Ten Questions with Jono Lester
Jono talks about his racing career, shifting gears in light of COVID and post career planning.
What’s your earliest memory behind the wheel?
Tearing around the pit complex at Manfeild in a poo-brown Daihatsu Charade when I was 7 or 8. Dad had bought it to keep me from annoying him at the workshop after school, where he operated his race team. I raided his sticker box and covered the thing in as many sponsor logos as I could fit – it looked horrendous!
How much do you travel during a typical race season?
A lot, but it varies from year to year depending on how many contracts I have around Asia. My busiest season to date was 2016 with over 400hrs in the air between May and November.
What is your favourite place to visit during your motorsport travels?
I have two, for different reasons. Japan for its fascinating culture, delicious cuisine and the synchronicity of new and old. Thailand for its laid back way of life, friendly locals and its crazy urban sprawl.
Speaking of favourites, which car and circuit stand out for you?
This is a question drivers get asked all the time. To be honest, in my opinion the cars and tracks you’re most fond of are those you perform best in. With that in mind, I’ll go with the Ferrari 458 GT3, the Phillip Island and Okayama circuits plus bumpy, wild street tracks at Bangsaen Beach in Thailand, and across the pond in Adelaide.
Why do you think Kiwi drivers have such a high rate of achievement on the world stage?
It’s certainly no secret that we punch about our weight. It goes for all sportspeople from New Zealand – we inherently have to work harder to get to the same level as our rivals. It serves us well in our professional careers as by developing this bloody-minded work ethic early on, we’re far better prepared to face the inevitable challenges that we face on the world stage. It also helps that we can race full-sized cars in NZ from the age of 12, compared to 15+ elsewhere in the world. My grandad bought that rule in during his time at MotorSport New Zealand, and it’s certainly paved the way for myself and countless others.
What are some of the greatest challenges that face aspiring drivers from a small country like New Zealand?
Money. This makes it even harder for drivers from a tiny island in the South Pacific. A wealthy family or backer here in NZ is a small fish on the world stage, so the millions required to make it to Formula One, Indycars, Supercars or even GT like I am doing is insurmountable for most of us, no matter how naturally gifted you might be behind the wheel. This is why it’s so important to nurture those who do help you, at any level. I’ve had support from companies including Blackwoods Paykels, Cuesko and Redpaths and in some cases these relationships have lasted more than a decade. I put a huge effort into these and dozens of our companies and individuals who helped me make it to a professional level in racing.
Did/do you have any idols or people that have inspired you throughout your career?
Growing up, you look up to your Dad and in my case, my grandparents were also a profound influence. I must say though, in my adult life the most profound influence has come from Rich Roll, a plant-based ultra-runner who’s story, podcast and mission to do better and be better is a daily inspiration to me.
What are you passionate about outside of driving race cars?
Animal welfare and the environment. This might seem paradoxical given my day job (the misunderstanding between motorsport and pollution is another story for another day) but my over-arching ethos is to live life ethically and compassionately, reducing the harm my own footprint has on our planet and all the living creatures that roam it.
How have you been affected by the COVID-19 crisis?
Well for one, I lost my job. I had to relinquish a firm contract offer in Japan and a couple of other deals elsewhere in Asia have gone begging too due to travel restrictions. Personally, I tried to make the most of lockdown by occupying myself with running, cooking, reading, doing yoga and learning some new skills, but I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t gotten to me. This situation we all find ourselves in certainly takes its toll on your mental health.
COVID-19 is a wake-up call to athletes that they can be sidelined at any time. Have you got a post-career plan in place for when you eventually hang up your helmet?
I do. I must admit that pre-COVID I didn’t, and this was something I’d been putting off for a while. I’ve had the opportunity since lockdown to upskill and become a registered insurance broker with the top brokerage in NZ, Broadbent Risk. I’ve been a client of theirs for the last 5 years. As you can imagine, the high risk life of a racing driver sent most insurance companies running, but Broadbent bent over backwards to secure me a life cover when nobody else would. I loved that about them, and I look forward to offering the same level of personal, one-on-one service to my own clients moving forward.