Successful businessman Tony Bates does not expect life to serve him anything on a silver platter. This is a belief which extends to his racing, and one which will serve him well as he embarks upon his first international season of motorsport with the Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup. “I’m someone who really applies himself. I’m a big believer in life that you get what you put in. It’s been a lot of hard work and I’m still learning, but I’ve worked hard at my racing and I’ve got better. I don’t think you ever stop learning in this sport and if you think you have nothing else to learn, you’re in trouble.”
Toe in the water
Tony took up motor racing later in life and, like many committed privateers, he approaches it with the same razor-sharp competitiveness he would a crucial business negotiation. “I started quite late in my career – 34 years old – and had always had a competitive nature in me. Having played professional [Aussie Rules] football at a younger age I was missing competing. I was at a party one night and talking to a race car mechanic about how I’d like to drive, and he suggested he could assist along the way.”
With no-one on hand to teach Tony the basics, in the beginning he was left to figure it out for himself. “I knew absolutely nothing about racing,” he admits. “What it took to race a motorcar – other than when I’d drive fast to the airport when I was late for a flight! I got in and was completely out of my league. I didn’t know what ‘heel-and-toe’ was until about my fourth race – I worked that out really quickly.
“I really learned that there’s an art to this sport and it’s very much underestimated how much detail and skill level is required. But in those early days I was completely self-taught.”
All that changed, however, when Tony met this year’s Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup round two winner and fellow Australian Geoff Emery. “We’ve been mates for a long time now and we actually compete quite aggressively with each other back home,” says Tony. “We joined up as teammates and formed our own race team. I learned a lot from Geoff. He took me under his wing and really assisted me in my journey.”
Whetting the appetite
Hard work and dedication saw Tony build a successful motorsport career in his native Australia where he is highly regarded. But in 2018, the challenge of the unknown came calling in the form of the Cup, which was embarking upon its first season as a series tailored specifically to the privateer driver.
“When I finished the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia, where I won the Am championship, I was looking for something different,” he recalls. “I heard about the Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup round in Adelaide. Australian GT wasn’t going to Adelaide that year and it’s a circuit I love racing at. I really enjoyed how the Carrera Cup had an Am class, so hearing about the [all-amateur] Cup triggered my antennae. It persuaded me to go out and buy an Audi R8 LMS and do the Australian GT series in it that season, and also taste the Cup and see if it was something I’d like to do.”
On what was a dream Cup debut, Tony took pole position in his first-ever race with the series, going on to take victory in the second race of the Adelaide weekend. While he was unable to continue with the season that year, the Cup had caught his attention, particularly the one-make format: “I was committed to the Australian GT last year, but thoroughly enjoyed the Cup in Adelaide in 2018. I really liked the parity between vehicles – everyone’s in the same car. It really boils down to driver ability.”
Taking the plunge
Fast-forward to the start of the Cup’s eighth season in 2019, and when Tony arrived in Adelaide it was for the one home-event in what was to be his first-ever season of international motorsport. What lay ahead? Four completely unknown race tracks, including Suzuka, arguably the most challenging on earth, and ten hard-fought races amongst an evenly-matched and equally-determined field.
Having quickly bonded with the Cup drivers during his first Cup weekend in 2018, part of Tony’s decision to join for a full season was born of gentlemanly courtesy: “The guys came and raced in Adelaide, and I almost felt a bit obliged to return the favour. I thought, ‘let’s come racing at their tracks’. I think the quality of the field is really good. We’ve got some Aussies in the mix and there’s a good international flavour to the category.”
And so to Zhuhai, where Tony’s vigorous pre-race preparation for his debut there included a day on a simulator and several actual laps of the circuit in a single-seater car. The groundwork paid off and he was immediately on the pace, just four-hundredths of a second shy of pole for race two. Ultimately though, Lady Luck was not with him on his first appearance at the Pearl River Delta track, but there was no doubt he enjoyed the experience: “My first event overseas has exceeded what I expected – it’s everything plus more of what I was hoping for,” he said.
Tony has three more formidable challenges ahead in the form of China’s Shanghai International Circuit, Suzuka in Japan, and Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit.
“Shanghai’s a track everyone’s been to last year and it’s going to be a great challenge for me. That’s what this year’s all about – bringing some challenges to the table and learning new tracks,” he says. “Everyone tells me how good Suzuka is, and Sepang they tell me is awesome. I’m excited about all of them. They’re all Grand Prix circuits so they’re going to be great facilities, but looking at the circumference and the track map of Suzuka, it’s like an old slot car racing game, everything going under and over itself and all sorts of stuff.”
Though no stranger to Asia, travelling here several times a year on business, Tony is taking full advantage of his Cup season by taking a few days in each location and bringing family along to share the experience.
As well as a chance to travel around Asia with his family, Tony also enjoys the camaraderie of the Cup: “It’s awesome!” he says. “We’re all having a banter in the locker rooms and a beer at the hotel at night. It’s fantastic. I’m thoroughly enjoying it and so far, it’s vindicated my decision. Everyone gets along with each other and there’s a good healthy respect for each other. We play hard on the track and get along well off the track. It’s a very well-run category and it’s a credit to [Director of Audi Sport customer racing Asia] Martin Kuehl and his team.”
The Cup returns to the Shanghai International Circuit on June 1-2 with rounds five and six of the season.