At 16, Canberra race car driver Zach Bates doesn’t have his road driving licence, but he’ll take to the track for the first time at Mount Panorama in Bathurst this weekend in the Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia (TGRA) 86 series, running as a support category for round one of the Repco Supercars Championship.
The TGRA 86 Series comprises five rounds alongside Australia’s best drivers in the Supercars Championship, with grids of more than 30 cars ensuring tight, exciting racing.
Zach will compete in two practice rounds on Friday (26 February), followed by a qualifying round on Saturday morning and the first of three races at 1:05 pm that afternoon. Race two is at 8:55 am on Sunday, while the green light for race three is 11:25 am.
Zach’s debut at Bathurst will be a baptism of sorts, as well as a steep learning curve on the equally steep and difficult Bathurst circuit.
The Year 11 student at Canberra Grammar said his grounding in the rough ‘n’ tumble fundamentals of kart racing to the Formula Ford series has provided him with the platform to take on a track such as Bathurst.
Zach spent two years in the NSW Formula Ford championship, where he placed 2nd in both 2019 and 2020.
“Karting is where you learn all the basics, but Formula Ford is a whole other level. It’s a very technical form of motorsport, which lets you learn a lot about your response times on much more challenging race circuits,” Zach says.
Supporting Zach’s next step in the Toyota 86 is Seears Workwear, based in Fyshwick.
Owner Pat Seears is a keen motorsport fan and has backed other young Canberra racers in recent years, including current Carrera Cup driver Cameron Hill.
“It’s always been mum-and-dad as my key sponsors, as most of the teams at the grassroots level are family-based, so I was really happy that a Canberra-based company like Seears Workwear is now on board, and we hope we do them proud and get some good results,” Zach says.
Zach’s father, Rick Bates, has plenty of experience at Bathurst and said he is excited and proud for his son who will be the youngest driver in the field on the weekend.
“My advice to him is that you learn a lot more when you’re doing laps rather than being stuck in the sand trap or crashed into a fence,” Rick said. “He just needs to get the laps and get the experience he needs.
“He’ll be the youngest in the field, so there’s the excitement but there’s the worry also, but that’s all part of racing and I’m confident he’ll be able to do a good job on the weekend.”
While his cousins Harry and Lewis Bates continue to dominate on the dirt as pro-drivers for Toyota Gazoo Racing in the Australian Rally Championship, 16-year-old Zach is committed to tarmac racing, competing in a category of motorsport which is growing in reputation as the next step for any young Australian driver.
The TGRA 86 series is a grassroots, developmental pathway for aspiring race drivers, who also have access to mentoring from pro-drivers like Warren Luff and Steven Johnson.
Further races will be held during the year at Winton in Melbourne, Townsville, Sydney, Newcastle and finishing with the annual Bathurst 1000.
You can follow Zach Bates Motorsport on Facebook or Instagram and find race results from the weekend’s racing on the Toyota Gazoo Racing webpage. The races will be live-streamed on Fox 506 and Kayo for all three days.