Motorsport: Stars join forces for Gold Coast 600

By Eric Thompson

F1 drivers are among big names to co-drive V8s, writes Eric Thompson.

Shane van Gisbergen and Italian co-driver Emanuele Pirro race in last year's Gold Coast 600. Photo / Mark Horsburgh
Shane van Gisbergen and Italian co-driver Emanuele Pirro race in last year's Gold Coast 600. Photo / Mark Horsburgh

A host of international open-wheel and tin-top drivers have descended on Surfers Paradise this weekend for the Gold Coast 600 to partner the regular V8 Supercars drivers in their cars.

This is the second weekend the drivers will hand over their keys to another in the hope they can keep the car on the track and off the wall. At least at the Bathurst 1000 the co-drivers had had experience of the track and a big V8, whereas this time some of the overseas imports haven't had much chance to acclimatise to a big banger.

However, the pedigree of the internationals can't be argued with. They come from Formula One, the world, German and British touring car championships, IndyCar, Champ Car, GT1, Nascar, Super Cup and endurance racing.

The Dan Wheldon Memorial Trophy will again be awarded to the best-finishing international co-driver. The trophy is named in honour of the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner killed in an accident in Las Vegas in October last year - just a week before he was due to join the Holden Racing Team on the Gold Coast.

TeamVodafone's Sebastien Bourdais won the trophy last year.

Eleven former F1 drivers are on the grid. The most experienced is German Nick Heidfeld. He will drive with David Reynolds, who had a blinding Bathurst 1000 pushing winner Jamie Whincup all the way. The other ex-F1 drivers are Mika Salo, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Gianni Morbidelli, Sebastien Bourdais, David Brabham, Lucas di Grassi, Justin Wilson, Franck Montagny, Max Papis and Stephane Sarrazin.

By winning at Bathurst two weeks ago, TeamVodafone's winning streak has been extended to 10. The victory by Whincup and Paul Dumbrell is the latest in the best streak seen in the championship since 13 straight race wins by the Holden Racing Team's Mark Skaife and Craig Lowndes in late 1998/early 1999.

The team are also well positioned for the Armor All Gold Coast 600 given they have the two winning international co-drivers from 2011 - Sebastien Bourdais and Richard Lyons - for this year's event.

Leading Kiwi driver Shane van Gisbergen is paired with highly rated Dutchman Jeroen Bleekemolen. Although he's not as well known here as the likes of Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal and Aussie single-seater internationals Will Power and Ryan Briscoe, Bleekemolen is a two-time former Mobil1 Porsche SuperCup champion and is a class winner in the Le Mans 24-hour race.

He's also raced in Australia before, behind the wheel of the Netherlands entry in the A1 World Cup of Motorsport series in 2007 and in this year's Armor All 12 Hour GT race at Bathurst in February where he finished second.

Two years ago van Gisbergen was one of the stars of the Gold Coast meeting, dicing with Jamie Whincup for the lead in the second race, He rates the Gold Coast event as one of his favourites.

"The atmosphere is always pretty cool and the racing's always close, particularly since they shortened it [the track] a couple of years ago," he said.

The other Kiwi driver in the top 10 in the championship is Lockwood Racing's Fabian Coulthard. He is paired with Nicolas Minassian, who has extensive experience in Le Mans and IndyCar racing.

Greg Murphy has a handy co-pilot in IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, who's quick in just about anything.

Team bosses will be a little concerned their cars are in unfamiliar hands as they have less than two weeks to turn them around before the next round of the series in Abu Dhabi, November 2-4.

- NZ Herald

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