Episode 7 Racing

Exclusive interview with Gold Logie winner and motor racing driver Grant Denyer.

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Show notes

In this special racing themed episode. RACQ takes you trackside to cover all things motorsport from round two of the Australian Production Cars series at Queensland Raceway.

Guests

  • Gold Logie winner and motor racing driver Grant Denyer
  • Supercars co-driver Tony D'Alberto
  • Sherrin Racing and category manger Iain Sherrin

Transcript

Anthony Frangi: Hello, and welcome to the RACQ Living podcast. I'm Anthony Frangi. In this special episode, we take you track side, and cover all things racing, from round two of the Australiain Production Car Series at Queensland Raceway. RACQ journalist, Nathan Torpey caught up with Gold Logie winner and race car driver, Grant Denyer, super cars co-driver Tony D'Alberto, and Sherrin Racing category manager and driver, Iain Sherrin.

Nathan Torpey: Now guys you have, arguably, one of the coolest jobs in the world, type of thing that kids dream of, and I'm sure many adults still dream of, how'd you get involved in racing?

Grant Denyer: Did a lot of growing up on a farm, started learning to drive at seven, on the tractor at 12, homemade go kart, and decided to then instead of just skidding around sideways around the sheds, thought we would go around a racetrack. It just went in go karts, and won a state title, and then sort of just went up through the circuit racing ranks from Utes, to super cars and production cars. Yeah

Nathan Torpey: Awesome

Nathan Torpey: What about yourself?

Tony D'Alberto: A similar story. My dad got me involved in go-karting when I was about six years old. And he actually cut down his senior go kart to make it a bit shorter, so I could actually reach the pedals.

Nathan Torpey: No putting phonebooks on your feet?

Tony D’Alberto: No, not yet. And I actually just did a little bit of driving around a basketball court, just to see if I actually enjoyed it. And then, dad was doing a bit of karting himself, and he took me to a few club days, and sort of got involved that way. And then dad basically stepped away from the driving and focused on my racing. So he karted for many years, til I was about 15. As soon as I would get my circuit racing license, I jumped in a formula Ford, then went to Dunlop Series, did some super car stuff as well, full time. And now doing co-driver stuff. And a bit of GT racing, production car racing, wherever I can actually get a seat.

Grant Denyer: He drives for the greatest racing team in the history of racing in the world at the moment, Penske.

Nathan Torpey: Is that because you drive for them as well?

Tony D'Alberto: Yeah, very lucky.

Grant Denyer: No just him. Nothing's just him.

Tony D'Alberto: Just me, yeah, just me. Now, up here, we've got a cool club. So this is actually our home track. We just had a test on Friday, and then a sponsored ride down on Tuesday. So, I basically know my way around with my eyes closed at the moment.

Nathan Torpey: And what about you Iain? You have a similar bring-up?

Iain Sherrin: It was probably like Grant here, driving cars around the farm. You know, as a kid, and didn't really go through the go-karting sort of things, got more into tarmac rally. So did quite a bit of tarmac rally for a while and then we moved from that to circuit racing. Mini-challenge, bit of career cup and then we found production cars. And I've really been in production cars ever since.

Nathan Torpey: It's far from cheap sports racing. How did you guys get involved in Did you speak sponsorship?

Tony D’Alberto: Dad

Grant Denyer: And I rob banks.

Nathan Torpey: Well I will definitely have the exclusive story on that one.

Grant Denyer: Usually family supports you up to a certain point to get you started. I only got into television, to be honest, to try and find sponsors to further my racing career. Because, you know, I wasn't from a family that had any money, really. And I thought, how do I pay the bills in Motorsport? Get a good sponsor. I had to get a good sponsor and if I'm on television, probably a good chance I can find a sponsor. Only reason I got into television in the first place, but my career managed to take off. So I was pretty lucky.

Nathan Torpey: What about you Iain? Have you got a hidden media crew that we haven't seen yet?

Iain Sherrin: No, no. Wrong, far away from that but-

Grant Denyer: Former male model.

Nathan Torpey: Ahh a bit of a Derek Zoolander type?

