At the time of life when most of us would be slowing down, motor racing enthusiast and Matakana local, Warwick Mortimer has found another gear.
Warwick plans to compete in one of the worlds most famous and gruelling endurance races; the Le Mans Classic. As if that wasn’t enough, he has also opened a museum in celebration of New Zealand motorsport.
“Kiwis have achieved a lot over the years and I wanted to share my collection. It’s not open to the public, but if clubs or individuals would like to have a look they can contact me via Facebook,” Warwick says.
The museum is part of a new, purpose built, 3000 square metre, racing workshop facility on Takatu Road. A 1971 M8F Can-Am, from legendary Kiwi racer, Bruce McLaren, takes pride of place. Stabling 850 horses in the mighty 8-litre Chevrolet engine, means the car is staggeringly wide when viewed up close.
Next to the Mclaren sits a Surtees TS5 F5000 single-seater. Sadly, John Surtees died in March, but he remains the only man to win World Championships on both two and four wheels. American actor, James Garner commissioned the car from Surtees for a new racing series in 1969. Garner, the star of Grand Prix, fancied himself as a real-life racer. According to Warwick, he wasn’t half bad…for an actor.
Some of the cars are undergoing extensive restoration. Warwick is a perfectionist and a stickler for detail. Cars are being returned to their original colours and sponsor decals. Engines are being rebuilt both here, and in Europe. Warwick ensures that they can all roar to life, as they did on the start line, thirty, forty or even fifty years ago.
The Mortimer family’s love of motorsport started in the 1930s. Warwick’s dad, Neil, was a motorcycle racer. After the Second World War he switched to cars. Neil made sure his son and grandsons were brought up on a heady, octane fuelled mix, of dirt bikes and go-karts.
Warwick’s son Andre won this year’s BMW Race Driver Series. He received a standing ovation during the season closer at Pukekohe, after powering the M3 GTR past the entire field by lap eight. Impressive, particularly considering he had an eighty second handicap deficit.
Proud dad Warwick is definitely a product from the old school and worries about a generation brought up on i-Pads.
“Kids won’t have the tools to deal with life’s challenges. You have to do the hard-yards, get dirty and be roughed up a bit,” he says.
Warwick knows about doing the hard-yards. His work ethic and business acumen has enabled him to indulge his passion for motorsport. Selling his water bottling business in 2008 also helped bankroll his own Matakana based, racing team. Warwick uses his financial freedom to give emerging drivers like this year’s BMW E30 champion, Matt Griffin, what he calls; ‘a hand-up not a hand-out.’ In Matt’s case that means supplying the race car for the entire season.
The Mortimer team will be heading to the Grand Circuit in July next year to race in front of more than one hundred thousand spectators in the Le Mans Classic Series. The car Warwick and Andre will be driving was Mazda’s first prototype for Le Mans, built in 1984. The twin turbo 13B rotary, develops 500-horse power, but managed just 153 laps at Fuji before blowing a turbo. The car is currently in pieces at Takatu. Warwick’s two mechanical geniuses are attempting to get it ready for the 500 kilometre Le Mans Classic race.
“It’s the ultimate test for cars and drivers, and mechanical reliability is absolutely crucial. Hopefully we will get to create some more motor racing history.”
Photography: Louise M Photography