Q+A with Jono Lester – PETRONAS Syntium Team’s new driver

Written by Cheryl Tay on . Posted in Cheryl Tay Blog | Blog Post of Cheryl Tay

With a family so deeply involved in motor racing, Jono Lester attended his first race event when he was merely two weeks old – at the 1990 New Zealand Grand Prix where his father Richard came in second. His grandparents Rob and Wendy built the Manfeild circuit in 1973 and operated it till they retired in 2003. During this time, Rob became a multiple New Zealand champion in Formula Vee, winning his last championship at 59 years old. 


Upon retirement, Richard started working as a driver coach and helped many racers achieve successful careers in Formula One, V8 Supercars and European touring car racing. Besides his father, Jono’s Aunt Debbie also attained milestones in Formula Ford, Formula Pacific and endurance touring car racing.


Jono grew up around racing but the desire to race only kicked in during teenhood at the age of 13 and he began racing in Formula First, a single-seater series that precedes Formula Ford, in 2003. He came in second in his first ever race and went on to finish overall second in the series. Significant highlights of Jono’s racing career include becoming the youngest Porsche Cup racer in the world at 16, then the youngest Porsche Cup race winner at 17. Jono was named New Zealand’s Young Driver of the Year in 2007, a 2007 graduate of the prestigious Elite Motorsport Academy and a 2008 President’s Scholarship winner.


In 2009 he assisted Porsche AG in developing their new GT3 race cars in Bahrain and in 2010 he was awarded a Porsche Motorsport Talent Scholarship after a worldwide shootout in Italy against 11 other young drivers. He then competed in the Monza round of the Porsche Supercup. In 2011 Jono represented Team New Zealand at the World Time Attack Challenge and for 2012, he was offered the incredible opportunity to drive for PETRONAS Syntium Team in Super Taikyu.


PETRONAS Syntium Team founder and owner David Wong of DWA Motorsports has been a great supporter, mentor and advisor to Jono since he was just 14 years old.


We go one-on-one with Jono..




Q: How does it feel driving for PETRONAS Syntium Team and David Wong?

A: It’s an incredible opportunity for me. David has been a great supporter, mentor and advisor to me since I was just 14 years old, and it’s always been a dream to become a part of his successful racing empire. There’s nothing better than joining a new team knowing that they’re immediately capable of winning races and championships, so this season is very exciting for me.


Q: Who is your inspiration?

A: I take a lot of inspiration from my family and in particular my grandfather. I don’t look up to many drivers as such, though if I had to choose one it would be Richie Stanaway. He’s one of my closest friends and having seen all facets of the guy I have to say he’s our country’s best shot of reaching Formula 1 and if so it will be 100% down to hard work, talent and dedication.


Q: What are some of the challenges faced? How will you overcome them all?

A: There’s a lot of pressure in racing. When so much money is put into you and what you’re doing, it’s difficult not to feel the pressure not to let your sponsors/backers down. It’s also a sport that’s a lot like golf. You have a bad round, sometimes you question yourself. But when you hit that one good shot (golf metaphor!) you reinstate your confidence. A very select few drivers have the brutal arrogant confident to never doubt themselves. It’s a good skill to have for them. As a rookie, you need to prove yourself very quickly to your team mates and engineers, and have a good relationship with them so they will work together with you as a team. That’s very important, especially in endurance racing.


Q: How do you think racing helps your on-road daily driving skills?

A: Mostly, it teaches you how safe motorsport actually is. In racing, those around you are all capable and trustworthy. On the road, people take for granted their responsibilities and it’s quite scary sometimes! Thankfully, racing teaches you the awareness to be ready for anything!


Q: Why are advanced or defensive driving courses important even for non-racers?

A: I think these courses give people more respect for the cars, roads and fellow drivers out there. You’re never safe, so defensive driving is a great tool to arm drivers with the skills to avoid hazardous situations.


Q: What are the three qualities that a racer must have?

A: Passion. Intelligence. Work Ethics.


