Motorsport: Eight young competitors selected for next Elite Motorsport Academy

2016 Academy attendee Connor Adam. Photo / Supplied
2016 Academy attendee Connor Adam. Photo / Supplied

Eight competitors ranging in age from 16 to 25 and encompassing the disciplines of circuit racing, rallying and karting have been selected for this year's Elite Motorsport Academy by the MotorSport New Zealand Scholarship Trust.

Four Auckland racers, one from Dannevirke, another from Wellington, and two living in Australia's Gold Coast but with strong New Zealand motorsport connections will enter the year-long programme commencing with July's week-long camp in Dunedin run in association with the Academy of Sport South Island and the University of Otago's School of Physical Education's Human Performance Centre. As well as the one-week camp in Dunedin, the programme provides a tailored twelve-month follow-up package for the academy graduates to ensure they retain and further develop the training regimes and educational opportunities demonstrated during the camp.

The eight successful applicants for the 2016 Elite Motorsport Academy are:

(Participant's name, hometown, age, motorsport discipline, current race vehicle)

· Jaxon Evans, Gold Coast, Australia, 19, race, Porsche 997 and Toyota TR86

· Connor Adam, Auckland, 15, karting, Maranello racing kart

· Alexandra Whitley, Auckland, 22, race, SsangYong Ute

· Michael McLean, Dannevirke, 21, rally, Subaru Impreza WRX

· Brock Cooley, Wellington, 25, race, NZ Touring Cars Class 2

· Kieran Anstis, Auckland, 19, rally, Mitsubishi Evo

· Jacob Smith, Auckland, 17, race, Toyota TR86

· Hunter McElrea, Gold Coast, Australia, 16, race, Formula Ford

Shayne Harris, outgoing President of MotorSport New Zealand, chairs the MotorSport New Zealand Scholarship Trust. Harris says to even be selected to participate in the Elite Motorsport Academy is an achievement.

"The array and calibre of applicants continues to increase each year, so I congratulate this year's Academy participants for being selected for the Elite Academy," says Harris. "It's fantastic to see the tradition of learning, professional development and physical and mental training continuing with each Academy class and I know we'll get to know the names of future race and rally stars as these young competitors continue in their motorsport careers."

Gold Coast-based Evans, a member of the Southland Sports Car Club, is New Zealand-born with a family heritage steeped in New Zealand circuit racing. Evan's mother Debbie Lester was one of the quickest female racers in New Zealand in the 1980s and '90s and her father Rob Lester - Evan's grandfather - was one of the founders of Manawatu's Manfeild race circuit. Debbie Lester married John Evans from Ashburton, who was for many years a mechanic for Kiwi racer Andy McElrea whose motorsport operation on the Gold Coast employs the younger Evans as a workshop mechanical assistant. Evans started his racing career in karting, competing in the Australian Rotax Protour and the New Zealand Pro-Kart series where he finished second to Daniel Bray in KZ2 last year. Most recently Evans has contested three rounds of the 2015-16 New Zealand Toyota 86 Championship and made a very successful one-off appearance in the 2015-16 New Zealand Formula Ford Championship at Timaru where he secured pole position and three race wins. The 19-year-old is scheduled to race a Porsche 997 Cup car in the Australian Porsche GT Cup Challenge and contest the Hampton Downs and Highlands 101 endurance races later this year.

Auckland's Connor Adam is a member of the Auckland Kart Club where he finished second in the most recent club championships and is a consistent top finisher in the Pro Kart series. Adam, age 15, has been studying automotive engineering, specialising in motorsport, at the Manukau Institute of Technology.

Alexandra Whitley, Australian by birth but living in Auckland, is the sole female applicant selected for this year's Elite Motorsport Academy. A member of the Historic Car Club, the 22-year-old races in the SsangYong Ute Series. She's also contested some endurance events and is currently employed at Takanini SsangYong. Her aspirations include competing in the NZ Touring Cars Championship and eventually the Australian V8 Supercars Development Series.

Dannevirke rally driver Michael McLean has competed all over the North Island in the past year in his Subaru Impreza WRX STI, taking class wins in the Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa rallies and win the rookie of the year title in the Central Region Rally Championship. The 21-year-old also competed at the 2016 Leadfoot Festival. A member of the Dannevirke Car Club, McLean has competed for many years as co-driver to his father Donald before taking the wheel himself in 2014. He's got the support of Kiwi rally star Hayden Paddon, Paddon's protégé David Holder and five-time NZRC champion Bruce Herbert as his mentors. Formerly a competitive squash player, McLean maintains a high degree of fitness and alongside his motorsport aspirations, aims to complete a master's degree in exercise and sports science.

Wellington's Brock Cooley took out the Class two title in the 2015-16 BNT New Zealand Touring Cars Championship in his Ford Falcon. With New Zealand touring car champion John McIntyre as his driving coach, Cooley aims to move into Class one of the NZTC next season and has the Australian V8 Ute Championship and Dunlop V8 Supercars series in his sights. The 25-year-old is a qualified builder and also competed nationally in mountain bike downhill racing.

Aucklander Kieran Anstis has secured top results in an array of North Island rallies and rally sprints over the past season in his Mitsubishi Evo rally car. A co-driver for a number of seasons and a member of the Pukekohe Car Club, the 19-year-old musician aims to move into the higher level New Zealand Rally Championship over the next few seasons as well as compete in the main Targa New Zealand event.

Seventeen-year-old Jacob Smith, from Auckland, competed in the 2014-15 New Zealand Formula First Championship finishing every race in his first season of racing to finish sixth overall. Smith contested the 2015-16 Toyota Finance 86 Championship and, for much of the season, was a strong contender for the rookie of the year title. He said the TR86 championship exceeded his expectations as a place to learn race-craft, tactics and how to extract the last fraction of a second from the purpose-built TR86 race cars. A member of Formula Vee Association of New Zealand and a senior student at Glendowie College, Smith is also busy with other sports such as badminton and indoor football. He's also been an AMP national scholarship recipient and won the Formula First Driver Development Programme at age 12. Mentored by racing legend Ken Smith, Smith's aspirations include a top three result in the next Toyota Finance 86 Championship, heading over the Tasman to race in the Australian Toyota 86 Pro-Am Series and then the Australian Porsche Carrera Cup.

Hunter McElrea completes the eight participants selected for this year's Motorsport Elite Academy. Son of Kiwi racer Andy McElrea, the Gold Coast, Australia-based 16-year-old stepped up from karts last season to compete in five of the six the South Island Formula Ford rounds where he took pole at three rounds and secured several race wins. He also won the New Zealand Historic Formula Ford Grand Prix. A member of the Canterbury Car Club, McElrea also competed in the Australian Formula Ford series. This coming season he's continuing his trans-Tasman competition schedule, aiming for a top five finish in the Australian Formula Ford series and victory in the New Zealand Formula Ford Championship before heading to Europe where he seeks to compete in the Formula MSA F4 series and then Formula 3. Thoroughly professional, McElrea has his own supporter's club and is supported by expat Kiwi V8 Supercars driver Scott McLaughlin.

The 2016 Elite Academy represents the 13th year that the Academy has run. Past graduates include many of the current stars of New Zealand motorsport such as Shane Van Gisbergen, Hayden Paddon, Brendon Hartley, Mitch Evans and Richie Stanaway.

- NZ Herald

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