Hang out with the Cowboys National Rugby League team , tips from Jonathan Thurston (JT) on my hot lap around the race track, meet cover the three day weekend female drivers who were to line up on the grid for the first time for the Toyota 86 Racing Series 2018, jumping into a helicopter for an aerial view of the Supercars Watpac Townsville 400 racetrack, watch the precision changeover in the V8 Supercars pit stops as we sipped Veuve Clicquot champagne cocktails from the balcony above. Someone had to do it, and it happened to be me.
“Wow” was my response when She Society emailed me the Toyota Racing Australia Agenda that covered a three-day weekend in Townsville.
My particular focus was the Toyota 86 Racing Series, the Supercars support category, and the two young women Emily Duggan and Madison Dunston whose passion is to race cars. They are inspirational role models for women. This weekend was their 86 series debut and they joined the other 32 drivers in the three-race round as part of the Watpac Townsville 400.
This series is designed to provide an entry point and training ground for up-and-coming drivers, offering a confirmed prize pool of $150,000 and is being run over six events in 2018: Phillip Island 500 was in April, Townsville 400 just completed, The Bend Supersprint August 24-26, Sandown 500 September 14-16, Bathurst 1000, October 4-7 and finally Newcastle 500 November 23-25. Regular updates can be found at https://toyota.com.au/86/racing-series.
On arrival at Townsville airport, it was straight to the circuit paddock for the hot lap safety briefing, fitting of fire resistant overalls and safety helmet. The NRL Cowboys arrived and to my joy, were also there to hot lap the track the same time as our group.
Dare I say JT and I are now best mates. However the boys were fabulous and such gentlemen. They insisted my female journo colleague and I take their seats inside the portable media hub as we waited to gear up. Toyota has a massive super truck that holds everything from spare parts stored in specifically designed metal drawers to racks of driver’s overalls and rows of helmets. They even had sizes to fit small women. These trucks are large enough to carry cars stacked on top of each other on two levels.
My adrenaline began to kick in when my caring and knowledgeable instructor Coral Taylor provided worthy tips on how to avoid the top of your ears from bending when you pulled down on the heavy helmet. Coral is an Australian female rally co-driver and navigator who has won many Australian Rally Championships with Neal Bates.
My Supercar driver, Warren Luff hit around 190kph down the straight and impressed me with the super powerful breaking system. Warren is also a stunt drive at Movieworld Gold Coast, consequently I was at ease hooning around sharp corners and skidding in patches of rubber gravel. Can I say that he and I are best mates too? Needless to say my smile was embedded in my face, I was hooked.
By this stage it was only Day 1 and Toyota had well and truly prepped me with my hot lap experience. My level of respect dramatically escalated for racing drivers, particularly for our two young women. It was tough for the men in the racing world let alone females, the fledging gender in a male dominated industry. It takes guts and sheer determination to succeed.
Day 2 was another ‘wow’ experience as James Wang, our Toyota minder (well actually he is the Motorsport and Lifestyle Public Relations Manager, National Marketing) had organised our introduction to an aerial view of Townsville and its racing circuit.
Tim from Townsville Helicopters wooed four of us with an opaque blue sky that beckoned our shiny black machine. I imagined I was in a mini Blackhawk, minus machine guns. Lift off was gentle and effortless. It felt like smooth metal feathers as it swept it’s blades over houses, mountains and water that rested peacefully below the carriage. Our return to earth was benevolent as we landed on a field of luscious green grass.
Our experiences didn’t stop there as legendary Neal Bates took us through the mechanics of a Supercar. To maximise safety, performance, affordability and fair competition, Toyota Australia and Neal Bates Motorsport have developed a control specifications kit. Neal and Toyota’s working relationship spans over approximately 19 years.
We managed to include an hour’s break and indulge ourselves in the Veuve Clicquot Lounge where champagne cocktails were mandatory to compliment the exquisite and delectable hors d’oeuvre’s and macarons.
I was fascinated with the V8 pit stop crew’s impeccable teamwork. Within seconds cars were jacked, tyres changed, other mechanical issues addressed, cars manually pushed back into the feeder lane and then they were off. The noise? Well hard to describe other than conversations impossible, ear plugs a consideration. I could feel the sound vibrate through my frame. Apart from the fumes, it felt like a full bodied massage machine set on high speed. No wonder people become rev heads!
We continued the remainder of the day with podium presentations, a visit to meet Channel 10’s sports presenter Matt White, inhaled smoke from burned rubber throughout the Hot Wheels demonstrations and walked the Supercars grid with hundreds of car enthusiasts. Our evenings were completed by appreciated dinners at two of Townsville’s popular restaurants, Michels Restaurant and The Pier complimented by a wonderful range of Australian wines.
By Day 3 we felt part of the Toyota team and ready to race. We indulged in more Supercar races, listened to feedback from the drivers, mingled with the Showtime FMX Team of bike riders before their hair-raising performance, to finally say farewell to our new mates back at the Toyota paddock.
Most of the T86RS team and drivers had begun to depart however to our delight, Emily Duggan was still there. After hashtag checks, some fun jumping for Instagram’s Boomerang, we embraced each other to say farewell with promises to Follow our new sports stars on social media.
Toyota Australian Racing has shown us that it is not about gender differences in racing but the skill of the racer. It is not all about the exhilarating adrenaline kick. It is about teamwork, relationships, mutual respect, trust, discipline, commitment, timing, precision, dedication, passion, focus, selflessness, confidence, self belief and the synchronisation of all these traits.
I am humbled by my experience and the generosity that partnered it. My Fitbit loves me for three days of accumulated 41,432 steps and 19.24 kilometres walking in boots and my one small toe blister was worth it.