Jamahl takes a trip into the fast lane with Supercars’ Team Vortex

It has been a big few months for Jamahl Byrne, the 21-year-old technician with Hansen Ford and Mareeba Toyota in Mareeba, near Cairns, who won the prestigious MTA Queensland Apprentice of the Year Award for 2016.

Part of the prize for winning the Apprentice of the Year accolade was the opportunity to work with the Triple Eight Race Engineering Team Vortex at the Townsville round of the Supercars Championship. That opportunity was organised by team sponsor, and MTA Queensland corporate partner, MTAA Super, and on the weekend of July 7-9, at the Watpac Townsville 400, the young technician and motorsport fanatic did indeed get to work with the elite Team Vortex crew who keep Craig Lowndes’ Holden supercar primed and ready to race.

It was, said Jamahl, a fantastic experience.

“It was certainly eye-opening. And it was surreal walking into the garage for the first time,” he said. “I have followed motorsport all my life. It’s my dad’s passion too and we spent a lot of time following V8 Supercars, so to walk into that garage and to be shoulder-to-shoulder with Craig Lowndes . . . it was amazing.

“We had our meals in the catering tent and at various times I was sitting with Jamie Whincup, Shane Van Gisbergen and, of course, Craig Lowndes. It was pretty amazing to sit there, have a conversation with him and know I was talking to one of the most famous people in Australia.”

Meeting the greats of the sport was only part of what made the weekend so memorable, of course. For a young technician who loves racing, working with one of motorsport’s elite pit crews was pretty special – and pretty busy.

“It was quite hectic,” said Jamahl. “On the first day, I was helping a lot with tyres and getting the sets ready for the weekend. They had seven standard sets of tyres, plus two wet sets, plus a set they had from the race prior. So, there were about 10 sets of tyres and we had to get those set up and ready to go. I worked quite a lot with the tyres – grabbing them whenever there was a set-up change, scraping the rubber off, measuring the depth to make sure they were still usable and so on. I was also tasked with inserting the fan into the front bumper during stops and set-up changes and, of course, completing a lot of apprentice-type duties such as cleaning the car and the workshop.”

While being a tradesman and working in the industry is, obviously, excellent preparation for a move into motorsport, there is a level of intensity within the sport that you just won’t find in a normal workshop. For instance, while being quick and efficient at your job is always important, in a motorsport setting that expectation is taken to a whole new level.

“The prior work I have done does line up a fair bit, of course,” said Jamahl. “However, a Supercar is designed to come apart and go back together again very quickly, so although the principles may be the same, the speed at which things are done, and have to be done thanks to time constraints, is very different. That is why everything is so organised, efficient and ready to go for when the car comes back into the garage. For example, to change a set of rear shock absorbers, the team were given just two minutes! Everyone is under the pump when it comes to changes and stops.”

Jamahl has been a motorsport fan since he was a kid, and working at the top of the sport has been a dream for a long time. The Townsville Supercar event allowed him not only to get a taste of what working in the ‘fast lane’ is all about, but gave him the chance to learn from the best and know that achieving that career goal is not just wishful thinking.

“The team were very accommodating,” he said. “A lot of them worked in dealerships at some point in their career so they understood what was going through my head and how the transition into motorsport works. They really were great in helping me, in talking to me and showing me what to do, and I did speak to one of the crew who gave me a few pointers on how to get into the sport. One of the most crucial things is actually being able to get your foot in the door and that is what this weekend allowed me to do.

“Most people in regional and rural towns don’t really get the opportunity to do this sort of thing so it was special and a great learning experience. I can’t thank MTA Queensland and MTAA Super enough for giving me this opportunity.”

For the moment, Jamahl is back to work with Hansen Ford and Mareeba Toyota and is as focused as ever on achieving his goals there. However, there will always be the aim of one day working once again in elite motorsport.

“I’ll work at continually improving,” he said. “I’m not quite at the top as a Ford and Toyota technician yet and I will work hard to become as highly qualified as I can for those manufacturers. After that, I do plan to move into other aspects of automotive, perhaps auto electrical.

“One day there may be the option to move into motorsport. That will always be the dream and working with Triple Eight at Townsville can only be a positive on my CV!”

MTA Queensland looks forward to seeing where Jamahl’s career will take him.

21 Jul 2017