Q: Tell us more about where you come from – is New Zealand a good place for drivers?

A: Definitely. We have a strong motoring heritage in New Zealand and are allowed to begin competing in full race cars at 12 years old. So, by the time drivers are 16, they are ‘experts’ and very experienced in driving. Ask any European driver that has visited NZ to race, it is very competitive!


Q: What would be your ideal automotive experience?

A: Having the back roads of New Zealand all to myself with no police and speed cameras! We have some amazing scenery and terrain.


Q: What are your dream cars if money is no objection?

A: Audi RS6 Avant. I’m not into flashy Ferraris or Lamborghinis. The RS6 Avant is super quick, has real style and class and you can still fit stuff in the boot when you head away for the weekend!




Q: What do you do when you are not racing?

A: Mostly, I spend it in the gym! I have a company manufacturing and selling sports and nutritional supplements called Hornet Nutrition. My father and I also run a race wear company called Vortex Racewear, making race suits, boots and gloves for the New Zealand market. Additionally I work freelance in graphic design and PR and do as much driver training as possible!


Q: How and what do you do to improve your racing?

A: I’m engaged in fitness training every day of the week. It’s a passion of mine and I know that the more physically and mentally fit you are, the more ready you are to cope with the pressures of racing both sprint and endurance events at your peak. To keep motivation levels up, I compete in a lot of long-distance multisport events such as trail running and marathons. I’m also very conscious of the importance of building a brand around yourself. Motorsport is a business more than a sport now so we need to think of it that way. It’s very important that I promote, advertise and market what I’m doing to the world. It’s a big plus for my sponsors that I focus on this also.


Q: What sports do you engage in?

A: Multisport events such as trail running and long distance running, and also charity fitness events. In 2009 and 2010 I put together a charity fitness event where a few other drivers and myself fitness trained for 40 hours nonstop! It was great fun and a good challenge.


Q: What sports do you watch?

A: Motorsports, of course! Also football (soccer) – I’m a big fan of Liverpool despite recent troubles within the team!


Q: What do you do in your free time?

A: Spend time with friends out at dinner, socialising and weekends away at one of the many beaches on the east coast of New Zealand.




Q: Is it essential, or at least useful, to have a partner who shares or understand your passion?

A: Definitely. That’s why girlfriends traditionally haven’t lasted that long! But my current partner is terrific, she urges me to pursue my passions rather than holding me back.


Q: Is she into motorsports as well? How does she deal with it?

A: She is slowly learning about motorsports and how the inner sanctums operate. For many people it’s quite a shock. Motorsports is a very solitary sport; you have to be very selfish to succeed. So to have someone who can put up with all of my is very nice!


Q: Do you think sharing the same passion strengthens the love?

A: I’m not sure – I haven’t come across a girl who loves motorsport quite like me yet!




Q: What would you like to be doing in five years’ time?

A: On the track – to be a full0time professional motor racing driver competing in endurance racing, wherever in the world that may be. Off the track – to have a flourishing business portfolio than can see me through to retirement when I get too old to be fast in a racing car anymore! ;)


Q: What are your long term plans?

A: My long term goal for motor racing is Le Mans and sports prototype racing.



Name: Jono Lester

Age: 22

DOB: 8 December 1989

Nationality: New Zealand

Birthplace: Palmerston North, New Zealand

Residence: Auckland, New Zealand



Cheryl Tay

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Singapore’s only female full-time motoring and motorsports photojournalist. Independent automotive consultant and prominent local motorsports personality Cheryl Tay is uniquely passionate about all things cars and motorsports. She also has a strong passion to share her interest and knowledge, hence having a dream to become the ‘Oprah Winfrey of cars and motorsports’ and create a multimedia platform for her sharing. - A female in a male-dominated world, Cheryl Tay is Singapore’s only female full-time motoring journalist and motorsports blogger and she regularly writes for prominent titles in Singapore, Asia and internationally. (See full list of titles that Cheryl Tay writes for here.)

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