UQ student Harri Jones is quickly establishing himself as one of Queensland’s up-and-coming motorsport stars, while achieving outstanding results on his way to an engineering degree.
Harri Jones doesn’t seem to notice the snarling engine bursts or the deafening rap of the impact wrench tightening the wheels of his glistening white Porsche 911 GT3.
His mind is processing the final instructions being barked at him through his race helmet.
He does his best to ignore the heat – it’s mid-January and the temperature has climbed above 30 degrees inside the car. It will only get hotter out on the track. He’s used to this pre-race routine. At just 19 years old, Jones has already established himself as a force on four wheels after taking out the Australian Formula 3 Championship in 2018.
But today is different. Today is the first time he has test-driven the Porsche after joining the McElrea Racing team as a driver in the 2019 Porsche Michelin GT3 Cup Challenge Australia series.
As he pulls the car out of pit lane and accelerates confidently down the Queensland Raceway track for his first laps, it’s obvious he already feels right at home.
Jones puts the car through its paces – hurtling down the straight in a blur and hurling the 460-horsepower machine into the tight corners. Ten laps later he eases the car back into pit lane to debrief with his team.
As both machine and driver cool down, Jones describes what it’s like to be behind the wheel at speeds of up to 250 kilometres per hour.
“There’s a lot going through your head just before a race,” Jones said.
“It can be quite nerve-racking, but it’s important to settle those nerves before you get out on the track.
“Things happen really quickly and you have to be switched on to ensure that you don’t crash, and that you’re leading the pack into the first corner.”
Despite the high speeds and the high stakes, Jones rarely feels scared before a race.
“These cars are built purely for racing,” he said while casually perching himself on the Porsche’s sleek bonnet.
“When you’re strapped in, it doesn’t feel like you’re travelling that fast. Everything seems to slow down and you get into a rhythm.
“But as soon as you make a mistake or something happens in front of you, that’s when you snap back to reality and realise how fast you’re actually going.”
Jones inherited his need for speed from his father, Peter, a veteran of the Queensland motorsport industry.
“Dad’s raced a variety of cars during his career, and he’s owned a few fun cars as well. As a passenger, I remember the adrenaline rush every time he put his foot down on the accelerator and I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since.”
But Jones didn’t follow the typical path into motorsport like many of his competitors.
While other drivers his age were honing their skills in junior go-kart championships, Jones was bumping and weaving his way across the country on the downhill mountain bike circuit.
“Mountain biking is very different to racing cars, but there are some similar fundamental aspects,” Jones said.
“Moving into motorsport at 15 – against kids who are usually hopping out of go-karts – had its drawbacks, but I’ve been able to claw my way back to their level.”
Jones began his four-wheel career in 2015 in the Queensland Formula Ford Championship, finishing second in the overall series before stepping up to the Australian Formula Ford Championship for the next two years.
He stepped up another class to the Australian Formula 3 Championship in 2018, winning the title at just 18 years of age.
He has raced on some of the world’s most prestigious tracks, including Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi and Mount Panorama in Bathurst, New South Wales, and was part of the winning PROsport Performance team in the 2017 Bathurst 12-Hour Class C race.
“There is no other track in the world like Mount Panorama,” Jones said.
“The walls are so close on the mountain and it definitely emphasises how fast you’re going.
“I was on the track with Australia Supercars champions like Craig Lowndes and Shane van Gisbergen, which was an experience I will never forget.”
While Jones is determined to follow in the slipstream of his idols, such as Lowndes and Australian Formula 1 superstar Daniel Ricciardo, he is also pursuing a combined engineering and mathematics degree at UQ.
Now in his second year at university, the former King’s College resident has maintained an impressive GPA of 6.85.
“I’ve had a strong interest in mathematics and science from a young age and felt that engineering was the degree that best suited me,” Jones said.
“Motorsport is centred around engineering. The team analyses data and goes through the car set-up after every session.
“My engineering background has benefited my driving. I’m able to understand and analyse the data that’s extracted from the car a lot better than I have previously, and I can provide quick and accurate feedback to the engineers I work with.”
But Jones is quick to point out that motorsport isn’t just about driving – it is also a business.
“I have to work closely with sponsors to secure funding for my racing, and I also work part-time for the team at McElrea Racing,” he said.
“Engineering is an intense degree and juggling my studies with motorsport can be difficult. In 2018, I was awarded elite athlete status by UQ, which was very helpful when exams and assignments clashed with races and events.”
Another commitment for Jones is staying physically fit, and he works closely with personal trainer Tim Just from Fluid Performance.
The training is paying off today at Queensland Raceway near Ipswich, where the temperature has reached 35 degrees.
“Not only is racing physically straining, but the temperature can reach up to 50 degrees inside the car,” Jones said.
“You have to train your body to cope with the physical demands of driving, watch what you eat, and stay hydrated.
“It’s usually your concentration that falters before anything else. And if you lose five to 10 per cent of your body fluid, you’re going to lose concentration pretty quickly.”