Iain Sherrin: No, it's been a business thing for us, like Sherrin Rentals and before that, Sherrin Hires so obviously we'll always run it through that. It works well for us as a business for marketing purposes and a lot about supplies, support ELR racing and yeah, we're lucky that we've got that business behind us to be able to use that to get us racing and it's a good excuse. And we love it, and it does well for the business and puts us out there.

Nathan Torpey: And like many other sports, there must be a lot of training that is involved in this. How do you guys prepare for these races?

Tony D’Alberto: Look at us. We are obviously athletes.

Grant Denyer: You just look at me and go "Chris Hemsworth" don't you?

Nathan Torpey: I met Chris Hemsworth, and you know you seem like his little brother.

Grant Denyer: Tony works pretty hard on it don't you Tony?

Tony D'Alberto: I do a little bit, but to be honest, the best training you can do is actually to be in the race car. It's very hard to sort of replicate being in the race car, so I think you have to have a really good base level of fitness. You certainly wanna be active, and I enjoy the fitness side of things so it's not really a chore for me. For a lot of the racing that I do, for the civvie car stuff, it's all endurance-based racing, so you need to be able to back it up day after day. And not get to Sunday when it's payday and be tired and ready to go home, so that level of fitness is pretty important.

Tony D'Alberto: I do a bit of running and cycling and all that sort of cardiovascular work, because, you know, it gets pretty hot in the car, you're working pretty hard behind the wheel. A lot of people think "he's just sitting behind a steering wheel like they do when they drive to work and how tiring can it be?" But you're basically in a sauna. It's generally 20-30 degrees hotter in the car than what it is the ambient temperature. And that's a lot of stress for the body too to take on. You know, you're doing maybe a hundred gear changes a lap, big brake pressure every single stop. You know, this track here in particular, got some massive braking areas, so it's very repetitious, and tomorrow we've got a 90 odd lap race. So you need to be able to back it up and keep that concentration going.

Tony D'Alberto: I get a lot of ringing in my ears from the engine noise, so when you get home at night, you still are hearing this engine scream down the straight. You sort of learn on the track over the years, how to calm yourself down after an event and switch off and get some good rest, and come back tomorrow
Iain Sherrin: Some more Captain Morgan for me. That switches me off real well.

Grant Denyer: I'm just naturally very fit, very athletic. If you would see the length of my legs, you'd know I'm quite a machine. But it's just a lot of fun, I enjoy the thrill of the race, and your intensity and your brain and concentration is maxed out, obviously when you're in a battle, where you are under attack or attacking someone else, and then amplified again if it's raining. So those kind of, it's kind of cool to work yourself up to the edge. You know, put a toe over the other side, and it's good to push yourself and motors. I get a kick out of that.

Tony D'Alberto: It's funny, when I used to race go-karts, my mom used to come and support my racing. She used to always be really stressed about me racing these go-karts, 'cause it's very open, you know, your legs are hanging out, your arms are hanging out and she thought, when I went to car racing that I was going to be a lot safer. But, mind you, I had some massive crashes, and I have walked away, but the stakes are a lot higher, and you're going a lot faster. The circuit safety is obviously very good, and nine times out of ten you don't have any problems or any crashes or anything like that, so the safety side is the top of the mount for sure it's not saying you really stress about getting in a race car. I think if you're really worried about that, you shouldn't be out there.

Grant Denyer: Because if it was sedate and safe and tame, you know, it wouldn't be probably the buzz. It'd be the same kick that anyone gets if they're into skydiving or rock climbing or-

Nathan Torpey: You had very publicized crashes right? How did you come back from that?

Tony D’Alberto: He’s had a couple.

Grant Denyer: I've had two in 20 years, thank you. 500 races, couple championship victories.

Iain Sherrin: He's pretty good in the wet.

Grant Denyer: I had a crash in the tarmac rally last year, which was an unfortunate mishap. I've always known that they can be slightly more dangerous because you know they're not as safe as circuits are and there's many run-off, there's a lot more trees. Unfortunately I found a big tree, and nailed it head-on, but he jumped out at me. Didn't see it coming. It's just one of those things that can happen from time to time. I've had a pretty good run through the sport. Unfortunately the only two times I ever crashed, was a television camera there both times, so, next time I'll know.

