Kiwi star gives up going round in circles and opts for adventure in the forest

After turning his back on V8 racing, New Zealand racecar driver Shane van Gisbergen last weekend strapped himself into a Group N Mitsubishi Evo 9 rally car courtesy of Andrew Simms Mitsubishi.

Driving on the closed roads of the Maramarua Forest under the watchful eye of experienced rally driver Chris West, Van Gisbergen impressed and slightly surprised those who were watching, showing good car control at speed on dirt.

"We expected Shane to be quick, but I think we were all surprised at how quickly he got in the groove and how quickly he advanced on each run," West said.

"Shane certainly has the ability and the attitude to do very well in rallying."


It is no surprise that van Gisbergen should quickly come to grips with a rally car, as his early introduction to motorsport was of-road racing. His father, Robert, was an accomplished rally driver and van Gisbergen spent many hours watching him race.

Couple this with his early days of racing motocross, ATVs (he's a multi New Zealand champion) and speedway quarter midgets, it's not a surprise van Gisbergen would be a useful gravel basher.

But he's not the first tarmac driver at the top of his game to have had enough of going around in glorified circles - Formula One world champion Kimi Raikkonen also walked away from his sport to go rallying.

Van Gisbergen said the test was fun "and quite different to what I've been doing for the past few years. I really enjoyed it."

"You're right, Raikkonen left F1 because he wasn't happy with stuff, and it sounds a bit similar in some ways. He went good doing rally too."

In tarmac racing it's generally frowned upon to get the car tail-happy for various reasons, but rallying requires a controlled skid on the odd occasion.

"You use the sideways movement to set the car up for the corner and to slow you down. It's just a different style, where going sideways is acceptable. It was interesting, that's for sure.

"It bought back memories of my time in speedway and ATVs, where those skills come into play. When you feel the car sliding out, you know what to do and bring it back in again.

"It's interesting to see how those skills relate but in rallying you don't know what's around the next corner [he had no recce notes] so confidence is quite important."

Van Gisbergen sounded excited about the whole adventure, and it seems that if a deal can be put together, he may be competing in the New Zealand Rally championships next year.

"It would be cool to have a crack. I don't now how we would go compared to most, but it would be fun to have a go and see what happens.

"It would be great if we could get some people on board and it would be interesting to have a proper go at it and have a crack at the national champs.

"We have to have a decent look at what would be involved in getting a car, crew, team and all that stuff before any final decision would be made."

But if van Gisbergen were to roll up to the opening round of the New Zealand Rally championships in April next year at the Rally of Otago, would he be allowed to race?

He had to reverse out of a recently signed three-year contract with Stone Brothers Racing and this sort of deal usually carries a heavy non-racing clause for at least a year.

"There's absolutely no problem with Shane going rally racing if he wants," said van Gisbergen's father and manager Robert.

"When we negotiated ending the contract with SBR, the only racing he's not allowed to do is race V8 Supercars. He can race anything else he likes.

Van Gisbergen has been with his dad in a rally car and they also did the Targa rally together a few times. He's been fascinated by driving blind and it's another discipline he wants to master.