Morris Finance Brand Ambassador Jaxon Evan's rise up the Porsche pyramid is a journey inspired by his family’s roots. From humble beginnings back in New Zealand to now living out his dream racing in Europe.
Sitting in his Stuttgart apartment, Porsche driver Jaxon Evans is planning to celebrate his 25th birthday. He has spent the past three years living in Germany, after winning a shootout to become enrolled on Porsche's junior programme. The prize - a contract with one of the world’s biggest car manufacturers - came just four years after he raced a car for the very first time.
Evans stunned the motor racing world in 2021, finishing runner-up in the highly competitive Mobil 1 Porsche Supercup, the series supporting the European rounds of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship.
In 2019, Evans left Australia to take on the very best Porsche racers in the world, with little knowledge of European circuits and limited experience behind the wheel. It’s an extraordinary achievement, even more so, when he reveals a secret about his past: “Everything I’m doing now, every lap I race and even this conversation we’re having, would not have happened if I hadn’t been adopted.”
At just eight miles long and two miles wide, Rotuma is one of the smallest inhabited islands in the world. With golden sands, crystal clear waters, and verdant palm trees, it's the picture postcard embodiment of paradise. Situated in the South Pacific, the 2,000 or so dwellers of this hot and humid island couldn’t be more isolated. Located 3,000km east off the coast of Australia, it was originally discovered by the British in 1791, looking for the mutineers of HMS Bounty.
Rotuma remains remote today, as the locals won a vote to prevent tourists from visiting this idyllic haven. Life on the tiny island, some 600km north of Fiji’s largest settlement, is rudimentary with an economy driven by the export of coconut oil. Amid such an unhurried lifestyle, it’s hard to imagine one of the island’s descendants has developed such a taste for speed.
“It’s in the middle of absolutely nowhere,” says John Evans, Jaxon’s adopted father. Evans Sr, 56, is describing Rotuma while at his office desk in his garage workshop, in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia.
John Evans has been involved in motorsport his whole life. The New Zealander lived not far from Manfeild, the racing circuit named after former F1 racer Chris Amon. Evans worked as a mechanic for Richard Lester, the son of the man who had built Manfeild in the early 1970s. Richard’s sister Deborah also raced and John and ‘Deb’ married in 1987.
“The whole family are racing nuts,” says John of the Lesters. Deb stopped racing in the early 1990s following a big Formula Ford accident where she was t-boned and barrel-rolled four times. With severe back and neck injuries, Deb called a halt on her own racing ambitions and she and John decided to start a family. But after eight years of expensive and unsuccessful IVF treatment, they decided the time had come to adopt.
Deb’s grandfather had been a police commissioner stationed in India and was subsequently posted to Fiji long before the Pacific nation’s independence from the UK. As a result, her family grew up on the islands and had close links with the locals before emigrating to New Zealand.
One morning John and Deb were given the shock of a lifetime.
“One of the daughters of a Fijian family we knew, had three children,” says Deb, “and informed us she had fallen pregnant on [I]purpose[i] as a gift for us… You have to picture the world in which this family lived in Fiji. The village has shacks made with corrugated roofs and mud floors. They bathe in the river and dig holes to use as a toilet. It’s all very primitive and they thought they could just gift us a baby. Fijians consider one of the worst things for a couple is to not be able to conceive. She was six months pregnant - you can imagine our shock.”
After some fraught weeks sorting paperwork, passports, and visiting the High Court in Wellington, John and Deb returned to New Zealand as parents to baby Joshua.
A little over 12 months later, a call from a social worker revealed a part-Rotuman, part-Kiwi newborn baby was in need of a home, and the Evans family adopted Jaxon. Four years on, a Samoan baby girl had gone into foster care and Molly became younger sister to Jaxon and Josh.
“We’re not normal,” says John Evans. “We’re a fully multi-racial family and when we go out to a restaurant, people look at us because I’m short, fat and going bald and Josh is the size of a small car. He is 120kg but can sprint like a gazelle and played competitive rugby, until an injury. Molly played in the Samoan Under 21 Netball World Cup team and Jaxon is setting the racetracks alight in Europe, but none of it’s hereditary.”
When Jaxon was nine, the Evans family moved to sports-mad Australia, where the youngsters were allowed to let their passion for competition flourish. Jaxon caught the bug for motorsport, watching his cousin Jono Lester race single-seaters and when he got his own chance to drive a kart at the age of 11, his Dad, John, struggled to get him to stop.
“Everything sprung from that first moment I drove a kart,” says Jaxon today. “There wasn’t a grand plan, it was a father-son thing.”
