Over the weekend at Pukekohe Park Raceway in New Zealand, Scott McLaughlin became the youngest driver in history to win a V8 Supercars/Australian Touring Car Championship race, at 19 years of age.
However, for the last 12 years that honour belonged to a distinguished driver who is still on the grid – Todd Kelly.
It was on the street circuit in Canberra, which only staged a round of the Supercars for a couple of years, when 20-year old Young Lion Kelly sailed across the chequered flag in his #15 VT Holden Commodore – a sign of what was to come for the now Nissan driver and team owner.
It was the second race of a three-race format weekend, reverse grid, with pitstops (which back then were not permitted under Safety Car) and Kelly led for about two-thirds of the race, holding off a quick Neil Crompton and Steven Richards.
When asked about the weekend, Kelly laughed and said it was a long time ago, but remembers the circuit and what it felt like to gain his first mark on the board of wins.
“I remember the circuit was fantastic, a really good place to race around,” Kelly said. “It was very tight and a couple of the corners were a little bit unusual compared to what we’d normally race on.
“It was by far the coldest event I’d ever been to – before the race I had my driving boots in a fan heater to heat them up so I could feel my toes.
“All I really remember about the race was I had Neil Crompton all over me big time.
“It was really a challenge, because I knew I wasn’t far off my first win and he was putting huge pressure on me. I managed to hold him off until the chequered flag, and it was a great result to get a win.
“As a young guy, it’s a huge step in anyone’s career to finally get a win. As a relatively inexperienced driver it’s a big confidence boost to carry for the rest of your career. And then the way you approach the race is less apprehensive – you don’t worry about everyone else as much and you go into the race with higher expectations and goals of being further up in the field. And that generally led to better performance, as a young guy.”
Kelly was happy to see McLaughlin have his first win over the weekend.
“To do that so soon in such a competitive category was a great effort from him.
“He seems like a level headed young guy, who I think really deserves a result like that.”
Now one of the more experienced drivers in the field, Kelly has seen so much change in the series – and has facilitated change, with his the first team to switch to a new manufacturer with Nissan.
“It’s changed a lot (the series) – it’s so competitive now,” Kelly said.
“In the old days I was very fortunate to be in a team where we had very good equipment – there was a lot bigger gap between each team in the field.
“Qualifying up the back, in most cases you could drive your way back to the front of the field in a race.
“Now, if you qualified 20th you’d have a good race if you finished 18th. The category has changed massively.
“Both myself and (brother) Rick started off and were racing against the older generation – like Neil Crompton, Tony Longhurst, Larry Perkins and I spent a bit of time with (Mark) Skaife, so it was a pretty cool time in the sport.”
Race Flashback is a new segment running on v8supercars.com.au, where we’ll look back at great moments of our great sport.