Motorsport: Kiwi contingent set to fly

By Eric Thompson

Van Gisbergen to lead charge at Phillip Island
Before hitting oil on the track in Tasmania, Shane Van Gisbergen had four wins from five starts.
Before hitting oil on the track in Tasmania, Shane Van Gisbergen had four wins from five starts.

Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen is the form driver for round three of the V8 Supercars championship is at Phillip Island this weekend.

Other than a mishap in Tasmania due to oil on the track, van Gisbergen had four wins from five starts before he ended up in the kitty litter. Despite being in a new team with new crew, and a six-time champion teammate in Jamie Whincup, the Kiwi is the man to beat.

Fellow Kiwis Fabian Coulthard (also with a new team) and Scott McLaughlin have also been fast out of the gate. Coulthard has settled into the DJR Team Penske outfit quickly and has already shown his new car is quick. McLaughlin is proving the Volvo is still to be reckoned with and is ninth on the point's table two spots behind van Gisbergen with Coulthard in 15th.

However, the remaining two New Zealanders aren't doing so well; through no real fault of their own it could be suggested. Former V8 Ute champion Chris Pither is 26th in the series and Andre Heimgartner sits two spots above him in 24th.

Both drivers are relatively new to the championship. Heimgartner only raced in about two thirds of the season last year with Super Black Racing before giving up his seat to Pither and he's now with Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport.

Pither has been involved in some big hits especially at the Clipsal 500 where he smashed into the barrier after damaging his steering. At Tasmania he also had an off day after hitting the barrier and being tagged by another driver.

"To be honest they were decent crashes for the car and looked more spectacular than they actually were, but I was fine in both cases.

"I've actually been quite happy with the progress we've been making this season despite everything else. We're getting better in qualifying and were 15th in Tassie.

"Looking at the timing sheets it's quite a bit more competitive this year and things are a lot tighter in the pack. Using the soft tyre so far has allowed people to be a bit more confident and have a crack. Qualifying is crucial and you really want to be up near the top 10 if you want a good race. Further back the racing gets a bit aggressive and people are playing for keeps.

"I'm still really enjoying and we should be better here [Phillip Island] and I'm rapt to be able to race in the category. We'll be hoping to keep progressing forward this weekend."

Heimgartner may not have had such a rough time over the opening rounds, but he has had to contend with a new car and a new team.

"As you can understand this car [Triple Eight engineered] is a lot different one to the Prodrive car [Super Black Racing last year]," he said. "The team's getting things organised and we've learned a lot so far this year and this weekend will see a lot of those procedures put in place. The cars are fast but being in a smaller team it's hard to get everything aligned.

"It's going to take us a while to get really going because the car drives totally different to what I'm used to, but I'm getting to grips with it.

"The competition this year is really tough and a lot tighter with a lot of good people in good equipment. It's good for the racing but it makes it hard. There's stuff-all difference between 10th to 20th now. We'll be a lot stronger in the second half of the season."

This weekend's race format continues with the one seen in Tasmania with a single 120km race today and a 200km tomorrow.

- NZ Herald

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