TWO WEEKS ago on these very pages I wrote about some of the great Bathurst performances that have captured my own imagination, and those of many thousands of others, over the years of the Great Race.
Since last Sunday, I’ve been trying to work out where to categorise Shane van Gisbergen’s epic few stints at the close of this year’s race that delivered he, Garth Tander and the Red Bull Holden Racing Team a stirring victory right out of the pages of a perfect script.
It wasn’t the gritty, heroic performance of Larry Perkins in 1995, nor the showpiece of Murph’s lap of the gods in 2003.
It was in its own right a unique piece of Bathurst history that will only get better with age and recall as the years progress.
Shane’s final three stints of the race were each a measure of controlled aggression, absolute pin-point accuracy and the steadfastness to maintain withering pressure from the fast Mustang of young-gun Cameron Waters – who was also exceptional.
Yet out in front, van Gisbergen put nary a foot wrong and the exceptional performance of his Commodore, especially over a long stint, gave him the tools with which to fight.
And after seemingly breaking the back of Waters late in the final stint, out came the traditional late-race Bathurst Safety Car, followed quickly by another.
All of a sudden, Shane had to execute a pair of restarts in order to break his Great Race duck and finally claim the Peter Brock trophy. He did both with ease and despite the menacing black Mustang looming in his mirrors, somehow had the ability and car to set the race’s fastest lap on 160 or 161.
As a singular driving performance, it has to be up there with the very best in the 60 years of the 1000-kilometre classic.
“That’s as good as I’ve seen anyone manage those three stints of the race,” his co-pilot and now four-time Bathurst winner Garth Tander told us this week, during a recording of our On the Grid podcast.
“He managed the car, he managed Cam behind him, he managed the tyre he managed the whole thing as good as I’ve seen anyone do it.. And he got slightly better in each stint the way he managed it.”
“I actually found myself actually enjoying the spectacle of it all and how it was playing out and started really getting enthralled in the battle that was going on.
“Cam was super-fast, if you go back and look at the last two pitstops of the race between the Red Bull guys and the Tickford guys, mate they were less than a tenth of a second apart in the pitstops between each other.
“So as far as intensity goes, as a battle between two drivers and then two teams truing obviously to come out on top at the mountain, that was.. I just started watching the race as a fan and just thinking ‘how cool is this’ before I thought ‘hang on a minute, I’ve got a bit of skin in the game in this one’.”
Hard to put it any better, GT.
Van Gisbergen’s pre-2020 Bathurst record was well documented prior to the race this year, most notably centring on the fact that he had not won it.
He’d come close – twice second by less than a second and within the best possible chance of winning in 2014 before the Tekno Commodore he was driving expired in pit lane virtually within sight of the flag.
And he smashed the field in qualifying and the race in the 2016 Bathurst 12 Hour, the Kiwi setting lap records in his Orange McLaren to dominate the GT3 race that year.
And yet if you don’t win Bathurst – the October, 1000km one – you’ll always have that as an asterisk next to your name when it comes to retirement.
Fortunately, that won’t be a problem for SVG any longer.
Though sometimes a prickly interview, I suspect a vast majority of the motorsport fans in this part of the world love the fact Shane van Gisbergen is what he is.
As well as being a champion of the sport and one of the most outrageously talented drivers of a generation (his wet weather car control is the stuff of legend), he’s also outspoken, calls it like it is and just exists to race. Nothing more.
Now he adds the Bathurst 1000 to his 12-Hour and Supercars championship crown, asterisk removed from any future career CV.
In two weeks he’ll be rallying back home in New Zealand and, I suspect, probably won’t even lend a thought to the fact he just won the region’s biggest race for the first time.
Others, however, will. And it was an awesome way to do it, with a Bathurst drive right up there with the best that place has ever seen.