ZACH Bates may have only gotten his P plates in recent months, but the 18-year-old has more driving experience than any learner’s logbook could count.
While during the week he can study like a normal Year 12 student, at the weekend he roars onto the race tracks in his Toyota 86 and cements his place among the most promising young competitors in Australian motorsport.
The Queanbeyan resident’s prowess saw him dominate last year’s Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia (TGRA) 86 series, winning nine races in a row and breaking the previous record of five races in a row.
Now he is back at Sydney Motor Sport Park in the 2022 competition, securing second place in the first race in unpredictable conditions.
“It was very wet, torrential rain made it difficult to know what grip there would be on the track,” Zach explained.
“I had a bit of experience in purely wet and purely dry conditions, but because those were the two that made it particularly difficult and mentally draining.”
“There was water running down the track so you had to be able to push in some places and bring it back in others, it was probably one of my toughest weekends.”
Zach is eager to prove himself this year after covid wreaked havoc with last year’s team schedules, leading Toyota to decide a championship would not be declared and denying Zach an official title despite his dominance of nine victories.
Broadcast live on television, the series is seen as a testing ground for up-and-coming runners.
“The great thing about this series is that all the cars are the same, you can change a few things, but most of the time the parity is strong, so it comes down to the driver,” Zach explains.
It also pits runners against champions of the sport who assist as mentors. This year, Bates raced alongside Bathurst 1000 legends Warren Luff and Jonathon Webb.
“Leaning on people like them and getting advice from them is invaluable,” says Zach.
“It’s such a useful tool for young drivers and I tried to absorb as much knowledge as possible.”
Zach himself comes from something of a racing dynasty.
His father, Rick, and his uncle, Neal, are twin rally pros who have both won several major events throughout their racing careers. Zach’s cousins, Harry and Lewis Bates, are also national rally competitors.
“I’m very lucky to come from a family like that,” he says.
“I was always interested in racing because of dad and Neal, but I got really interested when I was nine or ten.”
Much like another young Queanbeyan racing prodigy by the name of Mark Webber, Zach’s interest in racing was sparked by karting.
As a youngster he competed in state and national karting championships, but says he was eager to get behind the wheel of a car as soon as he could after competing in Formula Ford at 15 and now Toyota 86.
“Cars are just a whole other beast,” he says.
“Karts have the basics of throttle, brake pedal and steering, but in cars you have to deal with the gears, everything is so much faster, there are different techniques and now you have to deal with the suspension because the karts have no suspension.”
He says the technical aspects of the sport are part of what drives his passion.
“You have to be a driver but you also have to be an engineer, you have to be able to feel what’s going on with the car and react, especially in those long races,” he said.
“It’s also a team sport. Even though you and the car are out on the track racing other people, there are so many other people who are involved in this process, people like the mechanics and those who work to put the car on the road. gate.
“I couldn’t do it without dad and everyone else involved.”
Life away from the fast lane never slows down too much either.
Zach follows a regular program of running, mountain biking and cardio to ensure he is fit for tough conditions. Physical fitness, he says, is essential to maintain, as temperatures inside cars can get extremely hot very quickly.
While his mother Alison says she gets nervous watching the high-speed action, Zach says he’s not that fazed by the danger.
“The cars are so well built that you block that out,” he says.
“All the cars have roll bars and racing seats, you wear a neck brace as well as a helmet, gloves and a fireproof suit.
“The thought is still there, but safety is one of the most important factors in these events.”
Outside of competition, Zach says Wakefield Park Raceway in Goulburn is a regular stop for practice, but most of his preparation comes from a racing simulator at home.
“It’s as close to the real thing as it gets, it keeps you sharp, the reflex is the same and you can race other people online and download the Aussie tracks,” he says.
“I almost get more nervous on the simulator than in real life. Because there’s not as much adrenaline, you feel those nerves a lot more.
Although far from everything, the Canberra Grammar student is heading towards the high school finish line, he is still ahead of his pursuit of a racing career afterward.
“It’s a very money-intensive sport so being able to get the funds to take it to the next level is definitely a challenge and you always have to have a backup in case it doesn’t work out,” he says. .
“Supercars are the ultimate goal.”
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Ian Meikle, editor