For a country with a population of a little over five million people, New Zealand’s motorsport exports are impressive to say the least. In the last 20 years, it has boasted six IndyCar titles, two World Endurance Championship crowns, three victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and brought a new generation of young drivers towards the cusp of Formula One.
Add to that, 12 Formula One grand prix winners and another two triumphs in the iconic Le Mans endurance classic, and you get a sense of just how well the Kiwis have achieved in the sport.
Brendon Leitch is another driver making a career away from home. But unlike most of his contemporaries – like single seater drivers Liam Lawson and Marcus Armstrong, or sportscar champions Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber – Leitch is making his living on, and off the track.
“I’m a qualified mechanic so I work for Leipert Motorsport every day in the workshop, from 8am to 12pm,” says Leitch, who is combining a campaign in Super Trofeo Europe with a season in GT World Challenge Europe in GT3.
“I prep the cars, do whatever needs to be done with them, it’s a real hands-on job. I’ve been working on cars forever, so it was really the only thing I was going to do when I left high school.”
“My dad used to work a lot on classic cars when I was younger, so it was pretty natural for me. I qualified in New Zealand, went through the course at Highlands Motorsport Park where I worked on race cars, road cars, everything really.”
It’s often said that in motorsport, any advantage a driver brings to a team can have a significant impact on track.
“I guess it’s a pretty unique aspect that I bring to the team, which is really cool,” the Kiwi explains.
“It’s helped a lot with tuning cars and finding the right setup. I’m able to diagnose things really quickly so that’s a big help. Knowing what every component does is really important and I’m able to use my expertise to understand the vehicle dynamics and setup so much better because of what I do each day at work.”
Graduating from the highly competitive Toyota Racing Series single seater category in his homeland, Leitch got his first taste of GT cars in 2019, competing in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia championship.
He was a race winner with Leipert that season and finished second in the Pro-Am standings before making his GT3 debut the last year in the 24H Series. A double victory on the opening weekend at Hockenheim and a further success at Sebring brough Leitch the GT3 Pro title.
Now, Leitch is doing what many of his compatriots are also pursuing: the top of the motorsport ladder in Europe.
“It’s really awesome that there’s a good number of us making a career out of motorsport in Europe,” says Leitch.
“We’re only a small country with about five million people but the quality coming out of New Zealand is absolutely mega. There’s a cool little community here and it’s nice to catch up with a lot of these guys.”
Immersed in the team for a number of years now, Leipert Motorsport is like an extended family for Leitch. It’s the sort of familiarity and continuity that he feels has made his especially hectic 2022 season much more manageable.
“It’s really busy doing both Super Trofeo and GTWC this year, but having a proper schedule helped a lot.”
“Both cars are run by the same team so that helped a lot. The transition between the two is not easy but definitely not as bad as you might think.”
“People told me it wouldn’t be easy at all, but you need to put a good amount of detail and effort into it and make it work.”
And while the opening round of the season at Imola didn’t quite go according to plan – a pair of seventh place finishes in Super Trofeo despite Leitch starting Race 2 from pole position – and an incident in the GTWC race which ended in retirement, the Kiwi is pragmatic for the rest of the season.
“The weekend didn’t quite go to plan in Super Trofeo as the pace was definitely there, but we just didn’t have the right luck,” said Leitch.
“Everything has to come together at the right time but there was a lot of positivity.”
“I’m really looking forward to the Spa 24 Hours –I can’t wait to race there with everyone, it looks like a mega event which I’ve never done before. I’m ready for the whole week, preparing physically for the race from Tuesday, the whole atmosphere will be mega and, although I’ve got a job to do, I will be grinning from ear to ear.”