Motorsport: Nine Kiwis buckle in for Mount Panorama

By Eric Thompson

Supercars drivers put ring around Bathurst 1000 as season highlight.
Jamie Whincup held out a fast-finishing Kiwi Scott McLaughlin.
Jamie Whincup held out a fast-finishing Kiwi Scott McLaughlin.

The chance of a Kiwi standing on the podium tomorrow afternoon is quite high at Bathurst this year.

There are nine Kiwis in the field for the 56th running of the Bathurst 1000 - Shane van Gisbergen, Scott McLaughlin, Fabian Coulthard, Chris Pither and Andre Heimgartner are regulars while Craig Baird, Steven Richards, Chris van der Drift and Richie Stanaway are all co-drivers.

Baird and Richards have more laps of the Mt Panorama circuit under their belts than most, van der Drift has turned a few laps in various GT cars but never a Supercar and Stanaway is a real rookie on his first visit to the place.

Bathurst is probably not the place to have just your second Supercars race, but Stanaway is by no means daunted. In his first hit out in anger at the Sandown 500 last month, he turned heads with his masterful performance in the wet on slicks and is very keen to take on the mountain.

"It's been all right so far, but there's still a lot to learn," said Stanaway. "I'm trying to do my best despite my lack of [Supercars] experience. There are no similarities between the Aston and a Supercar.

"They're really different and it's a lot more draining mentally having to think around a new car all the time and what it's doing.

"To be able to race at Bathurst was number one on my bucket list. It's the one race I've always wanted to do.

"The one good thing is that there is a lot of practice here and I'm going to try and get in as many laps as possible. If we can get the car to go fast, we should be okay. Chris and I want the same thing from the car, so no worries there."

His co-driver, Pither, is more than happy to have the works Aston Martin GT Racing driver sharing the load and knows Stanaway has a pedigree in endurance racing, having competed in the World Endurance Racing series.

"We had a pretty good lead-up to Sandown with Richie having a few test days. I had confidence in him, considering the amount of endurance racing he's done," said Pither.

"He's well-experienced in this type of racing and just has to adapt to this type of car. He came out of the blocks strong at Sandown and it wasn't that much of a surprise, as I knew he'd do a good job.

"This weekend will be challenging for him as Bathurst has just about everything to throw at you. The track will suit our car so that should make it easier."

While Stanaway is new to both Supercars and the track, at least van der Drift has turned a few laps there, in the Bathurst 12-Hour. The talented Kiwi also has a great reputation in Europe and Asia, having won a number of different series championships. Van der Drift and Shae Davies will be looking to improve on their Sandown 500 result when they came home 22nd.

"I've been lucky to have had a few laps here so I know which way the track goes, which is a bonus," said van der Drift.

"The car feels a lot heavier than the Porsche GT cars I'm used to, but it's really nice to have so much power under your foot to play with.

"Each time I get in the car, I feel more comfortable and, coming to Bathurst, I'm more confident than I was at Sandown. Plus I know what the track looks like, how it behaves and where the corners are.

"I watched the Bathurst 1000 the whole time I was growing up and to finally get the chance to race here is pretty cool."

Co-driver Davies wasn't too worried when he heard the news he'd be sharing the car with van der Drift, as he was well aware that the Kiwi had been racing at the highest levels in Europe and Asia. "It was out of my hands [co-driver decision] but I'm really pleased it was Chris," he said.

Four-time winner Jamie Whincup has claimed provisional pole. Holden's Whincup failed to break his own lap record yesterday but still topped qualifying for the Supercars, clocking two minutes, 05.04 seconds.

He held out a fast-finishing Kiwi Scott McLaughlin, of Volvo, while Holden's Tim Slade was third fastest ahead of today's top-10 shootout.

Kiwis Fabian Coulthard and Van Gisbergen grabbed fifth and sixth positions.

Supercars points

After 11 rounds

1. Shane van Gisbergen - 2248

2. Jamie Whincup - 2241

3. Craig Lowndes - 2091

4. Scott McLaughlin - 1989

5. Mark Winterbottom - 1908

6. Will Davison - 1812

7. Chaz Mostert - 1757

8. Garth Tander - 1663

- NZ Herald

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