Former Supercars racer Paul Weel is back in the bush as he re-ignites his motorsport career.
The man who was lucky to survive a giant crash on top of Mount Panorama in 2008 is now back to enjoying his motorsport by driving a V8-powered Trophy Truck in off-road events.
He began his comeback earlier this year in the USA, has run at the front of two local events, and now has his sights set on the Finke Desert Race in 2021.
“Ultimately, the goal is to drive in the Baja 1000 in the states. And to win Finke, which is the Bathurst of off-road racing,” Weel tells Race News.
His return to motorsport has taken him full circle, as he started racing dirt bikes before graduating to off-road events when he was still a teenager.
“Back in 1997, when I was 17, I did the Australian Safari in a Nissan Patrol. That was the first time I ever raced on dirt, in a car,” he says.
Weel eventually upgraded to Supercars as his father Kees also took on a team-ownership role while the pair created the PWR cooler company that has now become a world leader with big deals in Formula One, as well as a growing footprint in military applications and with major motor companies who are switching to electric cars.
He has stepped back from PWR, concentrating instead on property development, but never lost his love for motorsport.
“Life is not too bad,” he says.
Life for Weel also now includes a stable of thoroughbred horses, a passion for his wife Emma and their two children, for elite eventing competitions.
“I’m still a team owner. I’ve got 10 horses. There is more money tied up in Emma’s horses than race cars,” he laughs.
“We have the opportunity to go to Europe and try to qualify for the Olympics. No, I don’t ride, we have someone who does that for us.”
Weel can look back now on his giant Bathurst crash, where he was T-boned at the top of the mountain, with the perspective of time and a little more age.
“It could have gone either way. At the end of the day I just think I was lucky. It wasn’t what we planned, but I got a nice helicopter ride.
“An accident like that takes a fair bit out of you. I was pretty much done when I stopped driving full-time in 2005. I had lost the enjoyment. And if you don’t enjoy it, or you’re doing it for the right reasons . . .
“I probably could have kept on doing that, but at that stage PWR was make-or-break. We decided to invest a lot money in PWR to build it, because we knew it would be a good business. We didn’t think it would become as big as it has, but we had to go for it.”
He says it’s now the right time, for the right reasons, to be back in off-road racing.
“I raced a Stadium Super Truck at the Adelaide 500 this year and decided to race in the Mint 400 in Vegas. I bought Toby Price’s Trophy Truck for the Finke.
“Then I did the Mint to see if I could race one of these things. We finished tenth. It was about eight hours in the car and it was a pretty taxing race.
“But it was more about the fun of racing. There was none of the political bullshit and people trying to back-stab you, like in V8s.
“At the end of the day, it’s what I grew up doing, racing motorbikes and then doing stadium off road in ’97 and ’97. It was more enjoyable. There is more camaraderie.”
He began his Australian comeback in Gundawindi, and was leading by two minutes when he had a fuel-pressure problem. Then came the Don River Dash, where he was leading comfortably until he lost a rear wheel.
“We ended up losing, ironically, a left-hand rear wheel at 170 kays. You know you’re alive when a wheel passes you at that speed.”
“ But it’s been quite good to do these couple of races before next year. It’s good to find these little issues with the truck. Over the next six months we’re go through the truck and rebuild it and get ready for next year.”
The big deal for 2021 is the Finke, in the desert near Alice Springs.
“It’s like the Bathurst of off-road. I’m not quite sure if we’ll do the whole championship, but Finke will be great. There are probably 10 guys who will be fast there. And Toby will be there.
“That’s will be part of the challenge. I think we’re pretty capable and if everything goes alright we could win.”
Weel is still relatively young at 41 and is enjoying the driving, the racing, and the technology in the elite Trophy Truck competition.
“I don’t know if I had the skill to start with. But it’s like riding a bike. This is a totally different type of thing,” he says.
“These trucks are amazing in the pounding they can handle. Your mind is telling the foot you should be backing off, but you can go incredibly fast.”
With COVID still causing problems, Weel knows what he wants for next year but is not sure it can happen.
“I’m looking at maybe, next year, doing something in America. Either building a new truck for America and keeping it over there or hiring one.
“Ultimately, the goal is to race the Baja 1000. I’ve talked to Toby about doing somtehing together as an Australian team, but with all this COVID stuff it’s been too difficult, so we will have to wait and see.”