For the last ten years, Andrew Waite has watched the guys he grew up racing against in go-karts go on to bigger and better things. Brendon Hartley, Shane van Gisbergen, Earl Bamber and Richie Stanaway lit up the national go-karting championship as teenagers in the mid-2000s. Waite more than held his own in such exalted company, winning a national title in 2005, but his career stalled before it really got started.
This weekend he finally gets the chance to test himself against some of the best drivers from this part of the world when he makes his debut in the Australian Endurance Championship at the Laser Plumbing & Electrical Hampton Downs 500. The 28-year-old from Auckland will team up with Hampton Downs owner Tony Quinn in the McLaren 650S GT3 in the 500 kilometre endurance race.
“I’d given up on racing at the highest level,” says Waite. “It’s been cool to watch guys like Brendon, Shane, Earl, and Richie all go well in different series around the world but when I was younger there was a bit of, I don’t want to say jealousy, but I wanted to be there as well.”
“To make it in motorsport you not only need a lot of talent, you need to be in the right place at the right time. After karting, I raced in a few different series in Australia and New Zealand but just as things were starting to take off for me the recession kicked in. Motorsport teams started cutting back and I had to come up with a backup plan.”
Waite did an auto-electrical apprenticeship, competed for a couple of seasons in the V8 Supertourers series and started working as a driving instructor. On his first visit to Highlands he got talking to the owner Tony Quinn and a few months later he landed a dream job as the Cromwell track’s resident driving professional.
Waite started working at Highlands in 2014 and since then he’s driven some of the world’s best cars.
“Lamborghini, Porsche, Ferrari, McLaren, Aston Martin — you name it, I’ve driven it. I get to drive a race car pretty much every day of the week and I absolutely love my job but taking customers for hot laps isn't the same as lining up on the starting grid for a big race. In some ways, it was nice not to have to worry about the uncertainty that comes with motorsport but it’s been great to get a few opportunities this year and I’ve grabbed them with both hands.”
Waite teamed up with Quinn and Grant Denyer for the Bathurst 12-Hour in February but didn’t get much seat time after Quinn was involved in a crash early in the race. A few months later, Waite got a text message from Wei Liang Chen, the owner of the PTRS team asking him to race in a new series in Asia, the FRD LMP3 Series.
“I’d raced in Formula Renault with PTRS seven years ago but this text came out of the blue,” says Waite. “You dream of opportunities like this and it was a great experience. I was driving a Ligier Le Mans prototype car which is like a cross between a single seater and a GT3 car. It’s very light and very fast and we were up against some top class teams and drivers.”
Waite and his co-driver Yann Clariay won two of the feature races in the four-round championship and finished third in the championship.
“The team was just hoping to be competitive this season and really have a go at the championship next year so we exceeded our expectations. It was a big relief to know that I could still do it. I hadn't raced at the top level for a few years but I was straight on the pace."
"The win in the third round in Shanghai was a standout. I came out of the pits in second place and the leader was 20 seconds ahead of me. I passed him on the last two corners of the last lap to take the win. That's been the highlight of my career and it was great to see how much it meant to the team.”
Waite’s performances in Asia cemented his place alongside Tony Quinn for Hampton Downs this weekend.
“It’s my first time racing in the Australian Endurance Championship and my first time racing in New Zealand for over three years,” he says. “If it wasn't for the racing I did in Asia, I’d probably be a bit more nervous, but the LMP car is a little bit quicker than a GT car so I’m confident I can jump in the McLaren and be competitive."
"Our main goal is to be consistent but the ultimate would be to get on the podium. Hopefully, I do a good enough job at Hampton Downs to keep my seat for Highlands. Who knows I could end up commentating at Highlands as I’ve done for the last few years!”
Waite is part of an online poll on Highlands Facebook page to decide the driver pairings for Quinn’s two McLarens at the Highlands 501 from November 10-12. Shane van Gisbergen, drifting superstar ‘Mad Mike’ Whiddett, Waite and Quinn will team up and Waite isn’t that bothered about who he partners.
“I’m just really looking forward to racing on my home track. In saying that, it would be cool to be in the same car as SVG. We’re good mates and we go back a long way but whoever I’m in the car with, it will be an incredible experience."
"There will be a bit of added pressure considering how many laps I’ve done around Highlands but I can’t wait. Regardless of what happens, it’s the best year I’ve had racing. I’ve had some amazing opportunities and it’s been nice to be able to focus on racing again.”
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