A new circuit hits the Supercars calendar this weekend – and the Red Bull Holden Racing Team star is our guide.
By Matthew Clayton for redbull.com
Shane van Gisbergen isn’t one for unnecessary hype, which makes his answer to a question that hasn’t quite finished being asked stand out. Ahead of the first visit by the Supercars series to The Bend Motorsport Park outside of Adelaide for races 22 and 23 of the season this weekend, we wondered where the Red Bull Holden Racing Team star ranked the brand-new facility, SVG having got a taste for it in April when driving in the Australian GT Championship. The answer came as quickly as a lap on the limit.
“It’s the best facility in Australia, hands-down,” he says.
“It’s always awesome to have a new circuit, and with this one there’s been no expense spared, it really is second-to-none.”
As the first new permanent race track in Australia for nearly 20 years, SVG is right about the no expense spared bit; the privately-owned circuit, an hour or so outside of Adelaide, was built at a cost of a reported $110 million, and is as state-of-the-art as it gets.
The Bend opened at the start of 2018, with this weekend’s Supercars event the biggest in its short history. The track has eight different configurations (Supercars will race on the 4.95km International Circuit), while the facility features a drift, kart and rallycross circuit, a dragstrip, a 4WD adventure park and a hotel right on the racing circuit itself, with more besides. It’s unlike anything Australian motorsport has seen.
SVG piloted a McLaren in April in the Oz GT series, and reckons the layout for this weekend has a bit of everything.
“The track will hopefully put on a good show for Supercars; in a GT car it was a bit hard to pass, but with the Supercar it should be a lot better,” he says.
“It’s like a European-style circuit in terms of the run-off areas, but I’d call it more a mixture of Phillip Island and Eastern Creek because it’s quite open and flowing. It’s a proper, proper race track.
“Out the back of the circuit, the middle part of the lap, there’s a lot of flowing corners where one links to the other, so that’ll be very hard on the tyres. The start of the lap is quite technical to drive, and into Turn 1, the cars come over a little crest right before braking, which will be pretty tough on our cars because we brake not long after that hump.
“Then there’s a couple of fast corners at the end of the lap. The second-last corner is a nearly 90-degree right-hander, so that looks like being the best passing spot.”
Plenty of the Supercars regulars have taken the chance to cut some laps at The Bend ahead of this weekend, David Reynolds and Garth Tander joining Van Gisbergen in the GT ranks for a weekend in April, while other drivers took part in a test day for the other racing categories on the support bill for Supercars at the circuit last week. SVG says getting a head-start on his rivals can’t hurt, but can only help to a point.
“Some people like to take a road car around a new track to get their bearings, some like to run or ride a scooter … I’m more someone who wants to learn it behind the wheel of what I’m driving, I do that with every new track,” he says.
“In April, my first laps of the track were my first laps in practice in the McLaren. I can’t see it being a massive advantage for me or any other drivers who have gone out there before this weekend, because the level of driving for most people in this series is pretty high. Within five laps of practice, you’d expect people to be on the pace. If there is an advantage for me, it won’t last long.”
What SVG hopes lasts a little longer is a strong run of recent form, which has seen him win three of the past four races to narrow the gap to Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin at the top of the championship standings to 89 points ahead of this weekend’s two races, a 24-lap race on Saturday preceding a 41-lapper the next day.
Winning the last race, the 300-point night event at Sydney Motorsport Park, was a victory he especially enjoyed, particularly with the new under-lights format breathing renewed life into a round that he feels had “been pretty dull” for the past few years.
“Even if I didn’t win, it still would have been an epic event,” he reasons.
“Supercars did a really good job with that race, the night event livened things up massively. To get a good crowd out there, the racing was good … Supercars are onto a winner there.
“Hopefully we can do that at more tracks and be a bit more inventive with how we go racing, maybe change some formats, some more night races or other things to shake it up.
“For a first time under lights, it was an awesome event, but there’s always things to work on and refine when you do something new. The lighting was like you saw it on the TV, too dark in places, but that was part of the challenge and it was the same for everyone. Everyone has done so many laps of that track that it wasn’t a problem, but if it was a track we all didn’t know so well, we would have had some issues.”
Kiwi compatriots McLaughlin and Van Gisbergen have leapt well clear of the chasing pack in the standings with 10 races to go this season – SVG’s RBHRT teammate Jamie Whincup is third overall, 433 points adrift of McLaughlin – and while SVG is sticking to his customary mantra of simply wanting to be in position to strike in the upcoming Sandown, Bathurst and Gold Coast endurance leg of the season, he’s very happy with how the team and its grasp of the new ZB Commodore is progressing.
“In general it feels like everything’s going well,” he says.
“The team is working well … sure, we had a couple of bad races after a good start to the year, but everyone’s rallied together, and that’s the strength of our team. We’ve good some pretty big races coming up with the enduros, but we’re finding some good form at the right time.
“The car, it took us a few rounds to really learn it as it’s quite a lot different to last year’s car, but we’re making progress. We just need to keep doing what we have been.”