drivers from around the world to be selected by Porsche. Photo / Supplied
Jono Lester was one of only five drivers from around the world to be selected by Porsche. Photo / Supplied

Yet another New Zealander is about to step up to the big time in international motorsport.

Twenty-one-year-old Jono Lester is about to embark on an adventure - namely the Porsche Mobil Supercup, which is a support event for the Formula One championship.

He'll be part of the German team, Lechner Racing, and will race in a couple of weeks at the first round of the F1 season in Bahrain, March 12-14.

"This is a dream come true for me to get out of New Zealand and race in Europe," said Lester. "It's the first step along the way in what I hope will be a successful career with Porsche and I'm counting done the bloody days, can't wait."

Lester was one of five drivers from four different countries chosen by Porsche Motorsport division in Stuttgart, Germany as a recipient of a cash injection of €50,000 ($97,000) to go towards his racing budget for the year.

Twelve drivers from six countries spent two days testing three 450hp Porsche 911 GT3 Cup race cars. Each driver had the same number of new tyres at their disposal.

Assisted by Porsche engineers, the drivers worked on setting up the vehicles. Porsche racers Jeroen Bleekemolen and Jan Seyffarth were on hand to give advice, assisted by computer-aided data analyses.

In 2008 and 2009, Bleekemolen won the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup, with former Porsche junior Seyffarth securing third in last year's Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland.

The young drivers were also judged on criteria such as team and communication skills.

"To be awarded this scholarship and become a part of the Porsche family is an amazing opportunity for me," said Lester. "My goal from the start has been to become a Porsche factory driver and this is the first step to that point."

The search was held in Vallelunga, Italy and Lester was soon setting fast lap times. The former GT3 Cup Challenge New Zealand competitor was soon tagged as a possible candidate for the scholarship.

"I'm under no illusions of what is ahead of me now," he said. "Europe is the big time and the competition is intense. The drivers, the circuits, the weather and the atmosphere of supporting Formula 1 are all big factors."

He's being realistic about the upcoming season. "I aim to use the experience to learn the tough European circuits, finish every race and be as competitive as I can. Hopefully nearer the pointy end of the field."

Niall Breen (23, Ireland), Tim Sandtler (22, Germany), Harald Schlegelmilch (22, Latvia) and Ferdinand Stuck (18, Germany) were the other four drivers selected.

"We are now working as fast as we can to finalise our budget for the season," said Lester. "Obviously the scholarship subsidy helps, and I'm looking forward to being on the grid come Bahrain. It would be great to see the All Black New Zealand Porsche showing its true colours on the world stage."

The five selected hopefuls hail from a wide range of motorsport categories.

Breen is the two-time champion of the Formula BMW Great Britain. In 2008 he contested the Formula 3 Euro Series.

At the age of 17, Lester won a round of the Porsche GT3 Cup New Zealand to finish last season fourth overall.

Tim Sandtler began his career at 10 in karting and most recently competed in several races in various Formula 3 championships.

Schlegelmilch claimed the German Formula 3 trophy in 2006 and went on to take Austria's Formula 3 championship the same year. In 2009, he competed in the German Formula 3 Cup, the international Formula Masters and the American Formula Atlantic.

Stuck, the youngest son of racing legend Hans-Joachim Stuck, made his racing debut in 2003 at the wheel of a kart before going on to contest the ADAC Formula Masters (the same series Kiwi Richie Stamaway is competing in this year) in 2008 and 2009.

Jens Walther, head of Porsche's brand trophy series, said all participants were disciplined.

"We had neither an accident nor a technical defect with the vehicles," he said. " The five drivers we selected can rightfully call themselves a 'Porsche Motorsport Talent'."

Career Achievements:

2009
* Hamilton 400 Trophy Winner, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
* Taupo A1GP Trophy Winner Porsche, GT3 Cup Challenge
* New Zealand Sports Car Series Taupo Winner, Juno SSE-NZ
* World Record "The World's Longest Gym Training Session" (40 Hours)

2008
* Presidents Scholarship Recipient
* 1st place, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge, Taupo Round Three
* 1st, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge, Taupo Race Three

2007
*Steel Trophy recipient for top junior (under-21) driver in New Zealand
* 2nd, Elite Motorsport Academy
* 4th, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
* 1st Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge, Timaru Race Three (youngest worldwide winner at 17)
* 1st, NZ Performance Car Superlap, Mitsubishi Evo VIIIa20053rd, Formula Challenge Winter Series

2004
* 2nd, NI HQ Holden Series, Manfeild Round Three
* 1st , Formula Challenge Summer Series
* Alex Elvy Memorial Trophy recipient, NZ Formula First Championship

2003
* 2nd, Manfeild Winter Series, Formula First

- NZ Herald

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