Iain Sherrin: In a way that's why we kind of stopped doing tarmac rally, 'cause we just realized, you make one small mistake and then you hit a tree or go off a cliff, or ... and the response, the medical responders, is not there, it's not like when you're at a circuit, you know, you go off, and there's immediate people there. You know, tarmac rally - it can be minutes or 10 minutes or 20 minutes before you get anyone there to help you, and when you've had a few accidents like that.

Iain Sherrin: For me it was more the co-driver that concerned me, you know, I mean, I was happy to jump back in the car the next day, but the guy that was sitting next to me had a broken collarbone, and that's kind of what really effected me the most. It didn't bother me getting back in the car at all. I just looked at it and I just thought this is kind of a pretty dangerous part of motor sport and I probably don't need to do it, when there's other avenues like circuit racing. And that's when we really switched from doing a lot of tarmac rally into circuit racing.

Grant Denyer: I was in the tarmac rally when Peter Brock died and that was quite a low speed accident that just a couple random circumstances that all collided into a perfect storm, where we lost the greatest race car driver we had in the country. Multiple generations, that didn't deter me because I was enjoying it so much, and it was an incredible thrill to conquer an untamed road and do well at it. It was kinda quite gladiatorial. The time we had my accident and we left the road, I'll never forget the noise that my co-driver made as we disappeared over a ravine and into a tree. That noise will sort of haunt me forever. And unfortunately he broke his back in that crash, and I climbed up the hill trying to flag down some help. And they're traumatic circumstances. While I'd get back in the car and do it again, I wouldn't be comfortable with hurting somebody.

Iain Sherrin: Look, I've hurt myself more on my mountain bike than I have in a race car. I'm done some serious injuries on bikes. Mountain bikes or push-bikes and things like that. Nothing's ever happened to me, even though I've had some accidents, but nothing's ever happened to me in a race car, where I've hurt myself. I think I had a good one at Bathurst, coming off about 250 through the chase it the wall, and I just got out and I was fine.

Nathan Torpey: Now when you guys finish the day, get off the track, how is it driving on the roads? Do you find it's pretty hard to switch off? Is it still a bit Fast and the Furious or Driving Miss Daisy?

Grant Denyer: Good question. I find I'm a lot calmer, more sedate, and patient than anybody I know on the roads, to be honest. And I think it's because when you're racing a circuit and you do it you might do up to 300k's an hour, but you get on the road and you're so immediately aware of all the variables and dangers. So it gets really highly repeatable, you know. And there's nothing, there's no cars coming the other way, there's no one pulling out of the side rail, there's no kids. You have the road to yourself, so you really become super aware of all the potentials. I'm pretty sedate on the road. Maybe it's because I get my fix out there and I don't need to do it on the road.

Iain Sherrin: I think that too, like I don't feel like I need to do it on the road. I think in my younger days - quite a few fines and things like that. I'm the same, I don't feel like I need to and I'm always on the cruise control, and putting it on the speed limit and I'm just comfortable. You get your fix on the track and that's it.

Grant Denyer: I think drivers are probably when we're younger we are, but I think the majority of drivers aren’t rev heads on the road.

Tony D’Alberto: I had an example when I was younger, I was racing formula Ford and I didn't have my license at the time, and when I finally turned 18 and got my license - and I was driving home from Winton and it was two weekends, two Fridays in a row that I got speeding fines on the way home because I couldn't adjust quick enough. I was so busy getting used to going that fast on the race track that suddenly going back down to Hume and you're going 130 and you don't even recognize it. I don't find it anymore, but I did get done twice, I remember, in two weeks, when I was very young and just got that license. I personally don't have this big ambition to go fast on the road anymore, because I get to do it here, and I'm lucky to do it regularly.

Nathan Torpey: And, so, what kind of cars do you guys drive on the road then?

Tony D’Alberto: Ferrari

Grant Denyer: Of course with a name like D’Alberto?

Tony D’Alberto: A lotus of course

Grant Denyer: Land cruiser. I drive a land cruiser. It's not even fast. I live on a farm.

Nathan Torpey: Do you find people are surprised by that? That you don't have a speedy car for the road?

Grant Denyer: Everyone asks you, expecting some sort of exotic like a Bugatti or a Lamborghini, no, I got a land cruiser and that's it.

