Josh Burdon is the newest member of KCMG’s Intercontinental GT Challenge programme for the 2019 season. While maybe not a household name – at least not yet – those who’ve followed Burdon’s career arc know that he has incredible potential.
That potential was demonstrated best in the 2017-18 Asian Le Mans Series, when Burdon won pole position in the LMP3 class for all four races and led KCMG to wins in both races in which they finished – only to lose out on the title by a series of unfortunate mishaps in the last race in Sepang. But by then, his place as a star of the endurance racing future was secured.
And it was only fitting that KCMG could give their ace LMP3 driver a new chance, and a new opportunity to drive their number 35 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3, alongside two Japanese racing superstars – in two-time Super GT premier class champion Tsugio Matsuda, and 2015 Bathurst 12 Hour champion, Katsumasa Chiyo.
“This opportunity came about after my time in LMP3 with KCMG. I got along well with the team, we worked quite well together. And we had some solid results along the way – won quite a few races, and, there was a spot in the programme that needed to be filled. I was lucky to be selected to fill that spot,” said Burdon.
“They’ve been solid, obviously,” Burdon says of his teammates Matsuda and Chiyo. “They’ve brought a little more experience to the table. I hadn’t previously done a whole lot of racing in GT3 cars. So they helped me a lot to understand this sort of racing and this sort of car.”
The promise that Burdon has shown throughout recent years has made the results of the number 35 KCMG GT-R all the more shocking. Mechanical issues prevented them from achieving their potential at the first race of the season, the Bathurst 12 Hour in February, and the subsequent California 8 Hours at Laguna Seca Raceway. Both times, they had the pace to win, with Burdon’s average lap times right up at the top of star-studded GT3 grids.
Then, at the Nurburgring 24 Hours, Burdon was a passenger to a terrifying crash on the Dottinger-Hohe straightaway, when his GT-R was slammed by a GT4 driver who failed to slow for a Code 60 order on the fastest part of the Nordschliefe.
“Yeah, it has been a crazy season,” Burdon laughed. I hate to use the word ‘lucky’, and ‘unlucky’, because you kind of create a little bit of both, I feel, but this season has been extremely tough.”
“Especially because at times this year we have had so much promise, and at times we have had such a good pace! At Bathurst for example, at the beginning of the season, I feel like that race was ours to win or at least finish on the podium. We were running super strong all day, in the top three at half-distance, when I was in the car, and then the throttle sensor malfunctioned, so that basically took us out of the race. We finished with the fastest lap, so it was kind of like, just a little bit of, well, what could have been.”
“Laguna Seca, same sort of thing. We qualified on the front row, we had lots of speed, our race pace was good, but just niggly little issues with the car kind of prevented a result.”
“At the Nurburgring, that crash we had was not very nice, it was quite nasty… we were in a Code 60, I was slowing down behind a Porsche, we were all organized and then a guy in a GT4 was not really paying attention and just kind of ran in straight into the back of us. But so far this season, we’re making a lot of progress as a team, we’re going in the right direction, it’s extremely competitive out there. We’ve got everything there, we just need the ducks to kind of line up a little bit so we can finally bring a proper, solid result on paper.”
And now the IGTC trail takes Burdon to his very first appearance in the Suzuka 10 Hours with KCMG, though, with his recent experience racing across the Asia-Pacific, the young Australian has a bit of experience on the demanding figure-of-eight circuit.
“I raced here last year in Blancpain Asia in an Audi, and I also tested F3 here a few years ago. I love Suzuka, it’s not like some European tracks these days with lots of runoff. Here it’s a little bit more old-school, you get punished around here, and you also need to be committed. It’s very exciting, and I love this place.”
Growing up in Tasmania, Burdon had an aptitude for sport. He could have gone into football, basketball, or Australian Rules football. But instead, he followed his father and his grandfather’s paths into motor racing, from a very young age.
“I was quite lucky, my grandfather was racing, my father was racing, in local events and in stuff like this. When I was a baby I used to travel along with them, and I really loved it, it was so exciting. When I was seven, my father put me into a go-kart and while he didn’t really push me too hard, I did pick up the passion myself, and that was it! I got bit quite early, and my parents always supported me early on, trying to get into racing, which led me to leave school and continue my racing career.”
But to achieve the pinnacle of his young career to date, the third-generation driver had to venture far and away from home. In 2012, Burdon left Australia behind to pursue new challenges around the world, which ultimately led him to racing in Asia along the way.
“It’s all very strange, I had a very different sort of racing upbringing in the junior formula categories, compared to the traditional stepping stones. I wasn’t in a position, like quite a few people, where my family could financially support me, really. As a young person, that made it very difficult. When I was 18, I moved to France and got into contact with a French manager. I lived there with him and did some racing with him in Europe, then that took me to America where I was based for 18 months.”
Not in GT or single-seaters, but in NASCAR, where Burdon was 2nd in their European touring series. That led him to a one-off appearance in the K&N West Series, in Stockton, California.
“When I wasn’t doing a lot of racing at the time, my French manager had this crazy NASCAR dream! So we did two races at Stockton, California, it was completely wild and crazy, and nothing like I’d ever done before, but it was a lot of fun!” And then, eventually, I went to the Asia-Pacific. So it was basically just one opportunity, meeting one person, working with them, leading me on to the next thing. It’s taken me a few years, but it’s coming together.”
Things kicked off when Burdon won the Asian Formula Renault Championship in 2016, leading to his first chance in LMP3 when he finished 2nd in the FRD LMP3 Series of China, his first time racing for KCMG.
Just weeks away from his 27th birthday, Burdon is a young man with the world at his feet. He has established himself with KCMG, racing across three different continents. He could easily pursue opportunities back home in Australia, in Japan in Super GT, maybe even with a top team in the FIA World Endurance Championship, but for now, nothing is a certainty.
“I’m very open at the moment, for me, I’m really quite fortunate, and quite lucky to have a good group of people around me,” Burdon says. Things are moving very fast. Things are continuously changing. And new opportunities are coming up quite fast.”
“At the moment, I just take things year-to-year, and just doing a very good job for that year, do the best that I can to open up other opportunities. In the near future, I’d like to continue to be with KCMG, I feel like part of their family, I want to be a part of their future and the development and building towards their plans. I see my home here as far as my future.”
And regarding his and his teammates’ prospects for the Suzuka 10 Hours?
“We always feel quite confident, but this weekend, personally, I’ve got a good feeling! There’s a little bit of pressure involved, partnering with Matsuda and Chiyo – here in Japan, their home race. They have a lot of fans, they’re like superstars here! Just a little bit of pressure being their teammate, but I feel like we’re getting a box seat for a really good weekend!”
“There’s no excuses this weekend. We believe we’ve got our bad luck and problems out of the way. The team have raced this event before, they’ve had a lot of promise, they had a quick car. I’m feeling good, myself, everyone feels good. I feel like we should at least be fighting for a podium this weekend.”
And a podium at the Suzuka 10 Hours, certainly an overall victory, would kick start Burdon’s already incredible rise to prominence, succeeding and surpassing his family legacy and making his own name in the world of motorsport.