Ahead of his home race in Auckland, the Supercars champ recaps this year’s enduros and assesses his title chances with just four races left this season.
It’s hard to get a break in the racing season to get back home to New Zealand, so after Gold Coast came and went, I was off. It’s been great to be back staying at mum and dad’s place and just having the time to actually see everyone before Pukekohe this weekend. The race weekend is always really busy and you want to try to make time for everyone, but it’s hard when you’re at work to do that. Coming home early before it is the better option. And being able to extend my contract with the team this week was pretty cool too.
We’ve had some fun back home the last week. We had a go-kart day with Red Bull at Pukekohe, so I took the truck out on the track and figured out a few lines to use this weekend (it was staged, no-one will ever know …).
I’ve not written since before we started the enduros, and things definitely twisted and turned for me as we went through Sandown, Bathurst and Gold Coast – not just me, a fair few of us actually. We had a different leader in the series after each one and while I wasn’t one of them, how I feel about the championship has chopped and changed. There’s four races to go and I’m 189 points off the lead with 600 still to play for, so it’s still a long shot – but that’s better than no shot.
I’ll need some help and it’d be handy if some of the other guys in front of me slip up a bit, but I’m still a chance, so we’ll never give up and keep pushing until it’s not possible. It’s going to be very hard with how competitive the series is, but you never say never. To have three different guys in the lead of the championship after each of the enduros, that just shows you how good our series is at the moment.
I got one pole and one podium across the four races with Sandown, Bathurst and then two on the Gold Coast, and Sandown is the one I keep looking back at as a bit of a let-down when we had the tyre go. We don’t understand why. In the first stint at Sandown I was really pushing because we’d started 21st, and when I pitted we were second. In the last stint I came out of the pits in third with a big gap to second, so I was cruising – and then we had the tyre failure with 20 laps to go. We’re still a bit perplexed as to why that all happened. Finishing 15th there was pretty disappointing for the car speed we had, and at that point Scotty (McLaughlin) was 414 points up the road, and I figured the championship was over for me.
With Bathurst, you look at the results on a piece of paper – qualified fifth, finished fifth – and it makes it look like nothing happened up there this year. Couldn’t have been further from the truth, could it? We had a few incidents through the race, and we were looking good one minute and then nowhere the next. I was out of contention and figured it was time to try some crazy stuff to come back through, and we got back to third but couldn’t quite get any further. I made a bit of an error behind Scotty (Pye) when we came into the Chase nose-to-tail, and there were nearly some massive consequences.
I thought hitting the sand trap at that part of the track at that speed – and that sideways! – was going to end up in me rolling over, but I was probably lucky it had been raining all day, because the sand was pretty compact and I sort of skimmed across it. Got through, but very, very lucky there. It was a pretty eventful day up there, and I figured I had nothing to lose – I’d finished second there last year and didn’t want to do that again, so I went for it. Looking back at it now, sure, fifth was pretty disappointing, but it was a pretty awesome motor race to be a part of.
There was plenty of drama at Bathurst, but then at Gold Coast when it rained on the Saturday, that was something else again. We’d never had a wet race up there before, so it was pretty cool, but very tough as well. Street tracks generally are hard enough as it is, but in the rain, it was the worst thing.
I felt for the co-drivers, because us regular drivers got to qualify in the rain, we could ease into it. They were thrown straight in the deep end for the race with no laps in the rain, so that was incredibly hard for them. There’s so many things to hit around that place as it is, so in the wet, painted white lines, drainage … total nightmare for those guys. It was good that it was dry on Sunday, and I got pole and a podium, so that got us closer to the front of the championship again.
It’s been good to have some chill time at home, but I’m definitely ready to get on track this weekend. It’s a different format at Pukekohe this year – instead of four 35-lap races, two on Saturday and two on Sunday, there’s one longer race each day with pit stops, which will make the show better for everyone. There’s going to be a lot of traffic, a lot of tyre wear, and that’ll be good thing because it’s a short lap here and a fast one, so it’ll change things up. The races last year were all about the start, and they got a bit boring once everything settled down.
It was done for cost reasons so we didn’t bring all the pit and refuelling equipment over, but the racing suffered because of that. I think we’ll see improved racing and a lot more action with some strategy coming into it, so I’m happy for that, and all the fans will be too. There’ll be more passing with people being on different tyres and strategies, so the show should be better for everyone.
There’s quite a few extra family and friends coming this weekend – I always seem to pick up some new or long-lost friends this week! – so it’ll be good to get out there and hopefully have a strong one in front of them. And then we only have Newcastle to go, and hopefully I’m still in with a shot. I’ll talk to you then.
By Shane van Gisbergen for redbull.com