Grant Denyer: I'd rather have a little Corolla if I could.

Grant Denyer: I don't have that need to show it off on the streets or that need to go fast on the streets, so I can't see the value of an investment in a hyper car or super car on the roads.

Nathan Torpey: How do you guys find yourselves as passengers in cars, being professional drivers? Bit of a hard critique about people driving you around? Or just let it go?

Tony D’Alberto: Well, that's actually part of my job, outside of driving race car, is actually drive coaching, so I do a lot of work at racetracks sitting in the passenger seat and you often get told "Hey, you're the best driver in the world, you have to be at racetracks, driving awesome cars all the time" and I quickly remind them that I'm sitting in the passenger seat. I've only met them for about 30 seconds and suddenly we're doing 200k through the back straight and I've got no control, basically. Once I tell 'em that story, they think actually it might not be the best job in the world, but ... I'm not so much of a nervous passenger, I definitely think I'm quite good at reading peoples' body language when they get into the car and see whether they're going to be a nuisance or they're gonna try going really fast or are they nervous. If they're bringing race boots and a helmet for instance. If they tell you their driving career within like 30 seconds, you're in trouble.

Grant Denyer: Have you ever been in the car when someone's thrown it off the road when you're in it?

Tony D’Alberto: Many times.

Grant Denyer: Really?

Tony D’Alberto: Yeah. definitely, and I can tell you, when you get - you're not scared of grabbing the wheel from, they'll be turning into a corner and holding a particular manner the steering block, and suddenly I jump in and grab the wheel and turn the wheel a little more to try to keep us on the road, 'cause I can see we're going to go off the road.

Nathan Torpey: Do you guys have a moment that sticks out for you in your racing career? Like, I talk to many other athletes and they all have that one game or that one play that they always say defined their career. Have you guys had that moment yet?

Grant Denyer: I've won a race with Tony D'Alberto, the first race in the GTs and we nearly pashed after the race.

Tony D'Alberto: We did. We had some good memories.

Grant Denyer: That could have been a quite significant turning point from then in my life.

Tony D'Alberto: And Shezzy.

Grant Denyer: Or probably more so for my wife than me. But that was probably, that was a big highlight.

Tony D'Alberto: We had some good times driving that Ferrari.

Grant Denyer: Driving someone else's Ferrari is the best kind of Ferrari. You don't want to own a Ferrari, you don't want to fix a Ferrari.

Iain Sherrin: Just drive it fast.

Grant Denyer: I think my first ever Bathurst 1000 was pretty incredible it's all I wanted to be since you know I was 4, 5 years of age. So finally getting there to that panicle, the top in Australiain motor sport. I remember doing a parade lap around the back hew wagon with the crowd before the race and just going "wow, I've made it, I've done it everything I ever hoped and dreamed for" had come true and I'd worked 100 jobs to try and get there and zigged and zagged 100 times to try climb up the ladder and it finally happened. I did hit a couple of lows and my very first run was incredibly successful, we're nearly on the podium. That for me, was probably a life highlight.

Tony D'Alberto: But for me probably a bit of a turning point was back when we won the develop series in super cars as the feeder category. And now its special in its own right but that was the team that we had was formed by my dad and family. So we were up against factory teams and teams were a lot more experienced and to do that as a family unit was pretty special.

Iain Sherrin: Definitely this year Bathurst six hours my brother and I won that race, so that was, it's Bathurst and it's a six hour race, it was fantastic to win that. We have been going there since 2007, I had a class victory in 2007 in our first year there and we thought this was pretty easy and nothing ever since. Actually we come second in 2016 but yeah we finally got that victory and again the whole family is a team, I actually had my son there he was working on the crew as well and to do that with your whole family and something that you have been striving for for a long time, it's Bathurst, it was awesome.

Nathan Torpey: In terms of different racing cars, is there any other racing cars that you guys want to jump to like NASCAR or Moto GP something completely different to what you're doing?

Grant Denyer: I always wanted to have a go at dirt rallying but I was afraid that I would like it too much and then I would realize that I had spent my entire life doing the wrong discipline of motor sport. So I haven't done dirt dallying yet but I am fascinated by the idea of it. I think its quite, it's got a lot of flair, it's quite artistic. The way they can kind of flick their car around and control it it's really mesmerizing.
Iain Sherrin: And brave those guys.

