Former open-wheel star and GT3 race winner Matt Solomon will make his Australian GT Championship debut during the opening round of the season on the streets of Adelaide this weekend, the Hong Kong-based driver joining Eggleston Motorsport in the all-new Mercedes AMG GT3 in the team’s second entry alongside former championship front-runner Peter Hackett.
Solomon was scheduled to return to the highly competitive European Formula 3 championship this year, but a late decision saw the Australian-born Hong Kong native turn to study in Sydney. The decision to join the Eggleston team for what is likely to be a two-race program – largely supported by Solomon’s renewed association with AMG Customer Sports – was a late but welcome one.
“I’m obviously super-excited to get the opportunity to race at Clipsal in Australian GT, especially after such a long off-season,” Solomon admitted. “I finished off last season with a test for Mucke Motorsport (European F3), which went exceptionally well. I was amongst the fast guys at the test, so it was a very positive way to end the year. To top it off the team really wanted me to join them for the 2016 season.
“Over the winter break we tried to find the budget for the year, but after talking to our supporters and sponsors, we decided that it would be more sensible to shift our focus to GT racing. It’s also allowed me the chance to pursue my studies in Australia, which allows me to follow a career in GTs at the same time.”
Despite a competitive career in open-wheelers over recent years, the multiple Formula Masters China Series race winner and Double R Racing F3 pilot has enjoyed past success in GT competition, most notably winning as a 17-year old in his debut event alongside former Formula 1 champion Mika Hakkinen.
“I’ve enjoyed good success in GTs in the past, obviously my debut with Mika in Zhuhai in 2013 was a great way to start with victory, then the sprint races and the 12-Hour races I’ve done with Audi, in every case with great support from companies in China and Hong Kong. I’ve also had a great relationship with AMG, in China, in Hong Kong and now in Australia, so it was a sensible option for me to come down here and race in Australia, and for my career as a driver, probably the best overall move.”
So far as Clipsal is concerned, Solomon knows only what he has seen on television, but after a full European season of competing on circuits he’d never seen before – including street circuits like Norisring and Pau, and the season ending Macau Grand Prix – he’s not overly concerned about starting from scratch at Clipsal, although he understands the circuit needs a certain level of respect..
“I don’t have a lot of expectations going into the race. Obviously I want to do my best, but I’m going in with a completely open mind. I’ve been hearing about the Clipsal 500 for years, watching it on TV and following the V8s, so now having the chance to drive it is pretty cool.
“I’d dearly love to be able to run at the front, but the Mercedes AMG GT3 is a brand new car, so it’s a matter of taking it one step at a time, but I’m excited to be a part of the program and to represent my sponsors, Geelong Sales Company, it’s a huge honour to be driving for them and be given this opportunity.”
Whilst team-mate Peter Hackett will be joined by Dominic Storey as a two-driver entry, Solomon as a Pro 4 ranked driver, will drive alone for the three 40-minute races.
“I’ll be driving alone at Clipsal, but despite that it will still be the same job at hand to do the best I can in the stints that I have. There’s three races across the weekend, so I’ll try and score the best result. From what I’ve seen of the circuit and video footage from the event, the main thing is to just stay out of trouble, keep it clean and try and get around back markers as quickly as possible without losing too much time. I’m really going in with an open mind, and excited to be working with Eggleston Motorsport, it’s a great new relationship that I hope will deliver some fantastic results – I can’t wait to get on track on Thursday.”
For Eggleston Motorsport Team Manager Rachael Wagg, she’s excited to have Solomon join the team and looking forward to returning to the category after a two year sabbatical.
“We are really looking forward to re-entering the Australian GT Championship and with my experience having previously co-owned and managed the championship and Ben [Eggleston] being a former competitor we feel that we have a very solid foundation to build a successful GT team as we have done in both the Dunlop V8 Supercar Series and Kumho V8 Touring Car Series. We are thrilled that Matt has come on board with the team, and with his experience and talent behind the wheel we are confident we will be towards the pointy end of the field. For someone of his young age he has a lot of driving experience under his belt and we are sure he will learn the new car and track quite quickly.”
“I think GT racing in the region – especially in Asia – has been growing at a great rate of knots over the last few years and I think it’s important for the manufacturers to be in this market, so it made sense for me to be aligned with AMG Customer Sports and Mercedes to build on that program and deliver “a new hope” for the region,” Solomon added. “With this new direction – wherever that takes me in a few years time, there are exciting opportunities and I think with GT racing there are so many doors that can be opened in Asia, Europe or the US – it’s an exciting new opportunity for me which I have to build on, one step at a time.”
The two-car Eggleston Motorsport operation will be on circuit for the opening practice session on the Adelaide Parklands Circuit on Thursday morning for a very quick 20-minute practice session ahead of two qualifiers in the afternoon, then three 40-minute compulsory pit stop [CPS] races across the three following days.
Keep up to date with further announcements from Matt Solomon Racing across the Clipsal weekend by visiting; www.facebook.com/MattSolomon.Racing