Out of Australia he came. No one in Europe had ever heard of Liam Talbot. It didn’t take long, though, for him to establish himself as a respected racer. This week, Talbot starts in the 24 hours of the Nürburgring in one of the most sought-after drives of the Nordschleife: The Aston Martin Vantage GT12 run by the Aston Martin Test Centre worksteam. Seems like as good a reason as any to get to know Liam Talbot a bit better.
The reason why Talbot is such an unknown in Europe, is because the Australian didn’t start his racing career until only three years ago when he was already in his thirties.
“Racing simply started as a duty of care to myself,” Talbot says. “I wanted to learn and improve my driving skills and the only safe place for this is on a racetrack with professional instruction.
“I just wanted to try racing, but initially downplayed any chance of success as I felt I was too old and I would not be competitive. Someone I knew at the time offered me a chance to begin racing in their Lotus. It was very humble and club level from the start.”
Excellent results made people take notice and opportunities started to appear, such as in the Bathurst 12 hours and the Australian GT Championship, where he starred with a win and a third place in the season finale races.
“Of course this success wouldn’t be possible without the many good people who have helped me along the way,” he admits. “I’m very lucky to have some amazing people giving me advice so that I can continue to learn and improve.”
Although Talbot measured up to Australia’s finest in the national GT championship and is now a regular in the Blancpain GT championship in one of the Kessel Racing Ferrari’s, competing at this level doesn’t come easy.
“It has been a constant uphill battle. I had absolutely no motorsport background. Hell, I never even watched it on TV!
“I’m always in competition against people who know the car, the track and have far superior racing experience. I would turn up to drive a car for the first time on a circuit I’ve never driven with no racing experience.”
Still, the challenges that racing presents don’t stop him.
“I have found everything is a challenge for myself. I never raced go-karts as a kid. To learn how to overtake, I went out and bought a racing DVD: V8 Supercars season highlights. I don’t even know who the “famous” racing drivers are, as I have never followed the sport.
“Another challenge is driving a car where the steering wheel is on the left-hand side. In Australia we drive right hand cars. While not a major point, it did take some getting used to. I recently got a chance to drive a current V8 Supercar, and now driving right-hand drive felt weird!
“The more challenges I find, the more I want to overcome them. I’m always at a disadvantage on the racetrack with less experience then my competition, which makes my results more rewarding.”
With only a few years of experience and even less on the Nürburgring, Talbot is now facing one of his biggest challenges yet: Racing the 24 hours of the Nürburgring. The daunting and immense race track deep in the forests of the German Eifel should not be underestimated.
“The Nürburgring is the most fascinating race track in the world,” the Aston Martin racer says. “It is so addictive and challenging. For myself as a non-professional, it has been extremely challenging trying to learn this never ending track. I have put in so much time behind the scenes to learn each and every corner. I feel more comfortable each lap I do, but do realise I have a lot to learn out there.
“I was lucky enough to participate in a driving program through Aston Martin’s Nürburgring Test Centre with the only goal to race on the Nürburgring. I was thoroughly tested and challenged to learn as much as possible, but also to make sure I would be ready and competitive once I started racing. So I owe all my Nürburgring knowledge to their training.”
In addition to the two Vantage GT3’s that will be fighting for the outright win, Aston Martin also enters two brand new Vantage GT12’s in the SP8 class. Presented last March in Geneva with only 100 vehicles to be build, the GT12 street version is heavily inspired by the GT3 racer. It’s up to Talbot and teammates Florian Kamelger and Wolfgang Schuhbauer to show how the close to production GT12 compares to its big brother in the SP9/GT3 class.
“It’s an interesting fact that the SP8 class is defined as close to production. So what you see at the track is very closely related to the road car.
“The main differences are the aero package, brakes, roll cage and harness, seat and lack of any creature comforts for the interior. It’s quite amazing how Aston Martin can take all this knowledge from the race track and convert it to their road cars.
“I have been absolutely amazed by the new Vantage GT12, it’s the best Aston Martin I have ever raced: It’s got improved aero, less weight, more power and better balance. It feels close to how a GT3 car behaves.
Preparation for the big race started months ago, with the dress rehearsal three weeks ago in the second VLN race of the season. Now comes race week, the busiest week of them all.
“We have a lot of preparation before racing begins. First point of call is meeting up with the team and catching up, next filling in all the paperwork.
“At the track we need to get our drivers equipment checked and then more paperwork. We then check over the car and talk with the mechanics and technical people.
“We get changed in our drivers equipment and sit in the car while a seat is poured around us. This is very important as all drivers have different size bodies and shapes and we can reduce time in our pitstop with quick driver changes.
“It’s quite a busy time before the race as we also discuss driver rotations and a planning strategy. Nevertheless this time will fly by!”
Then comes the race itself. Starting on Saturday at 16:00, a gruelling 24 hours in the Green Hell lies ahead. With an unproven car and strong competitors, what are the expectations?
“Obviously, the SP8 is quite a tough category with all the different makes and models of race cars. We still have some fine tuning to make on the car and then hopefully we will have the right car to win.
“Ferrari is a very tough opponent in the class and will be hard to beat on outright pace. No matter, this is endurance racing and anything is possible. I know Aston Martin builds very reliable cars, so I have no doubts we will be fighting for a good result on the debut of the new Vantage GT12.
“I’m always happy to be racing an Aston Martin on the Nürburgring. But come 4 pm Sunday, the sense of achievement is astonishing. I can’t believe cars can survive 24 hours of racing on this track! All the team, drivers and crew will be long overdue to unite and celebrate another memorable year.”