Super Black Racing owner Tony Lentino committed to team despite cancer battle
Super Black Racing's Tony Lentino is determined to beat his rare form of cancer, but the owner of the only Kiwi team in V8 Supercars knows he must plan for that not happening..
After five months treatment since his diagnosis with small cell lung cancer in May, a fortnight ago the Hawke's Bay-born 42-year-old was confirmed as being in remission.
Lentino is well aware, though, of the need to remain pro-active with a disease he says is contracted by just three per cent of people his age.
"We are not out of the woods yet and that's the reality, but I'm not going to just sit here and wait for this thing to potentially come back," he said.
"I've just got to keep hitting it and I've got some really neat treatments and things I can be doing to make sure this disease doesn't hit back on me.
"It was a shock and it certainly took me by surprise. That's why I've got to create a structure, in this race team and everything in life, that things can move on without me."
Internet businessman Lentino heads back to Melbourne for more chemotherapy after this week's New Zealand round of the V8 Supercars at Pukekohe.
Along with his health, ensuring a secure future for wife Emily and their two young daughters if the worst case scenario does eventuate is his priority.
The illness has also prompted Lentino to begin future-proofing the race team he would love to become a "real force" in V8 Supercars.
Early last month he announced the start of the Super Black Racing Foundation, the team's new funding arm designed to attract more corporate support and fan membership.
While he has almost solely funded the team since their impressive 11th on debut at Bathurst last year, Lentino says that cannot go on forever.
"I've set up such a structure that it can continue without me," he said.
"That's my wish for it, that is can self-sustain.
"I've been a bit like Santa Claus in year one, but moving into year two it has to stand commercially on its own feet. Sponsors need to join and that's what really makes the wheels go round.
"If you can get the right sponsorship and the right people behind it and grow the support of it, it can really last a long time ... that's the model we've got to get to."
Lentino says increased sponsorship for the team next season is looking positive.
They are also in the process of finalising a Racing Entitlement Contract (REC) to compete in V8 Supercars again next year and confirming who will drive their car.
A proud Kiwi, Lentino remains committed to only using New Zealand drivers and is highly-motivated to ensure the team is successful and still around for years to come.
"That's one thing I noticed after all my treatment for that bloody cancer, when I came back to New Zealand there was definitely much more awareness [about the team]," he said.
"When you see all the awareness and people starting to support the team, that kind of drives you to make sure the thing continues.
"You can see people are starting to resonate with the brand."
After a strong debut at Bathurst, this season has been a mixed one for Super Black with driver Andre Heimgartner 22nd of the 25 fulltime drivers in the championship.
But Lentino believes teams need a minimum of three years in V8 Supercars before they can expect to be consistently at the front end of the field and points to Heimgartner qualifying in the top 10 nine times this season as a sign of their speed.
Being with Prodrive Racing Australia, an association down to a close friendship between Lentino and Prodrive/Ford Performance Racing co-owner Rusty French dating back to when the former was a 17-year-old computer salesman in Melbourne, the vehicle hardware they have is also among the best.
Prodrive-powered FPR lead the teams championship, while team driver Mark Winterbottom heads the individual standings.
Eventually having two Super Black cars on the grid is a primary goal and Lentino said he would love to have one of the leading Kiwi V8 Supercars drivers, like Scott McLaughlin, Shane van Gisbergen or Fabian Coulthard, join the team in the future.
For now, though, the focus is very much on Pukekohe.
Lentino can't wait to hear the Kiwi anthem, which will be sung by wife Emily, and see New Zealand fans get behind the No 111 Falcon.
"It's been the one we've been looking forward to all year. It's our home ground so it will be really special," he said.
"Whatever our performance is, at the back or front of the field, the fact is there is a black car representing the home crowd so it's going to be neat."