After karting for fun, Evans entered the New Zealand KZ2 Kart Championship in 2014 and finished runner-up. Then came a moment in which his life changed forever. He was invited to test the real deal: a 450bhp Porsche 911 Cup car, capable of 0-60mph in four seconds, with a top speed of 170mph. The venue was the super quick Queensland Raceway, but aged 17, Jaxon had barely driven a road car.
“The night before I was so nervous because I knew I was being given the keys to a Porsche,” he says. “ I shit my pants when I first drove out of the pits and I had to learn how to heel and toe with the clutch, it was something I had never done before.”
His father John has a clear memory of that day. Jaxon’s aim was just to get used to the car’s handling and braking points. Then in the final hour of the day, he put a few laps together in the McElrea Racing-run machine. At the end of the session the owner of the Porsche, Andy McElrea looked at his stopwatch, tuned to Jaxon’s father and said: “You’re screwed mate, he’s fast.”
For John, it was the realisation this was the start of an expensive future. Jaxon had beaten a benchmark lap, put down by one of the regular Porsche drivers, by an incredible two seconds. It was the start of an extraordinary career.
Within a few years, Jaxon had claimed the Australian Porsche Carrera Cup Championship with six wins and eight second places. At the end of that remarkable season, he headed to Europe to face-off against 11 other racers to determine which one would emerge top of a gruelling three-day assessment.
Evans emerged the winner, picking up a Porsche Junior contract and a cheque of €225,000 towards racing in Europe for 2019. In the following two years he became the German Carrera Cup rookie champion, won the French Championship and was runner-up in Supercup in 2021.
To achieve such accolades, with his limited experience was an amazing achievement, especially when you consider Jaxon was destined to grow up on an island where there are few roads, let alone cars. If he hadn’t have been nurtured by the Evans/Lester families, then who knows in which direction his life would have taken? Certainly not to the elite racing circuits of the world, which earlier this year included the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hours.
“When I did some racing in New Zealand, people would mention the Lester family and say to me that motor racing is in the genes,” recalls Jaxon. “But I had to laugh, because people didn’t know the truth. It’s crazy to think that many racers come from privileged backgrounds, but for me it was completely different.
“I guess a lot of people who travel to Fiji don’t realise it’s a third world country and the living conditions for nationals are far from ideal. If ever a natural disaster strikes that part of the world, then homes are destroyed, but the locals know no different.
“Although my birth mother came from Rotuma, I’ve never been to the island myself,” says Jaxon. “I’ve only zoomed into it on a map as everyone else does. And I would like to go because the island is part of me.
“People ask if I’m sad about being adopted but I sometimes feel bad about saying ‘no’. Everything I’m doing now wouldn’t have happened, I don’t think I would have even liked motorsport or known much about it. It’s crazy when you think about it.”
A descendent of a rural Pacific island who has a gift for racing cars, opens a fascinating debate over God-given talent over a nurture for excellence. The fact Jaxon’s siblings were also elite athletes, is a considerable testament to their adopted parents: John and Deb Evans.
“The motto in our family is ‘don’t sit in the back of the bus, when you can drive the bloody thing,’” says John. “We didn’t care what sport it was. Could have been lawn bowls, we’d go and watch it. And all three of our children, Josh, Jaxon and Molly were all unbelievably sporty. But I wish Jaxon was good at lawn bowls, it would have been cheaper.”
Jaxon adds that having people around you, family and friends, that support and encourage your hard work and efforts will enable you to achieve seemingly impossible goals.
“I’m lucky that I did something I enjoyed from a young age,” he says. “But how someone has a talent that goes beyond something you can train - and how I got to that stage to able to perform like that in a car, I don’t think we’ll ever know how that happens."
In the wake of Covid, Porsche reduced their young driver contracts, including that of Jaxon, but this year he has performed brilliantly in the Mobil 1 Porsche Supercup, finishing runner-up for the Martinet by Alméras outfit against a very competitive field.
In addition, Evans has also competed in the FIA World Endurance Championship with Proton Competition, teaming up with his flat-mate Matt Campbell and team owner Christian Ried, finishing third overall in the GTE class. At this stage Evans’ 2022 plans are uncertain, but he would arguably start favourite for the title if he committed to another season in Porsche Supercup.
Unfortunately, as Fiji does not have a motorsports federation, he cannot acquire a licence to compete under a Fijian flag, so for now, he continues to race as a New Zealander. But look closely on the back of his crash helmet and there are three little flags, those of New Zealand, Samoa and Fiji - which represent his parents John and Deb, sister Molly and brother Josh… his family.
Author: James Roberts (October 2021)
For more information please visit: jaxonevans.com