THIS weekend, Matt Campbell will begin the next phase of his racing career when he tackles the opening pair of races in the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup.
Matt will race for FACH Autosport, the team that won the top one-make championship with Kiwi Earl Bamber back in 2014.
The start in Barcelona this weekend continues a remarkable rise through the ranks in Australia – from a kid who bashed around Morgan Park in Super Sprint competition to beating one of the best domestic Carrera Cup grids in the world en route to his championship here last year.
The story is one not of a driver with rich parents and big corporate support, but of a country kid who galvanised a group of key supporters who invested in the belief that the kid has what it takes to go all the way.
And ‘all the way’ would be a remarkable result given his very modest, working-class roots in a small country town a few hours inland from Brisbane.
Matt Campbell grew up around racing. Born and bred in Warwick, in country Queensland, his Grandfather Bill Campbell ran the local circuit, Morgan Park Raceway and it was there Matt learned his craft from an early age.
Both Bill and Matt’s aunt, ‘TC’, taught him how to drive and then how to race and it’s wasn’t long before his natural ability soon shone through.
At the age of just 16 he was Queensland State Champion for Super Sprints and second in the Queensland Formula Ford Championship, before going on to win the open-wheel title in his home state the following year.
Moving from state to national competition, Campbell impressed in the National Formula Ford Championship racing as a privateer against the big-dollar factory teams – ultimately finishing 9th in the championship.
However it was a move from open-wheelers to ‘tin tops’ that would prove most beneficial the following year, Matt making his debut in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge driving a Porsche 997 GT3 for McElrea Racing.
Despite having next to no funding and only the support of his family and grandfather, McElrea Racing and a group of key supporters recognised Matt’s ability from an early age and supported his move into Porsche competition.
There he comfortably won the ‘B’ Class for older cars, sealing the title with a round to spare. Moving into an outright car for the final round at Phillip Island, Campbell dominated proceedings and marked himself as a star of the future.
A move to Porsche Carrera Cup Australia the following year would prove the making of the young talent, as he stormed to third in the championship on debut – winning six races on the way. In the final 11 races of the year he finished first or second 10 times, marking himself as a championship favourite the following year.
The sad passing of Bill Campbell early in 2015 galvanised the youngster and his supporters, as they bound together to progress his career.
2016 would be Matt’s biggest year of his career yet, wining 13 races and storming to the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia Championship in style.
At the same time he secured a prime drive in the Supercars Pirtek Endurance Cup, teaming in a factory Nissan with Todd Kelly, finishing 7th at the Sandown 500 and 8th in the first of two races in the Gold Coast. Those who were watching closely noted his pace in the wet at Sandown, and how quickly he got up to speed in practice on the Mountain, always at it’s trickiest in a Supercar.
At the end of the year Matt was selected as the Australian representative in Porsche’s global young driver ‘shootout’, representing Porsche Carrera Cup Australia against a host of talented youngsters from one-make Porsche series around the world for a chance to win a scholarship from the brand to contest the 2017 Porsche Supercup Championship.
After three days of on and off-track evaluation, Campbell was named the winner and locked in the next step of his rapidly-growing career by becoming a Porsche junior driver.
In 2017 Matt will contest the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup with FACH AutoTech.
He will also return to Australia in September to take on the Pirtek Endurance Cup, signed by the factory Red Bull Holden Racing Team to co-drive with defending Supercars champion, Shane van Gisbergen. It’s hard to split the two as which is the biggest recognition of his rise through the ranks.
The year started in style with an outright podium finish and class victory in the Bathurst 12 Hour endurance, driving a Porsche 911 GT3 with Porsche factory contemporaries Patrick Long, David Calvert-Jones and Marc Lieb.
In testing at Catalunya recently, he was just 0.2s from the fastest time of the weekend, despite not having seen the track nor the 2017-spec Gen-2 991 Cup Car before this year.
At just 22, Matt’s future is all ahead of him. His relaxed, down to earth and country-kid vibe hides the fact that he enters the new season as one of Australia’s brightest young racing talents.
Does this read like a puff-piece for promotional use? Unashamedly, yes. Does that matter? Not even slightly.
It’s a great story and a great ride we’re happy to have been on since the Formula Ford days.. and long may it continue.
WORDS: Richard Craill
IMAGE: Porsche Supercup