Defending Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen will this weekend look to become the first New Zealander to win the Sandown 500 since Greg Murphy in 1997.

It has been two decades since a young Murphy sprayed champagne at the famous Victorian track but there is a very strong chance one of his countrymen will follow in his footsteps on Sunday afternoon.

Three of the leading four cars in the championship are campaigned by New Zealanders - Scott McLaughlin (first) and Fabian Coulthard (third) will take serious form into the race meeting with their Shell V-Power racing outfit while fourth-placed van Gisbergen is looking to reduce a 258-point deficit to McLaughlin.

Having finished second in the closest finish in race history last year van Gisbergen is hoping to go one better in 2017 and will hit the ground running with a set-up that is known to work.


"We had a pretty good run last year - very changeable weather and everything," van Gisbergen told Radio Sport. "We had a pretty good car so we will start pretty similar to that with our set-up and see where we end up.

"Obviously there is a different tyre this year and we have learned a lot this year.
"We will start with something similar and then factor in what we've learned.

"It is a good track - it is a pretty tough race track. Big curbs that you have to attack the whole way but you have to manage it as well because of the big tyre wear. It is a bit of a balancing act and that makes it a big challenge - the same for everyone."

Last year van Gisbergen and co-driver Alex Premat took out the Pirtek Endurance Cup [the combined three endurance races] but the Frenchman will partner McLaughlin this year. Impressive youngster Matt Campbell has linked with van Gisbergen and the Kiwi is expecting big things from the young Australian.

"He is a young kid from Warwick, which is just inland from Brisbane," van Gisbergen said. "He is a pretty good young driver - he did our test day last Tuesday and was pretty quickly on the pace by the end of the day and feeling comfortable with my set up in the car.

"I am looking forward to seeing what he can do in the races.

"He has done a lot of driving and racing in all other classes - I have no worries he will get up to speed."

Sandown marks the start of the three-round Pirtek Endurance Cup, where championship drivers share their cars with non-championship teammates. With so many points on the line and other people in control of the cars for half the time it makes watching a tough gig for the title contenders.

"I still hate it especially the race at the Sandown when it is just all the co-drivers - half of them are trying to prove they are good enough to get a driver for the next year," van Gisbergen admitted.

And while he is 258 points behind in the championship van Gisbergen hasn't given up hope of defending his title.

"Anything can happen in the endurance races - I haven't given up," the 28-year-old said. "It isn't going to be easy and we'll have to have a bit go our way but I will keep pushing hard and hopefully we can have a good shot."

Car to beat: Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell have been a cut above everyone in recent years at Sandown - they just need to cut out the small mistakes.
Dark Horse: Cam Waters and Richie Stanaway - they're in a competitive car and Stanaway was superb in the wet last year. He's out to earn a main game drive next year.
Pressure on: Alex Premat and Dumbrell. The co-drivers for McLaughlin and Whincup respectively. Any error on their part seriously impacts the latter's title aspirations.
Keep an eye on: The retro liveries and old-school uniforms, hair-dos and facial hair as teams and drivers celebrate the retro round.

Sandown 500 Facts
•The 3.1km track opened in 1962, 25km south-east of Melbourne city
•This will be the 46th saloon car endurance race at Sandown
•Most wins - Peter Brock (nine), by an active driver - Craig Lowndes (five)
•Only twice in the past 30 races has the car starting on pole gone on to win the race
•Red Bull's Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell are chasing their fourth consecutive pole
•Last NZer to win was Greg Murphy in 1997