Motorsport: Kiwi trio in the hunt at Daytona

By Eric Thompson

Shane van Gisbergen will bring his three previous efforts in the Daytona 24 Hour to bear behind the wheel of a Mercedes AMG GT3 in the GTD class. Photo / Supplied
Shane van Gisbergen will bring his three previous efforts in the Daytona 24 Hour to bear behind the wheel of a Mercedes AMG GT3 in the GTD class. Photo / Supplied

Three Kiwis will be vying for overall victory and class honours at the Daytona 24 Hour race this weekend.

IndyCar driver Scott Dixon, World Endurance Championship driver Brendon Hartley and Supercars racer Shane van Gisbergen are in the packed field of 54 cars across four classes at the event.

Dixon, a two-time winner of the race, is in a GTLM-category Ford GT along with Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook, Hartley is racing in the prototype class in a Nissan DPi and is listed with two teams (Bruno Senna, Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek in one car and Pipo Derani, Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel in the other) and Van Gisbergen is in a Mercedes AMG GT3 in the GTD class with Cooper MacNeil, Thomas Jager and Gunner Jeannette.

Hartley was the best of the Kiwis in qualifying putting the two Nissans fifth and sixth, while Dixon put his Ford 16th and Van Gisbergen's Mercedes sits 51st.

The track is a combination of the Daytona Nascar oval and a conventional race track and is notoriously brutal on machinery and men.

The race is the first gambit of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champions in America.

Reigning Supercars champion Van Gisbergen, like Dixon, has a bit of a pedigree when it comes to long distance racing. Last year, as part of the McLaren GT factory team, the Kiwi won the endurance component of the international Blancpain Endurance championship in Europe. He also won the Enduro Cup as part of the Supercars and off-course the 2016 Bathurst 12 Hour race.

This year due to calendar clashes Van Gisbergen had to wave goodbye to the McLaren and looked to America to continue in his quest to drive as many things in a year as possible. This weekend he's in a Mercedes and can't wait to get going.

"It's a bit of a shame I can't still race the McLaren, especially with the New Zealand connection, but the dates just didn't work out," said Van Gisbergen.

"I'm really looking forward to the race though and it's my fourth time at the event, so I have a bit of experience with the race now and I know ... how to approach the weekend.

"We came pretty close to winning it last year and we'll be trying to get it done this time. It's a very good race to have at the start of the season. It's quite relaxed but serious at the same time."

A change of machinery for the Kiwi doesn't really mean anything. He's comfortable and always a contender no matter what he's driving, even radio controlled model cars. The Mercedes is a new piece of kit but Van Gisbergen is not fazed having already had a good hit out in it at the Roar Before the 24 earlier this month.

"The team I race for [WeatherTech] are an awesome bunch of people and they go racing the right way. It's pretty special to be at Daytona and go racing.

"The car has been good and solid during testing and it's fun to drive. It's different to the McLaren and feels more like a road car. It's a big race car and very different to what I'm used to.

"It's reliable, pretty fast, enjoyable to drive and the co-drivers find it easy to drive as well, so the gap between us all is quite small, which is the key to winning races.

"It feels a bit slower than a V8 in a straight line but they make up for it in cornering speed as they are lighter and have more aero," he said.

Van Gisbergen had been confirmed for at least another two races in America - the Sebring 12 Hour and the Watkins Glen Six Hour.

He's hoping that a few more Kiwis will be able to make it across to race in America as we do have a lot of talent racing around the world at the moment.

Local fans will be able to see Van Gisbergen in action in a week's time at the Bathurst 12 Hour, on February 3-5.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 23 Apr 2017 18:57:30 Processing Time: 671ms