Within twelve months 59Racing went from a newcomer in GT to storming the international racing scene at the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, capable of challenging the world’s best GT teams as it battled for overall victory and claimed the Silver Cup – a team with a big heart for McLaren, and big plans for the future.
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Leading the charge both in and outside of the car, Fraser Ross has become the face of the team as he combines his expertise in the marketing and communication with racing. The driver of the #59 McLaren 720S GT3 is an unabashed McLaren aficionado who has raced with the brand since its 650S days, taken on the Bathurst 12 Hour twice and won a handful of races last year when 59Racing debuted the brand-new McLaren 720S GT3 at the Australian Grand Prix with a victory.
With a car eligible for the Bathurst 12 Hour in 2020, 59Racing set out to prepare for the Intercontinental GT Challenge and Australian Endurance Championship season opener. Bringing a second McLaren run in part by Supercar teammembers from Tickford Racing, McLaren factory support and works drivers, 59Racing transformed into a smoothly run squad that stole the show at Mount Panorama to finish second outright as well as win the Silver Cup class with eighth place overall.
Ross began the 12-hour journey from dawn to Silver Cup victory in the #59 McLaren alongside former Australian Endurance Champion Dom Storey and Croatian Martin Kodrić. The Australian stood his ground against the star-studded grid.
“Bathurst was a fantastic way to debut the McLaren 720S GT3,” Fraser Ross says. “It’s been a long time of planning to get there for the team and all of us. It was the best result I’ve had, apart from winning the championship [in Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Australia]. To go and race at one of the most iconic tracks – the most iconic track in Australia – against some of the best European drivers was pretty incredible for me. I look back on it with great memories already: it’s a great way to debut the McLaren 720S GT3 in Australia and to have the support form McLaren was pretty incredible.
“The best part of the weekend was the race. It was quite daunting: I was starting alongside professional European drivers and I did most of my stint fighting with people like Ben Barker and Mirko Bortolotti. Fighting with the Europeans and the factory cars was really cool, to be able to do that. I moved up from 20th to 13th or so and ended up in the top 10 before I handed it over. That was my proudest moment: doing a good job in the morning and starting the race cleanly.
“I could definitely hold my own. The thing I worried about the most was if I could compete with these guys. Within a couple of laps I started to realise I could hold my own against these guys and started to put some pressure on some of them, that was sort of the best part. I had the confidence with the car underneath; I learned how to handle the car after racing it all of last year and winning in the Australian Grand Prix for McLaren, so it was good. I know the car well, so I felt confident, but I had to learn the track on the Pirelli tyres. I’ve also never raced there in the dark especially at the start of the race – it was interesting and fun at the same time.”
The sole McLaren team on the grid, 59Racing welcomed the added support from McLaren; however, Ross emphasises, equal credit goes to 59Racing for the effort put in during the months leading up to the modern classic that resulted in both McLarens racing at the frontend of the field.
“It was mixed support [we received from McLaren]: we had assistant engineers from McLaren supporting our race engineers, and the CEO of McLaren Automotive [Mike Flewitt] turned up for the event and visited 59Racing which was a big boost for us. To have that sort of support was pretty insane, as well as the likes of Allen Collen and John Maynard from McLaren Customer Racing which was great.
“59Racing are very well experienced with this car: Nick Galbraith actually designed the aero package for the 720S and now is an engineer with 59Racing. It was incredible to have the experience of the guys that we had.
“I don’t think [McLaren’s support was the main reason why 59Racing was so close to the front]: they were there to make sure that both cars ran smoothly, but it’s our 59Racing engineers and crew that make the cars what they are.
“We’ve done a lot of development work on our cars that hasn’t been done on other McLaren 720S GT3s around the world; we are one of the teams that have done the most amount of miles with a 720S around the world now. It’s been a big learning curve.
“I think McLaren are very impressed with the way that we handle everything, but by no means do I give credit to only them; I give credit to 59Racing for what they did as well.
