Motorsport: Champion Giz all set to go

By Eric Thompson

Van Gisbergen hoping to open title defence with good display in Adelaide.
Kiwi driver Shane van Gisbergen after winning the Australian Supercars touring car championship. Photo / Edge Photographics
Kiwi driver Shane van Gisbergen after winning the Australian Supercars touring car championship. Photo / Edge Photographics

It seems just like yesterday we were all celebrating that we finally had another New Zealander win a V8 touring car championship, after a 25-year wait since Jim Richards managed the feat.

Shane van Gisbergen made the most of his move to Red Bull Racing Australia and Roland Dane's Triple Eighty Race Engineering outfit and held the series' trophy aloft after the last event of the season on the streets of Homebush, Sydney.

Winning the championship was no walk in the park for the young Kiwi, as the Supercars field is packed with so much talent any one of 10 drivers can be in contention at any given event.

This weekend at the opening round of the 2017 championship at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide, van Gisbergen will be hoping to get the defence of his first Supercars title off to a good start.

"I've been counting the days and now here we are ready to go again. It doesn't really seem that long since the last race of last season," said van Gisbergen from Adelaide.

"It's only really the last couple of weeks that it's sunk in that we won the championship. At all the promo events everyone is referring to me as the defending champion and stuff is when I realise we are the champions.

"I've had a few things on since Sydney last year, but I feel rested and ready to go. The priority for me this weekend is to have two good races and get as many points as possible to get our championship off to a good start."

For some drivers, going from hunting for a first championship to becoming the hunted and trying to keep the braying pack at bay can be a little daunting. Van Gisbergen has no such qualms, as he just wants to get into his car and go racing.

By just focusing on what he and his team have to do, and not worrying about the others in the field, van Gisbergen is free to concentrate on just going fast.

"I don't feel like I'm going to hunted at all. It's a new year and everyone is starting from scratch again with no points.

"We're just approaching this race as the first round of the championship and then see how it goes from there," he said.

Pre-season testing went well, and now after having a full season in what was a new and different car for the Kiwi a year ago, the 27-year-old is comfortable in the car and now only needs to fine tune a few things to be at his and the car's best.

"All three of us [teammates Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes] have new cars this year and things are pretty much the same so we should all be good to go.

"We all had a pretty good test recently despite having a few small issues. It didn't stop us from pounding around and getting good track time in while fixing the problem.

"I'm confident the weekend will be okay," said van Gisbergen.

Being a street circuit the track appeals to a number of drivers who like the fast and furious nature of racing through concrete canyons. It's the type of the track that suits van Gisbergen and excites James Courtney who has won three times at Adelaide.

Jamie Whincup, Craig Lowndes, Chaz Mostert and Mark Winterbottom are another quartet who revel at the challenge of street racing.

"It's always exciting [at Adelaide] and it's one of the best events on the calendar and one of the best ways to showcase the championship. The fans always turn out and it's a great atmosphere.

"There's been a lot changes [teams/drivers] this year, but I haven't had a chance to see what the rest of the field will turn up with.

"We're in a good place and we'll just have to see who will be able to challenge us. Hopefully we'll be up the front and I'm pretty confident with what our cars will be like," said van Gisbergen.

Former Triple Eight technical director Ludo Lacroix jumped ship and joined up with DJR Team Penske during the offseason, so expect to see the Kiwi paring of Scott McLaren and Fabian Coulthard at the front of the field.

The series gets its first full time female driver in former single seater racer Simona De Silvestro who is set to take to the fray as part of the Kelly Brothers' Nissan factory team.

2017 Supercars
1. Clipsal 500 Adelaide, March 2-5.
NON-CHAMPIONSHIP - Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, Melbourne.
2. Tasmania SuperSprint, April 7-9.
3. Phillip Island SuperSprint, April 21-23.
4. Perth SuperSprint, May 5-7.
5. Winton SuperSprint, May 19-21.
6. Darwin Triple Crown, June 16-18.
7. Townsville 400, July 7-9.
8. Ipswich SuperSprint, July 28-30.
9. Sydney SuperSprint, August 18-20.
10. Sandown 500, September 15-17.
11. Bathurst 1000, October 5-8.
12. Gold Coast 600, October 20-22.
13. ITM Auckland SuperSprint, November 3-5
14. Newcastle 500, November 24-26.

- NZ Herald

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