Australia’s latest international racing sensation, Matt Campbell, has an intense racing schedule across the next two weeks, making his first appearance in the famed 24 Hours of Daytona this weekend (January 26-27) before returning to Australia to contest the 2019 Bathurst 12 Hour the following weekend (February 3).
Though his schedule is gruelling, Campbell wouldn’t have it any other way. The 23-year-old Australian is living in Germany and travelling the world as a Porsche Young Professional, racing in numerous GT championships and some of motorsport’s most prestigious endurance events. And winning.
Campbell was a member of the Dempsey-Proton Racing team that claimed GTE-Am honours at the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans and was also victorious in the following Barcelona 24 Hour race in a 911 GT3 R. Campbell also had his first taste of the Nurburgring 24 Hour event on the Nordschleife circuit and has three rounds remaining in the 2018/19 FIA World Endurance Championship.
The 2019 Bathurst 12 Hour will be the start of Campbell’s maiden Intercontinental GT Challenge campaign, named in Porsche’s two-car squad to take on the 2019 season. This career milestone comes just five years since the Queensland-raised racer entered the Porsche Motorsport Pyramid at its base Australian level – Porsche Michelin GT3 Cup Challenge Australia. Upon winning the 2014 Class B title in that series, he raced in Porsche Carrera Cup Australia for two seasons, winning in his second attempt and also claiming success in the 2016 Porsche Motorsport Junior Programme Shootout, placing him on the grid for the 2017 Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup season as a Porsche Junior. Campbell finished third in that season and was promoted to a Porsche Young Professional and placed with Dempsey-Proton Racing in the 2018/19 FIA WEC along with select other endurance races.
Campbell’s promotion to the two-car factory-supported team at Bathurst represents his now-acknowledged rising status at Porsche, where he is regarded as of their rising stars.
Back in Australia catching up with family and friends, we caught up with Campbell to ask him about his strides up the Porsche Motorsport Pyramid that nurtures driving talent from an amateur to professional level.
Matt Campbell Q&A
Q: What does it mean to be back at Bathurst this year in a front-line factory-backed Porsche?
Matt Campbell: “Driving a factory-supported Porsche in the full Intercontinental GT Challenge is another milestone step for me and I really want to make the most of the opportunity.
“We have a car with the potential of winning and the right team behind us – all we need this year is a little luck with the traffic and flags.”
Q: The two Porsches this time are being entered and managed by Earl Bamber Motorsport. Is that significant?
Matt Campbell: “Because of potential time and logistics issues with other series that Porsche is competing in, the Intercontinental GT Challenge entries are being managed by regional factory-approved teams, assisted by Porsche’s own Manthey-Racing engineers. At Bathurst, Earl Bamber effectively is stepping out of the driver’s seat to manage the team, so to have a World Endurance Champion, two-time Le Mans winner and experienced Bathurst 12 Hour competitor running things is a major plus for us.”
Q: Is moving into a factory Porsche for a full season a big step for you and your career?
Matt Campbell: “Getting a full season seat in the GT series is another important step up the Porsche Motorsport Pyramid, but at this stage it is not about going faster but being consistently fast.
“When you become a Porsche Junior, you are already probably as quick over a lap as some of the top factory drivers, but that doesn’t make you a winning endurance sports car driver.
“The steps from there are designed to develop you as both a person and as a driver. You learn how to achieve and manage your peak physical and mental fitness; how to deal with pressure, the media and all the other things that often throw young drivers off course. Endurance racing is a core activity for Porsche, so developing drivers who are able to excel at it is a priority.
“That’s why fellow Porsche Young Professional Dennis Olsen from Norway and I are teamed with an experienced driver like German Dirk Werner, so we can learn from his experience.
“Dennis and I got on really well from when we competed against each other as Porsche Juniors in 2017 and we are also both good mates with Dirk. It’s a real team effort and our egos don’t get in the way”.
Q: How much have you now integrated into the Porsche Motorsport Department?
Matt Campbell: “It wasn’t mandatory, but from the moment I started as a Porsche Junior I chose to live close to the Porsche Motorsport headquarters at Weissach. On average I visit the Race Department one to three times a week. Sometimes it’s just for a 20-minute chat about future events but at other times 80 per cent is spent on the test track outside testing new things.
“Most of the time my track work is on competition cars – for example, I did quite a bit of testing on the new 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport – but sometimes I get to test things like suspension set-ups or similar things on production Porsche models. I’ve been lucky to have done a lot of development work on a variety of models.”
Q: What are your ambitions at Porsche?
Matt Campbell: “I always saw myself driving car with a roof over my head, but now that the Porsche LMP1 programme has finished I’d certainly be keen to have a test in a Formula E car.
“However, for the moment, I see my future being at the top level of GT racing”.
Q: How many races are you contracted to drive in this year?
Matt Campbell: “At this stage it will be 16 or 17, but I might always get a late request to race in another events that are not currently on my programme. Being a Porsche Young Professional with a good racing CV puts you on every team’s international driver shopping list.”
Q: How different is it racing the RSR in events like Le Mans and the GT3 R in the GT series?
Matt Campbell: “The GT3 R and the RSR are very different cars to drive and being mid-engined, the RSR is very sensitive to set-up and you need to spend much longer on this.”
Q: Do you see yourself returning to Australia to race in the future?
Matt Campbell: “I have no plans to do that at present. You won’t even be going home to Warwick between the Daytona 24 Hour and Bathurst, which is the following weekend. With the time difference, there will be no opportunity.”
Q: Will having Jaxon Evans flat with you in Stuttgart help you both?
Matt Campbell: “I certainly hope I can make it easier for him. When I set off for Stuttgart in early 2016 all I had was a bag and a boarding pass. I couldn’t speak enough German to even order a beer and I had no idea where I was going to live.
“I’ll be able to help Jaxon get over all those little hurdles and he’s even got permission to drive my company Porsche that I became eligible for when I became a Young Professional.”
Q: Final question. Can you and your Porsche teammates win the 2019 Bathurst 12 Hour?
Matt Campbell: “I don’t see why not. We have been strong every other year and our ambitions are the same. This year in a factory-backed car, I’m in an even better position to go for an outright win.
“Having said that, a win at Bathurst in my home race in a factory-backed Porsche would be very special!”