Imagine Grand Prix weekend in Melbourne. The city is full – the only hotel rooms left are $4,000 per night Airbnb rentals. On Sunday, 20 drivers compete for the inaugural Formula One victory of the year. They’re not the only drivers there; around 100 drivers will take place in different categories over the race weekend, and thousands of hopefuls are littered through the crowd, dreaming that they will make it.
“There are only 20 drivers in the world that are doing it, and a lot of guys who are as good, if not better…are doing other things because maybe timing, or luck, or something – the stars didn’t quite line up.”
22-year-old Matt Solomon knows the feeling exceptionally well, having raced at the Grand Prix in the Australian GT series. He finished first in race 3 and received line honours in race 4 at the 2016 event. His win was the team’s first ever victory in the Australian GT category, and only the second win globally for the Mercedes-AMG GT3 car.
It’s O Week, and Matt Solomon is at Courtyard. He’s undertaking a Bachelor of Arts at USyd, and was at a uni gym when his hat attracted the attention of a staff member.
“I was wearing one of the hats from one of the teams I’ve raced for, and [he] was like, ‘Are you a fan?’ I’m like ‘I’m actually a driver’”.
Quickly, Solomon became the first SUSF Elite Athlete Program Member for Motorsport.
Solomon first tried a go-kart at age six and was competing by the age of eleven. His father, from Geelong, had a massive interest in cars, which Matt inherited.
“He used to do hill climbs, was President of the MG car club and all that sort of stuff.”
Matt was born in Australia, living in Melbourne for three years before moving to Hong Kong. “Every year, November, we’d go to the Macau Grand Prix with dad, and back in the day where it was…relatively easy to get in to the pits,” he says.
The Macau Grand Prix is a world-renowned motorsport event. In places, the track is tiny, and prone to blockages. Combined with the youthful exuberance of many drivers, it is always a fast-paced and dangerous race.
“[I] met a lot of drivers when I was young, like sat on Nico Rosberg’s lap and [have] a pretty cool photo with him…so it was always, always had that background, and one of our mates [who raced]… said there was a kart track opening up.”
Solomon moved through karts, dominating in Asia as Hong Kong Junior Champion for two years in a row. He moved into open-wheel racing at seventeen, competing in Formula Masters China. It was in his first year in cars that he “got picked up by Mercedes-AMG to do a race with Mika Häkkinen,” a two-time Formula One World Champion.
The duo won their first race, propelling Solomon into the eyes of the motorsport world. Mercedes facilitated a move to Europe for the European Formula Three Championship.
When he returned, his family encouraged him to go to university and finish his education before further pushing his racing career. “At first, definitely, [I] really felt very detached from the sport and felt like I was drifting away a little bit.”
When pushed on these lapses of motivation, Solomon looked at the success of some of his peers from Formula Three. “Lance Stoll who’s in Formula One … guys like that who you see signing for certain teams or doing certain series – the grass always looks greener on the other side.”
At these times he was frustrated, with a nagging thought that “as much as I’m enjoying here, and as good as the opportunities are that I’m getting, it’s not quite what it was” being enhanced by social media.
Solomon’s former teammate Matheus Leist will contest IndyCar this year, the highest level of open-wheel racing in the US. “I beat him on track in every session we raced together.”
For now, Solomon’s focus is GT racing. “Just getting back into the scene and try and tick all the boxes that AMG need me to do, and hopefully when the time comes try and step up when I can.”
Solomon races in the GT3 category, which is emerging as a leading motorsport series across the world. Cars must be based on production road car models currently being mass-produced. This means that most major brands are represented, including Ferrari, Mercedes-AMG, Toyota, Honda, and Porsche. A lot of the teams are ‘customers’ of these brands, where “individuals buy the car [and] they want to go racing.”
“It’s turned into a very professional series, where these guys are hiring some of the best ex-Formula One drivers and V8 Supercar drivers to jump in with them and teach them and bring them closer to a more respectable lap time,” Solomon says.
Late last year he was welcomed back into Mercedes-AMG Customer Sports China and is awaiting a seat with a customer team. He says, given his half-Chinese background and upbringing in Hong Kong, “It’d be stupid for me to ignore [Asia] and go somewhere else.”
Solomon is keen to get back onto the open road: “If I had to give a goal it’d be to an official [Mercedes-AMG] GT driver, and I think I’m on the right track, but I have more bucket-list items than a specific roadmap, so like Le Mans 24h, Spa 24h, Nürburgring, the big races”.
As for his time at Usyd, “it’s been a really character-building couple of years”.