One in a series providing an inside look at drivers involved in the Mazda Road to Indy
When we look back on our lives, it’s often clear to see the path that led us to where we are today, the pivotal moments when we made the decision to choose one path or another. Young Australian Anthony Martin might someday look back on one such moment, when a suggestion from a mentor changed the direction of his racing life, sending him to America and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
“In December of last year,” said Martin, “we were approached by Mark Larkham (V8 Supercars announcer and board member of the Australian Institute for Motor Sport Safety), who suggested we do a test with the Mazda Road to Indy. We were a bit shocked at first – it was all the way over in America. But Mark is a well-known figure here so we took his word for it and did a test with John Cummiskey Racing in New Orleans. The test went very well. It was my first time driving a car with a bit of grip and I loved it from the first day. The team was keen to have me back for a full season.”
Starting in karts at the age of 13, Martin won rookie of the year honors and earned the West Australia Formula Ford Series title in 2013. He returned to the series last season and was exploring his options for 2015 when Larkham called. Needless to say, the amount of adjustment required to leave parents Michael and Lee-Anne and siblings Patrick and Caroline behind in Perth to come to America and join the USF2000 series was significant.
“The racing is so much different here, and the car is so much different than what I’m used to – but really, just about everything is different. Racing in America is very professional, with all the media and the spectators, so to be on this kind of level took some getting used to. There’s more pressure here and the competition level is much higher in America, with drivers coming in from all over the world. It’s the best of the best.
“It was also a bit of a culture shock. I hopped on a plane in Perth and it was 120 degrees, but when I arrived in Indianapolis it was 30 degrees and snowing. It was hard at first, going from one side of the world to the other and leaving behind friends and family, but I got a routine together and kept working at it.”
Martin’s plan was to learn the series as quickly as possible and perhaps get into the top 10 in the early races. The plan accelerated dramatically when Martin scored top-four finishes in both races at the season-opener in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Martin finished second at Barber Motorsports Park in April for his first series podium, in only his sixth race. He was only the second driver to break up the race podium juggernaut of sophomore drivers Nico Jamin, Jake Eidson and Aaron Telitz.
“The top three boys were hard at it, though I was able to move in on them over the last half of the year. Nico was too good for me but I was knocking on the door and was able to mix it up with them. All three are very experienced, since they’ve been doing it for a few years. They know the tracks and the setup. It was hard for us, since I was a rookie and we’re a rookie race team and I was the only driver on the team, but we did very well despite that.”
His season highlight came at the next race event, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, when the 20-year-old from Kalgoorlie earned a fourth and a third in two races at one of the world’s most famous racetracks. It’s a moment he won’t soon forget.
“Standing on the podium at Indianapolis was such a great feeling. That podium has so much history and to be a part of the history at Indy now is amazing. There’s been almost 100 years there and I love being a part of it and I hope I can be a part of it in the future.”
Martin credits Cummiskey and race engineer Louis D’Agostino for rookie season success that included five podiums and 14 top-five finishes in 16 races. When all was said and done, Martin earned a fourth-place finish in the title chase, took home Rookie of the Year honors and was named the recipient of the USF2000 “Spirit Award” given to the driver or team that embodies the "heart of a champion" as they aspire to reach their goals. As difficult as it might have been to leave behind so much that was familiar for so much that was unknown, his accomplishments and the support of his team helped make the transition remarkably easy.
“I’m lucky to have joined up with John Cummiskey. It’s a great team. We get together away from the track as well, have dinner and socialize. It’s good to have a team where you’re not just a client, you’re family, especially since we’re all learning together. John has so much experience and has so much knowledge and to be able to learn from him really helps me. I get on so well with my engineer, with the mechanics – and to have that relationship in my first year is so important.”
As he makes plans for 2016, the target is on Martin’s back as one of the early favorites for the USF2000 title and the Mazda scholarship.
“I’d like to win the USF2000 championship next year and win the scholarship. We just need to work on the budget. Everything this year exceeded my expectations. I didn’t think it would be on this kind of level. Mazda and Cooper Tires do such a great job; there’s nothing like this in the world. I think it sets a good example. There should be a distinct process leading up to the top level. To be a part of this is very special, and I can’t wait to see what the future brings.”