“Cometh the hour, cometh the man Pt 1”

OK, it’s Monday Ocotber19 as I write this, and seeing how this year this particular Monday is the one after New Zealand’s General Election, some of you at least are probably thinking that the weird, almost biblical sounding headline I have chosen has got something to do with politics…..

To which all I can say is ‘Bollocks to that.’ This year Monday October 19 also happens to be the Monday after this year’s Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 motor race so the ‘hour’ I’m talking about is the final – and very eventful it was too – one, the man, 31-year-old Kiwi Shane Van Gisbergen.’

If Shane and co-driver – and now 4-time Bathurst winner – Garth Tander didn’t drive the perfect race to win this year’s ‘Covid-19 Classic’ (the highlights of which you  can watch – again & again & again if you want to – they must have got very, very close.

What we saw on Sunday was a driver absolutely at the top of his game (SVG), ably supported by one who – obviously – still has more to give, and made the absolute most of the opportunity afforded to him to prove it in the often thankless #2 role.

Even those Kiwi and Aussie sports fans with only the most cursory knowledge of the motor racing scene in this neck of the woods know the name Shane Van Gisbergen; one which has become synonymous with always pushing hard, always giving 110%, and never – ever – backing off, or out.

Those keener on the sport itself will be able to come up with a veritable rollcall of other Shane achievements; from his – very – early start on a Suzuki LT-50 Quad bike and formative years racing quads at MX meetings across rural south and west Auckland and Quarter Midgets at Western Springs, to later excursions into full-size dirt track cars at the Waiuku Dirt Track Club’s clay oval, then drifters in the D1NZ Drift Championship series.

Common to each endeavour – and this now extends to the world of SIM racing (which Shane has been doing for years now, and again has any number of major international race and series wins to prove it) and RC (radio control) drifting; the latter discipline the closest Shane arguably has to a ‘hobby’ – is his almost preternatural (a word meaning beyond what is considered ‘normal’) ability to keep moving forward without spinning, falling off, or over, on loose surfaces.

No one (not even Shane) knows where, exactly this ability comes from, though in my humble opinion its origins are in a unique mix of nature and nurture.

Like Shane now, for instance, his Dad Robert (or ‘Cheese’ as he was nicknamed by mates as a young fella with a surname some found hard to get out) had a reputation for doing amazing things in Escorts and things on gravel when rallying was just taking off here.

By the time I met him Robert had long since moved on to racing highly-modified, high hp Quad bikes, but when I casually asked life-long observer of such things, Mike Stock, who at that stage was compiling the motorsport pages for weekly car sales news magazine Autotrader, I remember getting chapter and verse, along the lines that if the bugger had not been so laid back and happy in his work wholesaling  cars during the week, and hooning around his rugged  hillside lifestyle block on Auckland’s south-eastern urban fringe  on ‘those bloody quad things’ with his boy Shane, of a  weekend, well, we would have had another Steve or Rod Millen on our hands.

So, there’s some ‘form’ in the Van Gisbergen genes. That goes some way to help explain the nature. And by providing the wherewithal, plus the running budgets as well as selling and managing most of the sponsorship which came later, you could also say that his Dad Robert provided a lot of the nurture too.

I was first introduced to Shane  – in what you could, I suppose,  describe as an ‘official capacity’anyway –  when, aged 15 , he had just been named the fourth annual recipient of the Speedsport (magazine) Formula Vee class Scholarship.

I had already watched with interest his move to karts (which his Dad had been advised would be a good idea to prepare him for the racing on tarmac he and Shane were already planning) which netted (I think) a North Island title but little ‘joy.’

Apart from already towering over his fellow ‘Juniors’ I got the distinct feeling at the time that Shane thought that the karters took themselves far too seriously, and with one of Motorsport New Zealand’s Junior licence’s firmly in his sights he and his Dad headed to Manfeild to try out for the SpeedSport Scholarship in 2003.

By all accounts he made a suitably good impression on the track, but struggled mightily with all the other ‘stuff’ a scholarship winner is expected to deal with (mixing and mingling with the judges, sponsors and corporate guests, dealing with the media etc etc) off it.

In circumstances like these, SpeedSport magazine publisher and editor Grant McDonald always encouraged the driver and parent/guardian to keep in touch and try again in 12 months’ time.

Which Shane did, blitzing all comers on the track and proving – literally – the difference a year in a teenager’s life can make – off it.

“Talent,” of course, as another old saying goes,” will always out,” and it was not long into his first full season ‘on the tar’ that people started talking about ‘Cheese’s boy.’

That talk started to get serious after the opening round of the next season’s New Zealand Formula Ford championship at the annual Aussie V8 Supercars meeting at Pukekohe Park; ironically thanks to a spirited charge back up to the front of the field by a fired up young Shane, after he was squeezed onto the ripple strip on the inside of the sweeper (Turn 1) and spun on the first lap.

It just so happened that a certain Ken Smith had alerted Stone Brothers’ team boss Ross Stone to the fact that there was a talented young bloke in the field with his heart set on a career not in F1 or IndyCars but in V8 Supercars…. and that if he (Ross) was interested in uncovering ‘another Marcus Ambrose’ he should keep an eye on car #97.

Which, apparently, he did. Because little more than a year-and-a-half later, but with both the 2005/06 NZ Formal Ford title and runner-up spot in he 2006/07 Toyota Racing Series under his belt, 18-year-old Shane Robert Van Gisbergen was on a flight to Sydney to  contest his first V8 Supercar Series race (Rnd 8 of the 2007 series) in a Team Kiwi/Stone Brothers’ satellite  Ford Falcon at Oran Park.

I remember the weekend well, because I was there feeding the news of how well Shane went to an eager motorsport media back home.

I also remember (vividly) the dark look I copped from Ross Stone when he found me interviewing Shane in the Team Kiwi transporter after the third and final race of the weekend late on Sunday afternoon.

But that, and how Shane has not only survived but prospered in the shark-infested waters of what today is the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship are stories for another day.

Shane van Gisgergen and Garth Tander win the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000

Until then all I’d like to do is raise a toast to our latest Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 co-winner, Shane Van Gisbergen.

Three cheers for The Giz!

Hip Hip Hooray mate, you’ve done your immediate family and your extended racing one proud.

Roll on 2021.

Ross MacKay

Ross MacKay is an award-winning journalist, author and publicist with first-hand experience of motorsport from a lifetime competing on two and four wheels. He currently combines a day job editing NZ4WD magazine with contract media work, weekend Mountain Bike missions and towing his 1989 Nissan Skyline drifter to grassroots meetings around the North Island.

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