ONE word perfectly describes James Moffat’s career path towards a full-time Supercars drive.
Moffat told the V8 Sleuth Podcast powered by Repco that becoming a professional Supercars racer had been his goal from a young age, a goal that normally lay at the end of a well-trodden path.
First, from as young an age as possible, you went karting. Then you graduated to Formula Ford. Next came a range of options, headlined by time in the Development Series or Carrera Cup.
Then, if you proved you were good enough, came the ‘main game.’
Those categories all appear on Moffat’s resume, albeit not in the traditional way.
“I really never did karting that seriously – I was more of a club day warrior – but I did start there at 14, so I started really quite late relative to when you can start,” Moffat told the V8 Sleuth Podcast.
“The thing that stopped me more from competing in karts was that I went to boarding school. That was quite restrictive in terms of what I could do from a go-karting point of view; unfortunately motorsport wasn’t part of school sports!
“I did a couple of state series Formula Ford races in 2003, which was my first year out of school, and just really couldn’t get the budget together to do anything more.”
Enter the one-make Lotus Trophy Series.
“Dad was an ambassador for GT Radial Tyres; the fellow that employed him was Dennis Rigon, a great fellow,” Moffat explained.
“One day they were doing some filming out at Sandown, and dad was like ‘can you go and get Dennis from the airport and drive him out to Sandown?’
“Along the way we got chatting, and he said: ‘What do you want to do with yourself?’ I’m like: ‘I want to try and have a crack at racing.’
“From that point he tried to help me as much as he could.”
The decision to go with the Lotus Trophy came through Rigon, who had done some racing in the Daewoo Lanos one-make series run by Paul Pickett’s MoPro group that also ran the new Lotus Elise-based series.
“It was the last-minute deal of all last-minute deals,” Moffat said.
“I think it was about $3,000 for the weekend. I did the deal on the Wednesday … then it was like, ‘I’m racing in Darwin … shit … how am I gonna get there?’
“I managed to get on a flight Thursday night, which ended up getting into Darwin early hours of Friday morning
“I hadn’t seen the track, I hadn’t even seen the car – I sat in the car for the first time on Friday morning!”
Moffat felt he “clicked pretty well” with the lightweight sports car.
He wasn’t kidding: Moffat topped opening practice, took pole position by over a tenth of a second, led every lap on the way to winning the opening race, charged from last to fifth in the reverse grid second race, then led every lap of the finale to secure the round win.
“I was obviously pretty rapt about it, my first crack at a national-level form of racing,” Moffat recalled.
“That Lotus Series was a great thing for me because it got my name out there.
“They raced in front of the V8s, so I got to go to all the circuits and I was racing in front of the right people in terms of where I wanted to end up.”
It also meant that Moffat’s Lotus became one of the last race cars prepared and run from father Allan Moffat’s legendary racing headquarters in Melbourne.
“We were sort of scraping the barrel here, there and everywhere (for sponsorship), but halfway through the season we were doing OK in the championship, so we’ve got to try and commit to doing the rest of the year,” Moffat explained.
“Paul Pickett was really good; he allowed me to go up to Sydney and grab the car and essentially I ended up prepping the car myself, which saved a huge amount of cost out of things.
“That was one thing that dad was always big on when I was starting; preparation is very, very important and trying to have control of your own destiny.
“Dad still had his workshop in Malvern Road where he ran his race team, so we parked it there and I’d go and work on it.”
Moffat missed the title by a handful of points despite missing the opening round, but his performance led him to a year in V8 Utes, then a job as a mechanic at Sonic Motor Racing for whom he’d race in Formula Ford, Carrera Cup and the Development Series on his way to a ‘main game’ debut in the 2010 enduros.
THE OTHER FUTURE SUPERCARS STAR ON THE LOTUS GRID
Moffat is a rarity among Supercars veterans to have competed in the Lotus Trophy Series, but he isn’t unique.
A future good mate and fellow Supercars race winner was also on the Hidden Valley grid at the inaugural Lotus round as he tried to make his way up the motorsport ladder.
“Tim Slade was racing as well,” Moffat said.
“I knew a little bit of him at that point; I knew that he was a gun go-karter and highly-rated.
“I felt like he was a really good benchmark for me, and if I was able to be competitive against him, maybe I had some ability there.”