Shane van Gisbergen seems to have his V8 Supercars Championship back on the road with a bold showing going into the endurance season with the Wilson Security Sandown 500 in Melbourne tomorrow.
Van Gisbergen, with owner Jono Webb as his co-driver, will start on the second row of the grid after a strong showing in qualifying and the opening two sprint races.
It has been a challenging last few rounds for the Kiwi in the Tekno Darrel Lea Stix car, with his sole podium of the season at Tasmania in M arch.
Van Gisbergen has been in the top-10 only six times in his last 11 outings with the Holden off the pace he enjoyed in 2014. There were signs of improvement with a fifth and fourth placing in the last stop at Sydney Motorsport Park and the hard-driving New Zealander has been on the pace from the get-go at Sandown.
He qualified seventh fastest with Webb moving the car up to fifth in the opening sprint and van Gisbergen pushing to fourth in the second, to determine the starting positions for tomorrow’s 161-lap, 500km race.
Of the other New Zealanders, Fabian Coulthard guided the Freightliner Holden to ninth on the grid with some solid speed for tomorrow’s big day.
Scott McLaughlin qualified an enterprising ninth in the Volvo but his co-driver Alex Premat was caught in a skirmish and the resulting damage saw them 22nd before the young Kiwi moved back to 16th in the second race.
Super Black Racing were near the tail of the field in qualifying, despite good straight line speed this year. Co-driver Ant Pedersen drove smartly to move up to 15th but Andre Heimgartner will start at the rear of the grid after brake failure late in the second race caused a collision with Jack Perkins.
Despite dominating qualifying today’s qualifying races, Jamie Whincup has dismissed suggestions that he and co-driver Paul Dumbrell are favourites to take their third Sandown win in a row.
By taking first place in the unique ‘Race for the Grid’ format, Whincup and Dumbrell earned Holden’s 300th Championship pole, and Whincup’s first since the season opening Clipsal 500.
“Not at all,” Whincup said when asked if he and Dumbrell are now favourites to win tomorrow. “If we had the quickest car I’d feel a bit more confident. It’s anyone’s game tomorrow. It’s a long500km, anything can happen.”
Championship leader Mark Winterbottom had a close call with Prodrive Racing Australia teammate Chaz Mostert late in the second race, with Mostert taking to the grass after contact. Both regathered, and will start tomorrow’s big race from second and third, respectively.
“Everyone sort of says they’re going to play it smart for tomorrow, and then there’s cars in the fence and everyone is just going hectic,” said Winterbottom of the action packed qualifying races.
“It’s a long way tomorrow. We’ll go to bed happy and tune her up tomorrow and come again.”
While Whincup starts on the front row, Red Bull teammate Craig Lowndes will be off the rear of the grid, taking a pit-lane penalty.
There’s a final 20-minute warm-up session tomorrow morning before the 500km race, which goes green at 1.25pm local time.
The Sandown 500 is the beginning of the Pirtek Enduro Cup that includes Bathurst and Gold Coast, before the V8 Supercars Championship heads across the Tasman for the ITM 500 Auckland at Pukekohe Park Raceway on 4-6 November.