Who is Matthew Payne? Meet Supercars’ new hotshot
Saturday 16th October, 2021 - 12:30pm
Matthew Payne. A name unknown to most, but one which could soon take Supercars by storm in years to come.
The teenager is part of New Zealand’s latest crop of young talents looking to make a name for themselves on the world stage.
It’s been a meteoric rise thus far. Payne only set foot in a race car late last year but now finds himself on the brink of a full-time Repco Supercars Championship drive with the soon-to-be-known Grove Racing.
Born and raised in a small town south of Auckland, Payne has long been infatuated with racing since being given his first go-kart on his fifth birthday.
Payne quickly experienced the highs and lows of racing, as he recounted to Speedcafe.com.
“My first ever go-kart race, I was actually having a really good day,” said Payne.
“I was winning until I crashed and rolled. So that was pretty scary.
“My dad was sort of like, ‘Oh well, what do you want to do?’ I said, ‘No, I want to keep going’. So we actually got really serious about it.”
Karting would be Payne’s primary domain growing up, winning several national titles in New Zealand before making the jump to compete across the ditch in Australia and throughout Europe.
Payne’s rise in profile began at the beginning of last year. Ironically it was the COVID-19 pandemic that would set him on the path towards Supercars.
Having signed with big-name European karting team Birel ART, the then-17-year-old flew to Italy to begin his season.
Ultimately, it was short-lived, as Payne explained.
“Before I went over, the coronavirus thing was happening in China,” he recounted.
“I knew that travelling, people were wary about it. I was travelling and didn’t really think about it.
“I remember turning up to the Sunday of my second race and my mechanic was like, ‘The police are here. They’re thinking about cancelling the meeting’. I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He was like, ‘The virus’, I said, ‘What, coronavirus? That’s in China.’
“I remember my dad was there at the time, he came over the week before because he was amazed with how well I was going. He was super keen to come over and watch.
“At that time it was so easy, you could just jump on a plane and go there and if you wanted to come back you could within a day and a bit.
“I remember going to the Birel ART factory where I was living. On Monday, we were walking around Monza and we were reading the news and found out it [COVID-19] was in Italy. The virus was only in Italy, it wasn’t in any other countries apart from China.
“We went to the supermarket to buy stuff for breakfast and there was nothing. There was no meat, no water, no canned food. It was all gone. There was a person picking out bananas with gloves and a mask on. We thought the guy was crazy, and how wrong could we be.
“A couple of days later we left because it just got so bad. We were talking to Birel ART and they were saying the press was blowing it up. Then it just went from zero to 100 really quick in the space of 24 hours.
“My dad was going home on Wednesday, luckily we had a travel agent and she got me on a flight back to New Zealand. Obviously, everyone knows what happened next.”
At that point, it seemed Payne’s career was on the rocks. His drive in Europe was in tatters and New Zealand was quickly locked down.
Fortunately, New Zealand was able to get on top of the pandemic swiftly, meaning domestic motorsport was back in business in time for summer.
Under the guidance of ex-Supercars driver Michael Patrizi, who Payne had met a year earlier and raced for in the Australian Karting Championship, the Kiwi began working towards stepping out of karts and into cars.
Payne sampled a Formula Ford but quickly found himself looking at the Castrol Toyota Racing Series. Soon enough, Payne had locked himself in for the three-round 2021 season.
Around the same time, work was underway to figure out his next step after the Toyota Racing Series.
Despite being an unknown quantity, Earl Bamber Motorsport signed the 18-year-old as part of a new scholarship with Porsche New Zealand.
Payne soon proved Porsche right, finishing third in the New Zealand Grand Prix behind established Supercars names Shane van Gisbergen and Andre Heimgartner.
Only days after winning the series in his rookie season, Payne moved to the Gold Coast to contest Porsche Paynter Dixon Carrera Cup Australia for Earl Bamber Motorsport.
Payne’s first season racing with a roof over his head had had its ups and downs.
Like his karting debut, the second round of the season at Tailem Bend brought highs and lows. The Kiwi claimed his first pole position only to cause a sizeable pile-up.
He would go on to fight back to fifth in the second race of the weekend and then third in the finale.
It was a similar story at Townsville, claiming pole position only to stall on the start. He’d fight back to 10th in Race 1 before finishing third in Race 2, then claiming his first win in Race 3.
Now, the recently turned 19-year-old is in the frame to join the Supercars Championship with Grove Racing.
Since signing to the Grove Junior Team, the little-known New Zealander’s profile has grown.
Recently, Payne tested one of the team’s Nissan Altimas, and then its brand-new Ford Mustang Supercar, in preparation for a short but important remainder of the 2021 Super2 Series.
As it stands, Payne doesn’t meet the threshold to acquire a Motorsport Australia Superlicence on points. However, he may receive a dispensation, pending approval.
The time in which it’s taken Payne to go from junior single-seaters to Supercars isn’t lost on the man himself.
“I try not to think about it too much, but it’s huge,” he said.
“It just shows that with the right determination, skills, knowledge, talent, and people, that it can happen.
“There are people out there looking for people like me or Broc Feeney. He’s been taken on and I hope he does well.
“It’s so cool having someone like Stephen Grove and Brenton Grove… it’s kind of like what happened last year with Porsche, just taking on a young guy, not hugely well known.
“It’s cool that they’re willing to take that opportunity. It sounds a bit selfish, but I think that’s how the sport should be.
“There are so many drivers that are so ready for that next step and it’s a big step, but the only way you’re going to do it is by doing it.
“Grove next year I think is going to be huge for me. It’s that next step I needed to become that professional driver.”
Payne is in line to make his Super2 Series debut at Sydney Motorsport Park across November 19-21.