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Apr 4, 2017

Runner turned Racer


John Steffensen is one of Australia’s fastest ever people over 200 and 400 metres—but this year he’ll be hoping he even faster over longer distances.

Much, much longer distances. He’ll be talking kilometres—rather than metres.

But the two-time Commonwealth Gold medal winner and 2004 Olympic Silver Medallist in the 4x400m relay isn’t turning to marathons—it’s motor racing that has got one of Australia’s most recognised athletes’ competitive fire burning again.

Steffensen will make his major circuit racing debut this weekend at Sandown, racing a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Car in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge presented by Pirelli, linking with Zagame Motorsport to kick-start a second career in circuit racing and filling a life-long passion for all things four-wheels in the process.

“I’m a massive rev-head, I love cars, so this ticks too many boxes for me, man!” Steffensen said.

“To say I’m keen is an understatement … this is the closest thing I get to racing these days but I don’t have to punish my body any more!”

Steffensen blazed to a pair of Commonwealth Gold Medals at the MCG in 2006, winning the 4x400m relay and then individual gold in the showpiece 200m men’s final. It was the pinnacle of a glittering athletics career that included being part of the Silver-medalling team at the 2004 Athens Olympics—also in the 4x400m relay.

A growing relationship with former Bathurst 1000 podium finisher Cameron McConville has brought Steffensen into the Zagame Motorsport fold, where he will race a Porsche GT3 Cup Car in this year’s Porsche series.

The Australian Grand Prix last year turned out to be the turning point for his ambitions to go car racing to launch into top gear.

“I met Cam [McConville] this time last year and we spoke about the possibility—for it to be coming true this April is really cool, man, I love racing. I’m very competitive!” Steffensen beamed.

“I did the Speed comparison test here [at the Australian Grand Prix] last year and Cam was racing the Formula 1 car and said ‘look, I love motor racing’. He said he’d help me get started and from there we just kept bumping into each other.

“Cam developed the Zagame Motorsport team and called me up and said ‘John, there’s an opportunity there,’ and I said ‘sign me up,’ and here we are.

“It’s all kudos goes to Cam and what they’ve done. Bobby Zagame has been great and all kudos to what they’ve done. It’s a great group of guys and lots of fun to be around. All our testing has been loads of fun and we feel like we’re going well—it’s up to me to steer it home!”

The 34-year-old, originally from Perth, oozes with passion when entering into a discussion about motor racing. His eyes go wide, his hands and arms gesture the traditional race driver gestures and he speaks with conviction about his desire to go and race to keep the competitive fires burning.

“[It’s] 100% why!” he grinned. “I retired because the body couldn’t do it anymore and I just wasn’t good enough. But mentally you gather all this information about how to compete and that’s how it goes in life. Your mind is sharp but your body can’t keep up.”

“I feel like, even working with the boys though testing that I’ve been able to use a lot of what I know through running. I’ve been able to communicate with the engineer and Cam and the feedback has been good. It should be great for my vocation as an ex-athlete.

“This is purely for me to enjoy myself … to say I’m keen is an understatement!”

Words: Richard Craill
Images: Joel Strickland