Tony D'Alberto: It's a very gifted skill though, a lot of years you practice keeping the car square and straight and not spinning out of the rear tires, looking after your tires, not going sideways and then to go to a different discipline like rally or driving on a dirt where you are sideways actually getting your car to turn. Just spins me out, so I haven't actually seriously thought about switching codes or anything like that, I wouldn't mind maybe having a go of it but not at a professional level.

Iain Sherrin: If something popped up you'd always look at it but obviously I don't think I'll get back into tarmac rally or dirt rallying, that's just not what I am interested in anymore, just really enjoy the circuit racing.

Grant Denyer: The cool thing about the Production Car Championship running this one, the really fun variety of machines and they're kind of cars that you can relate to and you know and you see on the road or drive everyday, there's just so many different vehicles out there and you get really good amount of time in the car because they're basically all endurance racing. I find endurance racing really enjoyable thing to do, maybe because you've got your bum in the car a lot longer than a sprint race. You're sharing it with a bloke like I am now with Tony in the lotus and there's a bit more of a team aspect to it, you got pit stops and kind of all the other factors that can make a race interesting and fascinating. So it's a really healthy, fun, high bang for your buck category to be involved in.

Tony D’Alberto: There's some categories out there where you go to a high profile even and you get 20 minutes on track and if another category has a problem then you get put to the side, you don't get all your track time and the guys are really busy outside of racing, it may not be their profession when they allocate time to go racing they just want track time, they want to be in the car that they own or that they love and doing something that takes them away from every day stresses. Some of those higher profile events sound great but then coming back to doing this sort of event here the track time is phenomenal. Like Grant said bang for buck is certainly out there.

Grant Denyer: Particularly the broadcasting of sport world wide has changed dramatically, you used to want to be with the category like V8 super cars because your in front of their TV audiences and they had cameras there, there was a television broadcast, they can stream that for a fraction of a cost and anyone can see it and it's changed the game a lot for motor sport as it has for many other sports. We can kind of go and do our own thing now and have longer races, dictate how much track time that we get and we can still broadcast to all our sponsors, friends and family and strangers in the universe. It's a good time to be alive man.

Nathan Torpey: What tips would you guys have for people looking to get in the industry?

Grant Denyer: Production cars is a really really great entry point for becoming ... if you want to become a racing car driver or at least service that desire of wanting to do it because the cars are cool, they're more of a cost effective level and you get to race on all the great tracks, you get to be in them a bit more than anything else. It's a really good gate way.

Iain Sherrin: We cater for a lot of people coming in to it and that's the good thing about it it's class based as well so you don't have to come in in the fastest car, in the A classes, you can come in in any class car, it's very cheap you can buy into those very, very cheaply. Like Grant said we try and cater for endurance races all the time and lots of track time so you gain a lot of experience. We've had quite a few young guys come through here , some guys just getting a lot of seat time and that's what it's about. The more seat time you can get in a car the better you are going to get, no matter what car it is. If you can do that here every round it's a minimum of four hours track race time and then you add your qualifying and practicing to that so you go away from the weekend and you've had five or six hours on the track.

Iain Sherrin: Then you go to some of the other events like Phillip Island at the end of the year it's a six hour race, you add all the qualifying and practicing to that, you're going to be seven or eight hours of track time and you can't get that anywhere else. You get started in something small and you sell that off, buy the next car up, move up to the next class and keep moving up and that's what it's about.

Grant Denyer Let's not forget the original origins of course of MotoriAustralia production car racing, the foundations of V8 super cars offer production based series and that's how it all began and it's nice to be back in a really strong category now, exactly how it all started for everybody in the first place.

Nathan Torpey: Alright, well on that note, thanks for joining me today everyone and RACQ Living podcast. Until next time.

Grant Denyer: Stay safe everyone.

Anthony Frangi: For exclusive content videos and images from this interview RACQ members can read more in the digital road ahead. If you would like more information on any of the stories raised today email us at, roadahead@RACQ.com.au. I'm Anthony Frangi, join me next time for more RACQ living.