Driving in the Supercars Championship has always been a dream of Kiwi driver Richie Stanaway.
His dream will become a reality as one of nine New Zealand drivers to compete in the first of the two-driver endurance series at the Wilson Security Sandown 500 on the Mornington Peninsula in Melbourne this weekend.
The 24-year-old, who has forged a promising career in single seater and endurance sports car racing in Europe, is the co-driver for the sole New Zealand Supercars entry, alongside Chris Pither in the Super Black Racing Ford.
Five New Zealanders are main drivers in this year's championship with Shane van Gisbergen, currently second on the points table, Scott McLaughlin, in fifth, Fabian Coulthard, Pither and Andre Heimgartner.
Four Kiwis will be co-drivers for the Pirtek Enduro Cup series comprising Stanaway, four-time Bathurst winner Steven Richards, the highly experienced Craig Baird and European-based Chris van der Drift.
Stanaway has focused on the FIA World Endurance Championship racing for the last two years in particular with the Aston Martin team, as he chased his Formula 1 dreams in Europe. However, the 24-year old has headed back home to land a seat with Super Black Racing for the upcoming Enduro Cup series.
This weekend will be Stanaway's first time racing in Supercars.
"I only ever dreamed of doing two things growing up. I wanted to race Formula 1 or Supercars. I've never followed closely any other form of motorsport. Now that my single-seater dreams seem to be over after a lot of years, I am so fortunate to be offered the chance to drive in Supercars," Stanaway said.
Stanaway, who raced successfully in both GP3 and GP2 championships, has realised his aspirations of racing in Formula 1 are over, and therefore he wanted to return to this side of the world as his base.
"I have always wanted to get involved in Supercars, so it was the perfect opportunity when Super Black Racing approached me to co-drive. I get to come home to New Zealand to race in Supercars and for a New Zealand team."
Stanaway feels he has a real advantage when it comes to endurance racing. He usually drives in races from six and 24 hours duration. While a lot of the Supercar drivers look to the upcoming enduro rounds as their longest, it will actually be the shortest races he does this year.
The former Tauranga driver is looking forward to co-driving with Chris Pither and he's enjoying being part of the Super Black Racing team.
"I like the team a lot and we are part of a very professional Prodrive organisation. Chris is a really good driver and we do not have much difference in size, so we seem very compatible."
Stanaway knows he has a few things to get his head around before the Sandown 500 this weekend. The cars are heavier than he is used to and he said that while the distance and time won't be an issue for him, it's the category and circuits that he must figure out.
"The difference between good and great drivers in V8 Supercars is measured by extremely small margins and it is those margins that I need to learn. There's a lot of weight of performance on co-drivers at Sandown, with our own qualifying and our own race that goes towards the overall start positions. It is an important role."
While Sandown is the main focus this weekend, Stanaway can't help but think about the Supercheap Autos Bathurst 1000 in three weeks.
"I grew up as a kid watching Bathurst on television and that's how I fell in love with motorsport. I can't quite believe that I will be racing there. Somehow it does not feel real."
There are three practice sessions on Friday, practice, qualifying and two qualifying races on Saturday which will sort grid positions for Sunday's 500km race.
The Pirtek Enduro Cup comprises the Wilson Security Sandown 500, the Supercheap Autos Bathurst 1000 and the Castrol Gold Coast 600. The Supercars then heads across the Tasman for the ITM Auckland SuperSprint at Pukekohe Park Raceway for the penultimate stop in the Championship,