“It’s the longest race we’ve done and we learned a lot from [McLaren]. We learned a lot about what the car does during the race and the feedback that we got from the engineers, crew, as well as the McLaren staff. We take what we’ve learned from that race and we take it into the season and continue from there. We don’t just stop and go to the next race: we continue to learn, go testing and continue to develop the car to make sure we’ve always got a competitive package.”
Along with McLaren’s support came Martin Kodrić. The 22-year-old made his debut at Bathurst on the back of a successful season in the International GT Open racing the Teo Martín Motorsport McLaren 720S GT3 and joined Australian GT regulars Fraser Ross and Dom Storey aboard the #59 McLaren. He didn’t fail to impress as he set a series of outright fastest lap times of the race in the final stint.
“Who didn’t find him impressive,” Ross rhetorically asks. “He was amazing. We all learn from each other. The way that he and I approach races is very differently. I think he was very good. I think we learned a lot, both on and off the track, and I think we will see a lot more of him and I driving together throughout the season.”
59Racing was formed in 2019. After several seasons racing the McLaren 650S GT3 with Tekno Autosports and McElrea Racing in the Australian GT Championship, car-owner Alex Franes – a man rarely seen in the spotlights – set up a team of his own to bring the McLaren 720S GT3 to Australia with Ross staying on as the driver of his car.
“59Racing takes its name from when McLaren raced at Le Mans in the 90s,” Ross explains. “The race team has a very McLaren passionate ownership and we’ve raced the McLaren 650S GT3, 570 GT4, and now the McLaren 720S GT3 with which we actually won the first-ever race for the 720S in the world at the Grand Prix in Australia. There’s a big passion for McLaren.
“59Racing is a stand-alone team. We’ve been with other teams before and learned from that. Last year was the first year that we raced by ourselves as 59Racing. This year was the first 12 Hour we did so we started planning for that sort of in the middle of last year – lots of planning went into that. We’ve come a long way from racing the Australian GT Championship to building two cars for the 12 Hour race.
“My involvement: I’m just a driver! I’ve been around for quite a while now with McLaren, since the 650S, and now with the 720S it’s quite interesting, we’ll see where this year takes us and we hope to win the championship in Australia.”
Ross has known success both in the McLaren 650S GT3 and 720S GT3, scoring victories each year since his debut in 2017 in the fight for the Australian GT Championship title.
“I’ve done a lot of sportscar racing with Porsche and the McLaren 650S and now the 720S. The 720S is such a good car in terms of just the confidence it gives its driver and when you get out, the feedback you get from the 720S is incredible. I really enjoy driving the car and looking forward to the rest of the year and see what we can do.
“Last year we had some good wins, broke some records, and this year we won in the Silver class at Bathurst, so I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do in 2020.”
Racing with McLaren isn’t solely born out of a passion for the brand: Ross’ advertisement agency in Australia serves as McLaren Asia Pacific’s marketing, creative and communication partner.
“We look after all the McLaren retails in Australia, all the brand advertisement as well as all of North Asia McLaren.
“Of course, racing McLaren helps what I do in the agency, it’s a nice link. To be able to race a 720S in Australia is quite incredible. It’s been good and we look forward to all we can do in 2020 – hopefully win a championship and help McLaren built in the Australian market.
“Previously I raced a Porsche and it was a bit awkward going to McLaren meetings when you’re racing a Porsche. All the motorsports helps: McLaren is a motorsports brand and this helps compete with a lot of the brands that we compete with in the automotive sense. What I can do on the racetrack helps what I do in the office and vice versa.”
Going into the rest of the season, 59Racing has big plans; however, Ross remains tight-lipped about those plans exactly are.
“We’re planning for more; we’ll see what happens!
“We want to go international: the team owner has a big bucket list to go international racing so it will be interesting to see where we go. We want to win the championship in Australia and once we do that, the sky is the limit.”