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From the sidelines to victory lane for young gun

WHEN Matt Saunders fielded a late call-up to fill in for Jack Bellotti as Jack Le Brocq’s race engineer, little did he know what was to come.

“Coming into the weekend so late, I guess the expectation wasn’t the result that we had,” Saunders admitted to V8 Sleuth.

In fact, he only touched down in Darwin in the very early hours of Friday morning – less than 11 hours before opening practice at Hidden Valley.

By Sunday evening, he had guided Le Brocq to Matt Stone Racing’s first main game pole position and race win.

At age 26, he’s believed to be one of the youngest ever race-winning engineers in ATCC/Supercars Championship history.

And it all came at an event which he was not supposed to attend.

Having started in Australian GT and Porsche Carrera Cup with Scott Taylor Motorsport, Saunders worked with Team 18 and MSR before joining Triple Eight to oversee Declan Fraser’s 2022 Super2 title campaign.

Le Brocq seals victory in Race 3 of the Darwin Triple Crown. Pic: Supplied/Christian Hartung

This year he was swooped on to be Nash Morris’ race engineer at the six Super2 rounds, Darwin not being one of them.

But the wait for Bellotti and his wife’s second child saw MSR turn to a familiar face in Saunders to sub in on the #34 Truck Assist Camaro.

“I can’t believe it,” said Saunders.

“I had a pretty good year last year in Super2 with Declan and T8 but to now get some results in main game is really cool.

“These guys have come so far too, like I worked with them back in 2021 with Jake (Kostecki); how far the team has come is incredible.

“Like they probably can’t see it themselves but having been away and come back, they have come a long way.”

For a time during the COVID era, Saunders dropped out of Supercars altogether as personnel limitations forced teams to streamline.

“I kind of stepped back and went and built boats in Albury. That kept me entertained,” said Saunders.

Matt Saunders. Pic: Supplied/Christian Hartung

It’s a line of work he’s still in, as operations manager at Malibu Boats.

“So I look after all of production, quality, warehouse, logistics; pretty much anything other than finance, marketing and HR sits with me,” he said.

“I’m really passionate about my water skiing stuff, so when you can combine that passion and come in and do Super2 with T8 or Nash or come help these guys out, you get the best of both worlds.”

Next weekend’s NTI Townsville 500 will be back to modus operandi, with Bellotti – who sat in from afar during Darwin debriefs – back with Le Brocq and Saunders in the Super2 paddock.

“It will be maybe a little sad walking away and going back to Super2 and looking over the fence, but that’s life,” said Saunders.

“The team and the guys are the ones who put all the work in (behind the win), I just swanned in for the glory. It’s all on the team.”

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