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As far as one-make specialists go, there are perhaps few better than Chris van der Drift. Now a double Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia champion in the Pro class, he has plied his trade in spec series for the last decade.
When Super Trofeo Asia returned following a three-year hiatus at the start of last year, New Zealander van der Drift also came back to defend his title.
But the second time around carried a dual purpose. Win the title while helping to develop one of the most promising GT talents coming out of Aotearoa, Marco Giltrap.
With karting nothing more than a hobby in his youth, Giltrap quickly made the step up to car racing at club level in New Zealand before joining forces with Absolute Racing and van der Drift for his first experience of international competition in Super Trofeo.
It was there that Giltrap’s burgeoning career then really took off.
“I already knew Chris from his long racing career so we thought that it would be a good idea for him to come along and teach me all the tricks of the trade and basically help me along the whole process,” says Giltrap.
“The season obviously went really well; we had some amazing results and won the championship pretty easily. It’s been so much fun and, more importantly, I learned so much from Chris as well during the season.
“Initially we came into the season with very few expectations as it was my first time racing outside of New Zealand, so it was just a case of trying to learn as much as possible and get used to the car with Chris.
“But by the time we got to the first round [at Sepang in Malaysia], it became apparent that we were in the hunt, and as the season progressed, we just kept on getting better and achieving a lot of good results.
“So, by the halfway stage, we were like: ‘we can go on and win this’ which we eventually did and then very quickly after we won the title our eyes were set on the World Finals.”
With van der Drift by his side all season, Giltrap could not have had a better mentor entering his maiden Super Trofeo campaign.
An experienced racer who made his name in Europe by winning the International Formula Masters single seater championship in 2007 before moving up through GP2, A1 Grand Prix before turning his attention towards GTs in Porsche Carrera Cup.
And after years of prioritising his own career, van der Drift has embraced taking Giltrap, who became a member of the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Young Driver programme and took part in the end-of-year shootout at Vallelunga, under his wing.
“The plan for the year was to help Marco get up to speed, teach him how to extract the most out of the Super Trofeo car and aim for the championship, which is what we did,” explains van der Drift.
“It was really good helping him improve [last] season and, by the end of the season, we were pretty close in terms of performance, with only a couple of tenths between us so that was really impressive. I had to make sure that I was always just in front of him in the end!
“But the main thing is that we were running as a team, not just me so the more Marco can get quicker, the better it is for both of us in the races. We aced the Asian series, even though the weekend in Adelaide probably wasn’t our best round of the year, speed wise, but since then we were really dominant and won every other race.”
Dominant is putting it lightly, as the pairing of van der Drift and Giltrap cleaned up across the season, taking 11 wins out of a possible 12 races in the Super Trofeo Asia championship. By the time the series left the penultimate round of the year in Shanghai, the Pro title was wrapped up.
Focus then turned to the World Finals in Italy. Neither Giltrap nor van der Drift had the level of track time or experience around the Circuit Piero Taruffi, but the Kiwi partnership acquitted themselves well. Out of a total of 41 cars in the combined Pro/Pro-Am races, they finished 17th in the opener despite being heavily delayed at the pit-stops and 11th in the second.
The impressive showing at the World Finals was further proof of the prowess New Zealand drivers to compete against the very best on the international stage.
“For such a small country, there is such a large number of Kiwi drivers competing internationally,” says Giltrap.
“And I think one of the things that keeps that going is that everyone back home is so passionate and there are a lot of people willing to back young drivers financially and help them succeed overseas, and that is key in developing the talents we have in New Zealand.
“People want us to succeed, so for us the more people we can get overseas, the better it is for motorsport in the country, and it helps us promote motorsport in New Zealand.”
With a population of just over five million people and a motorsport base of far less, New Zealand has punched well above its weight over the years. The country boasts a bustling karting scene and some of the best old-school tracks like Teretonga, Hampton Downs and Highlands to name but a few.
Motorsport has to compete against the most popular sports in New Zealand too, with rugby and cricket widely played. But the list of successful exports is to be seen to be believed. Drivers like Scott Dixon, Brendon Hartley, Mitch Evans, Marcus Armstrong, Liam Lawson, Nick Cassidy, Earl Bamber, van der Drift and Brendon Leitch are all representing their homeland overseas.
The key to such success is something that even van der Drift finds hard to pinpoint.
“I get asked this question so many times and I really don’t know why New Zealand exports such good drivers,” he says.
“Half of them are farmers and the other half play rugby! The good thing about it that there are more and more Kiwi drivers racing around the world and they are all doing really well.
“And a lot of them learned their ways in Asia and Europe, some guys only did go-karting in New Zealand so I’ve no idea why such a small country produces so many good drivers. I never raced much in New Zealand; I went straight to Europe.
“We have good access to go-karting and the tracks there so that might be it, but we’ve also got really good rally drivers too so it’s just a passion for motorsport that is probably it.”
Perhaps there is something in the water in the ‘land of the long white cloud’, or maybe it’s just the result of a country obsessed with motorsport. Needless to say, we’ll be seeing a lot more of Marco Giltrap in the years to come.