Shepherd jets off for a Supercar test as Tony Quinn Foundation prize winner
Rowan Shepherd will fulfil a lifetime dream next week when he gets to drive a V8 Supercar with powerhouse team Triple Eight Racing Engineering, thanks to the Tony Quinn Foundation.
Shepherd won the recent Toyota 86 New Zealand championship for the second year running, and with it the inaugural TQF supported Supercar test drive.
This weekend the 30-year-old from Lincoln, Canterbury leaves for Australia's Gold Coast and the Triple Eight Race Engineering workshop in Banyo, Brisbane for a seat fitting in the team's workshops on Monday before testing one of the team's Super2 specification Supercar at Queensland Raceway on Wednesday.
"The TQF is rightly focused mostly on up-and-coming young drivers more than the likes of me, but this opportunity I won to drive in Australia has always been a dream of mine, and driving a V8 Supercar has been a lifelong dream as well. Ticking two big boxes in one big hit with a great team. It doesn't get much better," said Shepherd.
"I come from a background of little wealth and I've never had the opportunity to stay in single-seaters and take the pathway up to V8Supercars. I probably should have been in Australia five years ago if I wanted to have a real crack at V8 Supercars, so I'm taking a realistic approach to the test."
He's never driven anything akin to a V8 Supercar before, just a few outings in GT3 race cars.
"I believe they're quite a demanding and tricky car to get the hang of but I'm looking forward to the challenge. I know they move around a lot and obviously it's a car you need to take your time to understand what it does when it does move around. Baby steps throughout the day until I get confident to give it a good crack."
Shepherd started racing when he was 18 years old but only got serious about motorsport in his mid-twenties.
"I didn't really start to take racing seriously until I was about 25, 26 from when I started around 18. I guess I never really backed my ability, to be honest."
On his way to winning back-to-back Toyota 86 championships, Shepherd won the NZ Formula First title twice and a Mazda RX8 series.
But winning a second Toyota 86 championship didn't come easy. Shepherd struggled to get his car to perform in the opening rounds and it wasn't until he swapped machines that his title defense took off. He was immediately on pole again and winning races.
"It wasn't a hard decision to come back, I love racing in the'86 series. It's close and the cars are fair from a technical perspective, and with the carrot hanging there in front of us to win a V8 Supercar test, it got the attention of a lot of people all around New Zealand. I wanted to win it again, that was the only goal of mine this season," he said.
The run to the title almost took a turn for the worse on the final day of the series when Shepherd was struck down with food poisoning and struggled to drive the final races.
"I woke up at 4 o'clock in the morning and started to drive to the race track but was vomiting along the way. I was in a sleeping bag with a bucket the whole race day. I knew no matter what I'd jump in the race car and try my absolute best.
"It was certainly bloody tough and I was absolutely drained, and quite emotional by the time they gave me the trophy. Mentally and physically drained completely."
Shepherd struggled through and gained just enough points to win the title again, this time by a mere seven points, and take the sought after TQF Triple Eight Supercar test prize drive.
So what aspirations does he have following the upcoming Supercar test?
"I'd love to race in Australia in something, maybe a couple of endurance races, maybe a 12-hour in a GT3 as a co-driver. I don't realistically think I'd get a V8 Supercar drive, maybe a Super2 drive - that would be amazing. I'd like to talk to Tony about a future endurance drive that might be available in the near future or in a couple of years."
For Shepherd, he is also looking forward to meeting the man that not only put up his prize drive but has provided many New Zealand race drivers with opportunities to progress their careers through his Foundation.
"I'm as excited about meeting Tony Quinn as I am about the test," added Shepherd. "I've never personally met him and I've worked at Highlands as a driving instructor over the years, so to finally sit down and have dinner with him over in Australia is going to be a cool thing. I'm looking forward to that as much as the V8 Supercar test."
The official test will take place on Wednesday 22nd of June at Queensland Raceway.
Caption: Rowan Shepherd, the current Toyota 86 champion, will have first V8 Supercar test in Queensland next week courtesy of the TQF.
Photo Credit: Geoff Ridder