Stewart straps in for big year

Mount Gambier’s teenage racer Jobe Stewart is ready to jump into the hot seat this weekend and begin the biggest year of his short career. After taking on the iconic Mount Panorama circuit at Bathurst in October, the 16-year-old prodigy returns to the magical mountain as he straps in for his first full campaign outside of go-karts in the Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia 86 Series.

Stewart achieved strong results – 12th, 11th, 10th and 9th – across the weekend of last year’s Great Race and has high expectations to continue his progress in the opening round which revs into gear tomorrow. He said he cannot wait to jump into a new-look machine and race hard to keep the rapid growth of his career going.

“I am definitely excited and keen to get it all started,” Stewart said. “Hundred percent this season is the biggest of my career because there is so much going on. “There are definitely still some nerves, but it is going to be mega.”

The one make series has been a regular fixture at Supercars events since 2016 and gives young talent the chance to have an even fight against fellow rising stars on the race track. One missed apex could prove costly as the cars compete with a strictly policed performance pack, an engine that reaches 230kph down Conrod Straight and Dunlop control tyres.

After already racing a Toyota 86 around the mountain, Stewart hopes he can use his previous experience to his advantage from the moment the green flag waves tomorrow. “It was great to get some races in last year, so I feel even more prepared,” he said. “The whole weekend last year was just about learning the track and how the car feels, so this year we can just get straight in and go as fast as we can.

“Hopefully as soon as we hit the track everything comes back to me.” However, Stewart is well aware of the challenge ahead of him with some of the greatest names in Australian motorsport never able to tame Bathurst. He said it is still hard to believe he is going to race on the same tarmac as the likes of Peter Brock and Allan Moffat for a second time in a few months.

“Obviously it is the greatest track in Australia, so to have two of my first two race meetings there is pretty high level,” Stewart said. “It is hard to think about.” Another significant obstacle facing Stewart in his first full season is driving on tracks he has never been to before.

The 2021 Toyota 86 Series heads to Bathurst twice and also visits Winton, Townsville and Sydney Motorsport Park. Stewart said he looks forward to tackling the new circuits as he gains greater knowledge of taming his Toyota beast.

“It will be a massive learning experience going to new tracks because I have only been to Winton before to practice,” he said. “Hopefully I keep improving because there is still a lot to learn.” It has been a busy off-season for Stewart in and out of the driver’s seat. At the start of the summer, the 16-year-old was handed the golden opportunity to represent Erebus Motorsport in front of a national audience during the Repco Supercars Pro Eseries.

Stewart did not disappoint claiming a podium finish before coming home a well-earned 17th in the championship against some of the top sim racers in the country. Since then the Limestone Coast steerer has hardly jumped out of the sim, but has also worked hard on a number of aspects to enhance his skills.

“I have talked to Cam Hill who has raced a fair bit and gave me some pointers to go faster,” Stewart said. “I have also been researching, practicing things like my starts and I trying to make sure I am physically as fit as possible in the gym to make sure I can survive.”

But the biggest recent challenge for Stewart’s family was just putting themselves in a position to take part in a full season. Due to the consequences of running a small one-car team, they had to desperately chase new sponsors. But fortunately they just got the car stickered in time and Stewart is grateful for the community’s support and loves the bold new look.

“We realised when entering the full series we needed even more help, so it has been tough trying to get people on board,” he said. “But we got a few things sorted and almost all of the sponsors are from Mount Gambier. “I think it looks much better than last year and I am keen to get it out on the track.”

Amazingly Stewart will not be the only driver representing the Blue Lake City this year with the even younger Kai Allen also preparing for his Toyota 86 debut. Allen will not race this weekend, but hopes to hit the track later in the year and Stewart looks forward to taking their rivalry to the next level.

“It is good to have as many Mount Gambier drivers as we can,” he said. “I have raced Kai in go-karts over the last eight years, so it is going to be cool to have a bit of a rivalry again. “But I will also talk to him a little bit.” Looking at the bigger picture, Stewart hopes to gain a strong understanding of his car and become a regular inside the top 10 come seasons end.

“We will take every round as it comes, but taking on a full season is definitely a big step up,” he said. “There are a few more cars this year, but with a lot more experience under my belt, hopefully I can have a fair crack because we want to be in the top 10.”

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