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GP Week : Issue 225
OPINION maT cocH Editor A few years ago I was out at sydney Motorsport Park, the new sign they’ve nailed above the door at eastern Creek, for a club level meeting. The weather was terrible. Cold and raining with the smell of the garbage dump over the back of the circuit blowing through, adding another edge to a chilly breeze that was already cutting through. Given the conditions I did what any self-respecting journalist would and sought refuge in the commentary box where I did my best alongside the circuits host commentator. Like so many drivers the world over, my motorsport journey began in club level racing and to this day I love nothing more than wandering around the paddock and catching up with old friends. Every so often you make a new one, just as I had that cold Saturday morning. Matt Harrison was a youngster, fresh out of karting, making his debut in a Formula Vee. In Australia Formula Vee is the oldest form of open wheel motor racing and has remained pretty true to its roots. They run Beetle engines and H beam front axle. They’re a pretty basic car sporting little more than 60bhp at best and a top speed over 200kph with a tail wind and a bit of a hill. There is no downforce, the cars rely purely on mechanical grid and as a result they produce the best racing you’ll ever see. Down the long Eastern Creek (sorry, Sydney Motorsport Park) front straight they’ll run in a long line, often 10 or 12 cars long, snaking along the straight as they slipstream one another. Success in a Vee is as much about race craft as anything else, and so it’s a stepping stone for many young drivers learning their trade. It’s budget racing at its absolute best. Matt had qualified in the upper midfield. It was a solid result at his first attempt given the conditions and I remember chatting with him before the first race and saying as much. He’d caught my eye so while in the commentary box keeping myself warm and dry I made a mental note to monitor his progress. Sadly, I wasn’t able to. Soon after the race started, in dismal conditions, Matt lost control and it was immediately apparent how serious it was. Those in the paddock rushed to see, I chose not to. As I wandered back into the paddock everything I needed to know was written in their eyes and across their faces. We hoped for the best, but feared for the worst. Sadly, later that night, the worst came true. The following morning heads hung low and eyes were red. Drivers unanimously voted not to continue racing that weekend. Nobody was up to it. There was a minutes silence, interrupted by the odd sniff as tears ran down the cheeks of grown men, myself among them. It was the only time in my life I’ve wanted to be anywhere but a race track. On that sodden day a mother and father lost their only son and Formula Vee lost a new friend. Matt was doing something he loved, something he had a talent for, something for which he will forever be remembered. But what at the time hurt so much has become an inspiration. Though he lost his only son Matt’s father, Allan, now races a Formula Vee, carrying the torch that his son no longer can. Formula One will carry on, 18 GPWEEK.com // 18 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION froM despair coMes inspiration