Andre Heimgartner is one of the new faces this year in V8 Supercars, however, he’s no stranger to success in motorsport. We caught up with him during the Australian Grand Prix to go through his career and how he made it on the V8 Supercars grid.
At 19 you’ve already built up quite the resume which includes being the youngest driver in the world to win a Formula Ford Championship.
Yeah well I obviously started racing like a lot of people in go-karts at the age of seven and slowly rose through the ranks. As you said I won the New Zealand Formula Ford Championship when I was 15 years old, so I was the youngest in the world to win a national championship in Formula Ford, so that was a good achievement to get. I’m not sure if it still stands today but yeah it was a good thing. From there I went on to Porches in the Carrera Cup and did a bit of Formula Ford in Australia and now I’m finally in v8 Supercars.
My dad used to race sports sedans so I used to follow him around New Zealand and eventually I managed to convince him to buy me a go-kart and let me start racing. Unfortunate for him because he was a bit worried at the time but I suppose that’s how I got introduced to racing through him.
How does he feel about you racing now?
Yeah he takes a back seat and watches; he still comes to all of the rounds and has a bit of fun.
Who were your idols as a young racer?
Obviously there’s the classic, cliché drivers like Greg Murphy and Scott Dixon, all those sort of guys. Most recently Shane [Van Gisbergen] has been an influence on me, just the way he tackles obstacles and goes about his racing I think is pretty good.
Growing up did you just follow touring cars? Or did you also watch single seaters and set a goal for Formula 1?
I was more into touring cars and supercars mostly, I didn’t look at Formula 1 too much because we didn’t have too much money to play with. It was better to try and focus on a career in V8 Supercars than to try and make my way to Formula 1.
Was it your success in the Formula Ford Championship that propelled you into a Carrera Cup drive?
Yeah so once I won that Championship I got approached by Team Kiwi – the predecessor to Super Black Racing – and they gave me a run in the Carrera Cup. That’s where I got to race here [Albert Park] I’ve only raced here once before and that was with the Carrera Cup. That was what got me into Australia, if it wasn’t for that then I wouldn’t be here. So it was a great opportunity that came when I was 16 years old, so I was a pretty young guy driving a Porsche around the track.
So would you credit your success so far to that Carrera Cup move?
Not completely crediting it but it did help me; it pushed me to come over here to Australia. I probably would have come eventually and Super Black Racing helped me with that by giving me a push into V8 Supercars, so I’ve got to give them credit as well.
Your results in the Carrera Cup were consistent and good, what were the team’s goals since you didn’t have a team-mate?
For the Carrera Cup I was only young so I knew it was going to be a learning experience. I had a good engineer running my car and he had run a lot of other good drivers so I was just learning the tracks, learning how to drive the car so that’s all it really was. We weren’t really there to win or finish top three in the championship.
Last year you had one of your best years driving in the Dunlop series as well as competing at the Bathurst 1000 where you finished 11th, take us through that weekend.
Last year was pretty successful and Bathurst was a good way to finish it I suppose. Bathurst was a good round for Super Black Racing’s first outing and it could have even been a bit better, but 11th isn’t too bad. We were off a little bit through practice and we were scratching our heads a bit but we knew the times we were running would be right for the race, and as it worked out our times were pretty good during the race so we were able to maintain our position. In a race like Bathurst all you have to do is try and finish, we didn’t hit any walls, we didn’t crash and we didn’t go a lap down. Anyone could have won that race as long as they were on the lead lap so it was a little bit lucky for us, but yeah we had good speed in the car and the team worked well. It was a good way to be introduced into the series but unfortunately it doesn’t always go that way and it’s not always that easy but it was a good confidence booster.
You mentioned you had troubles earlier on in the weekend with the setup of the car, what sorts of problems were occurring? Was it qualifying problems or general race pace?
Just more qualifying I think, Anthony [Pedersen] and I were driving it at about nine-tenths but everyone else was driving it just a little bit harder. Given that it was our first round in the car and only having one test day before, it was pretty difficult to jump straight in and be as fast as everyone else so that’s where we struggled a little bit. Once everyone got out of that mindset and focused on the race where they had to conserve the car and tyres it worked out to be alright.
How was the adjustment coming from the Dunlop series into the V8 Supercars?
It’s very different; the cars are a lot harder to drive, the old cars are actually better to drive than these things. You also have a bigger team and more behind the scenes work you have to do. There’s more work between races whereas in Dunlop you would just turn up and drive and have debrief afterwards. In V8 Supercars it’s more of a fulltime job, it’s definitely a massive step up and you expect that going from category to category. In the Dunlop series I was never really at the back but you come to the V8s and you get shoved down the back of the grid and you have to make your way up. It’s definitely been one of the biggest challenges of my career so far.
What is it like being the only Kiwi team on the grid?
Obviously it’s a little different because you could say that we have a whole nation behind us or that we’re representing New Zealand, so it does add a little more pressure and interest. But at the end of the day we’re here to do the same job as everyone else so we have to put our heads down and try and do as well as we can.
And what are the team goals for this season as well as five years down the track?
Well we’d like to be here in five years’ time! But for this year I’m new, Super Black Racing is new, we’re starting with the Ford FG then moving onto the FGX next round in Symonds Plains I think. So the start of the year was always going to be a build-up process, but you’re never going to go out there a win straight away. We’re expecting this year to learn how everything works and get comfortable so next year we can have a much better crack at it and try and get a bit further up the grid.
Does it help having a few other drivers from New Zealand on the grid?
Well it’s mainly just business as usual to a certain extent, I talk to Shane [Van Gisbergen] a bit but the other guys are just like everyone else, it doesn’t matter where you come from, everyone’s competition.
You’ve raced the Bathurst 12 hour before, do you see yourself returning?
I’d like to go back it’s a good race and good fun, there are some really good cars there now so if you can get in one of those it’d be really enjoyable. Obviously V8 Supercars is my first priority because if the races clash I can’t race the 12 hour. But if it all lined up and there were no clashes I’d do it, it’s a good event which I rate highly.
Images via George Hitchens Photography & Super Black Racing