Motorsport: Happy with the hired help

By Eric Thompson

Enduro racing co-pilot gets thumbs up from The Giz.
Shane Van Gisbergen in action for the Red Bull Racing team. Picture / Edge Photographics
Shane Van Gisbergen in action for the Red Bull Racing team. Picture / Edge Photographics

The Supercars championship has been hotly contested so far this year and it's about to get even more interesting. This weekend heralds the start of the three-race Pirtek Enduro Cup - a series within a series - at the Sandown 500 followed by the big one, the Bathurst 1000 (October 9) and the Gold Coast 600 (October 23).

Six-time Supercars series champion Jamie Whincup holds a narrow 137-point lead over Kiwi Shane Van Gisbergen with Craig Lowndes just 61 back and defending champion Mark Winterbottom hovering 75 behind. With things tight at the top, teams have to make sure their driver combinations over the next three races work like a well-oiled machine.

"It's been flat out getting ready for the enduros as there's not much going on in Europe at the moment. It's been good to settle in one place and focus on these endurance rounds," said Van Gisbergen.

"This is always a pretty exciting time of year and I've got a new co-driver this time in Alex Premat. He's pretty good [raced in the series for a number of years] and we tested last week where he got a lot of laps in the car, which is good.

"He settled into the team quite nicely and spent the week with us at Eastern Creek. On top of everything else, he was pretty quick as well."

While not quite struggling at the beginning of the season, Van Gisbergen had flashes of pace but lacked consistency. Those days seem to be well behind him, and he's now regularly at the pointy end of the field. Heading into the endurance rounds the New Zealander is quietly confident in his team, car and co-driver.

"It's taken a little while to get the car to my liking. And, as I've said in the past, it's quite different to what I had [at Tekno Autosport]."

Although that was also a Triple Eight car, Red Bull Racing run their ones quite differently.

"We've had to develop it and I've had to adjust as well. It took a little longer than expected but now I'm pretty comfortable, consistent and the pace is always there now for a top five or better finish.

"He [Premat] also likes the car set up the way I do, which is a really big advantage to have and could be quite promising. Him being able to jump in and drive the car the way it is, is a great help over the race weekends and we can work together in a car that does the same things," said Van Gisbergen.

Handing your keys over to another driver can be a bit daunting for many drivers, especially those in with a chance of winning a championship. There are only seven driver combinations held over from last year with Whincup and Paul Dumbrell and defending mini-series champions Garth Tander and Warren Luff, on paper at least, the biggest threats. You can't rule out Craig Lowndes and Steve Richards, who just happen to be the defending Bathurst 1000 winners.

"Sure, Jamie and Paul have had a lot of experience together as have Craig and Steve, but Alex is pretty motivated for the race and having someone of his calibre on board is great. Of the people available, he was the top pick.

"We're not thinking about the championship heading into the three endurance rounds and will only look at that after the Gold Coast race. If we make no mistakes and get good results, we might look at the championship after that," he said.

Along with the five Kiwis with a regular drive - Van Gisbergen, Fabian Coulthard, Scott McLaughlin, Chris Pither, Andre Heimgartner - four more join the field for the enduros; Craig Baird, Steve Richards and rookies Richie Stanaway and Chris van der Drift.

With that many in the field, there's bound to be at least one standing on the podium over the next month.


Karter steps up notch

European-based karter Kiwi Marcus Armstrong is stepping up a notch and will take on the Nurburgring Formula One circuit in Germany this weekend. The 16-year-old is looking to move up into a single-seater category and is racing a Formula Renault 2.0 car in preparation for next season.

Nissan provides fillip

Nissan remaining in Supercars for another two years will be fillip to the category organisers. This year has seen the Mercedes' of Erebus go south and Polestar Cyan Racing (Volvo motorsport arm) want their S60s back. The Kelly brothers will be sleeping easier, and Michael Caruso has re-signed for the next two years.

37th running of rallysprint

This weekend's Ashley Forest Rallysprint at Rangiora will be the 37th running of the 1.7km event. Action gets under way at 9.30am today with four qualifying runs per competitor with tomorrow seeing the fifth and last qualifying run before the elimination runs follow.

Dixon out to end on high

Kiwi IndyCar driver Scott Dixon has one more race this year to finish a season to forget on a high. The Kiwi won last time out at Watkins Glen to haul himself into third overall. However, even with double points on offer the 104-point gap to leader Simon Pagenaud is a bridge too far. He could though, pounce on Aussie Will Power, only 61 points ahead.

Kiwi Biddle shows way

New Zealand's leading woman motorcycle racer, Avalon Biddle, is in action this weekend in the European Junior Cup on her CBR650F. Biddle leads the FIM Women's Cup by 28 points with three rounds to go.

Under the hood

Once a racer, always a racer. Fifteen years ago former IndyCar champion Alex Zanadri was involved in a horrendous race accident that resulted in him loosing both lower legs. Holding on to his drive to win Zanadri focused on going fast on a handbike and duly won another gold medal in the Rio Paralympics to back up his pair from London. Ironic as it may seem, the Rio facilities are built where there used to be an IndyCar track, on which he never won.

- NZ Herald

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