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Youngest racer wins Castrol's biggest scholarship prize


He’s just 15 years old, but Christchurch racer Tom Barker has four years of motorsport experience behind him and has just won a sponsored scholarship drive in the most competitive one-make championship in New Zealand

Barker is the youngest ever winner of the Castrol Suzuki Swift scholarship, and the first to win a new package of mentoring support offered by Castrol and John McIntyre Racing that will culminate in a test day with McIntyre’s NZV8 team.

“I’ve always dreamed of racing the V8 Supercars, and this is a huge step forward to achieving that goal,” he said.

Ilam-based Barker has raced karts since he was 11, and his passion for motorsport has driven him to seek any possible way to get alongside, under or in race cars. He has worked for Canterbury Motor Racing School, and in the 2009-2010, premier motor race season secured a prized role trackside as pit crew with the champion Triple X race team.

“I’ve wanted to go racing since I was seven when I hung around with my dad, who drove the transporter for Mike Pero’s NZV8 team. That started the obsession!”

Now, he is about to embark on his biggest challenge yet: the 2010-2011 Castrol Suzuki Swift Sport Cup.

On Saturday, Barker won the 2010-2011 scholarship, defeating nine other finalists in a multi-disciplinary day of testing designed to challenge every facet of an aspiring racer’s make-up. He said it was his toughest test so far.

“I like to visualise any race day, work through everything I’ll do and how I’ll do it. But I couldn’t really do that with the scholarship final, I didn’t know what to expect.”

At stake was a whole-season racing package that is worth up to $50,000 – including the use of a Castrol-branded scholarship racecar. All cars in the series are prepared identically, meaning the emphasis is strongly on driver ability and the racing is close and often spectacular.

“I’ve been aware of the series from the start; it’s got a very high profile. The first winner, Cody McMaster, came down to the kart track I was at on the day he won the scholarship. He gave me some input about the series then and I’ve managed to watch lots of the races since.”

Having the scholarship final at Ruapuna was a “home” advantage psychologically.

“The day started at Latimer Lodge, and then we all went down to a gym to do some testing. I think I went okay at the gym, felt pretty good afterward, but when we got to the track everything fell into place.”

Laps in the car with local race driver Andy Knight helped Barker acclimatise to the agile Suzukis, and the final shootout – though a nerve-wracking affair – went smoothly.

“I really, really wanted to win this and the shootout was where I knew I had to be my best.”

Barker says for aspiring racers, the scholarship experience is worthwhile just for the insight it offers into all aspects of race craft.

‘We all had a lot of help from the judges, instructors, and the people from Suzuki and Castrol, it was fantastic,” he said.

“Now I’m just buzzing, I can’t wait for the championship to start.”

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