IF you’re watching TV this weekend and see a race car cutting up the field at Bathurst, it’s probably 20-year-old Tom Chapman from East Fremantle behind the wheel.
The former CBC pupil is making a name for himself as one of the most up-and-coming, exciting drivers on the Aussie racing circuit and will compete in the Bathurst 12 Hour race in NSW from February 3-5.
Everything fell into place for Chapman in 2022, his breakthrough year, when he won the WASCC Formula Ford Gold Star Sate Championship, a highly competitive feeder series for young racing drivers to enter national competitions.
Now he’s got the backing of Fastlane Racing, a professional team which launched the careers of Daniel Ricciardo and V8 supercar driver Garth Tander.
Recently Chapman was given the opportunity by the Ricciardo family to race the actual car, owned and driven by Daniel Ricciardo in his early years, at the historic Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit in March.
Chapman was first exposed to racing as a three-year-old, when he watched his dad compete in a tarmac rally. Growing up he played AFL and was a talented cricketer, but after competing in a high level kart race aged 12, he was hooked.
He did well in go karts and moved up to open-wheel car racing, but that’s when the sport starts getting expensive with most young aspiring drivers leasing a car from a team and paying their mechanics to keep it in tip-top condition.
But the Chapman family didn’t have that sort of financial muscle behind them and did the hard yards themselves.
“My dad and I decided to run the car ourselves and did a lot of the maintenance and car preparation to save costs,” Chapman says. “It was defiantly taxing at some times with amount of man hours required to get a car ready and race, but it made everything we achieved so much more rewarding.
“When other drivers were analysing data and camera vision with their race engineer and driver coach, I was busy calculating how much fuel to put in for the next race and was spanner checking the car, which basically sums up the budget we were on.”
Chapman juggled studying at CBC with his racing commitments, but after graduating in 2020 he had more time to focus on the track and last year won the WA sporting car club Formula Ford Gold Star championship, driving manual cars that reach speeds just over 200km/h.
“The season consisted of seven rounds with five at Wanneroo raceway and two at Collie Motorplex,” Chapman says.
“We didn’t finish outside the top three for the whole season.
“This was a major achievement for my self personally to have beaten past state champions and other serious competitors with bright futures ahead who are already making a name for themselves on a national scale.”
This weekend Chapman is racing for the first time at Bathurst, widely regarded as one of the top three race tracks in the world, in a car with no power steering.
“The circuit has a combination of fast corners across the top and down the mountain with many concrete walls to hit if you make a mistake,” Chapman says.
“It will require a lot of precision to navigate the tight and twisty sections but I’m confident I will be able to get up to speed. The races will also be more physically demanding as they’ll most likely be 25 minutes long which is more than double the length of what I’m used to.”
With Fastlane Racing looking after his car, giving him the opportunity to compete in televised races and introducing him to major players in the motor racing scene, Chapman is looking to raise his profile and find other drives for the future.
He says drivers are spending $50,000 on a race weekend in the V8 supercars division, and there are seven races a year, so financial backing and sponsorship are essential.
“I have spent the past couple of years creating strong partnerships with sponsors and people who can open doors for me to not only race at a high level many kids would dream of, but also race at televised events at Bathurst and the Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit,” Chapman says.
“Which I think isn’t too bad for a kid who started out by driving at the local indoor go kart track people go to for their birthday.”
You can catch Chapman in the Bathurst 12 Hour on Fox Sports this weekend (February 3-5).
by STEPHEN POLLOCK