Shane “SVG” van Gisbergen came into the 2017 Supercars season reigning champion and left it in fourth place.
It wasn’t exactly his dream run but in reflection, SVG was pretty pleased with how his season went and has even described it as one of his most fun years to be a part of… Now that’s what we like to hear.
The season started on a high, coming in as reigning champion and winning both races in Adelaide but it was straight back to business in no time.
Between dabbling in the international racing scene, SVG was back and forth across the ditch either to visit family and friends in Kiwi-land or to rock up in time to take on the Aussie component of the calendar.
After a few tyre blowouts, some really slippery conditions and a burnout (or three), we’ve made it to the end of the season and have managed to tie SVG down before he steps onto yet another plane back to the land of the sheep. Let’s see how his season went, in his words…
Red Bull Holden Racing Team: Shane, now that you’ve had time to sit down and look back at the season, can you remember how you felt at the beginning going in to your second season with the team?
Shane van Gisbergen: It was cool to rock up at start of year as the defending champion but everyone forgets about that fairly quickly. We got down to business, had a strong car and got on top of the new tyres quite quickly in Adelaide. It felt really good.
You were definitely put straight work as the competitors, namely DJR Team Penske, stepped it up notch (or two), how did you rate that challenge?
SVG: I think in any sport it’s always good to have two top teams or two people fighting intensely to make a true rivalry. It was pretty awesome battling with them (DJR Team Penske). I think we started the year good and then they had a good stint through the middle of the season, but by the end of the year our cars were super competitive again. It not only made us lift as drivers but it put the pressure on the engineers as well and they worked so hard to make the cars better. It was really cool to see how everyone reacted under pressure and in the end, we all rose to the challenge together.
Being so at the top of your game, we wouldn’t expect you’d have much more to learn but can you think of any big lessons you learned this year?
SVG: That’s a tough one. Of course the team and I will always have things to learn. I guess we went through a lot of adversity on our side of the garage this year but as much pressure we were under, we still had fun. The atmosphere, the team and how everyone reacted to it all was really cool to be a part of.
Teaming up with race engineer Grant “Shippy” McPherson again this year would have been good for your consistency. Do you think your working relationship went to another level?
SVG: Shippy’s a really good guy and a he’s also a great engineer. He’s very smart and has had a lot going on this year with the Next-Gen Commodore build, the V6 twin-turbo engine, as well as being a race engineer. And to juggle a young family on top of all of that is pretty remarkable.
Now we all know you love to push the limit but the introduction of super soft compound Dunlop tyres seemed to have caused some headaches up and down pit lane earlier in the season, how did that affect you (and your burnouts)?
SVG: We had a lot of tyres fail and every time they did, we were in a good position so we gave away a lot of points this year which is a real shame because I think we would’ve been a contender otherwise. The tyre was very hard to read from both a driver and an engineering point of view. The readings weren’t the same as the old one so as a driver you didn’t know the limits and as an engineer it was a bit harder as well. I made a couple of mistakes wearing them out and Shippy probably pushed the limits as well but that’s all part of the sport, that’s how we go fast. You can always look back at it all with a different mindset, but in the moment you’re pushing the limit as much as you can to try and win, and in the end we were doing what we could but unfortunately it cost us quite a few points along the way.
When you focus so much on your own season, do you get much of a chance to look beyond our garages and suss out how your competition is going? Is there anyone who impressed you as a driver?
SVG: It’s hard to single anyone out. From all of the international racing that I do, the Supercars category is the best series in the world, in terms of driver quality. Out of the 26 cars on track, there are probably 20 top line drivers so it’s great to be in such a competitive series and to be able to race and compete with all of these drivers. We definitely have the most competitive category of touring cars in the world.
Matty Campbell came on board for the season of endurance, how did you think he went and will we see him back any time soon?
SVG: For such a young guy, he’s so experienced and very professional. His driving was excellent at Sandown and the Gold Coast and then he struggled a little with our car being difficult to drive at Bathurst. He’s got a massive future ahead of him overseas which is unfortunately why we can’t keep him next year. He’s on to bigger and better things but he’s got a huge career ahead of him. We’re hoping to have him around at Bathurst for a potential wildcard entry.
You and Matty came fourth in the PIRTEK Enduro Cup, how would you rate your season of endurance?
SVG: At the end of the day, if you take away the tyre failure at Sandown, we would’ve been right amongst it. Bathurst was so much fun; we had a crazy day there and still managed fifth, then went on to get some good results at the Gold Coast. Overall we had a pretty good campaign with what we could control.
No one likes a crash, especially when it’s not your fault and it puts you out of the race but can you recall any crashes that you had that were particularly bad for yourself?
SVG: The Pukekohe one with Tim Slade coming in to the pits. We had a really good day on Saturday and that gave us a sniff that we might be back in the championship and then I threw it all away with Tim in pit lane. That was definitely the biggest disappointment of the year.
Yep, there’s certainly as many lows as there are highs – can you remember a moment that you were most proud of during the season?
SVG: Winning in New Zealand. Any time you can win at home is amazing and I’ve been lucky enough to do it a few times now. It was the best feeling, I couldn’t contain myself and ended up doing a burnout bigger than I should’ve but it was pretty cool.
Your team mate Jamie “J-Dub” Whincup took out his seventh championship but not after a battle that went down to the wire. What do you think of his performance this season?
SVG: J-Dub had amazing consistency and that’s what wins championships. It worked for me the year before; you’ve just got to be smooth and consistent with the points. J-Dub went through everything this year but they always managed to score points on the bad days and that’s what you need to do. It was a pretty amazing job by J-Dub, Cauchi and the car #88 crew.
Now we know you’re from Kiwi-land so no need to be biased, but do you have a favourite circuit?
SVG: For me, it’s always Pukekohe. Bathurst is amazing always but the atmosphere and support we get as Kiwis in New Zealand is incredible. On top of that, I get to stay home for a week or two either side of the event and travel to and from home to the race, it’s a good feeling.
We knew you would say that… And we all know you love Australia, considering you extended your contract with the team until the end of 2019. What was the thinking there?
SVG: It was really cool to get that done. I’ve found an amazing home at RBHRT and I’m excited to go on. It’s going so well and I’m having so much fun with everyone. When RD brought it up, there was no hesitation in saying yes.
That’s what we like to hear. Now that you’re about to wind down and switch off, can we just have you thinking about 2018 for a second… Do you have any specific goals set yet?
SVG: Not exactly but we basically want to improve on what we’ve got. We had so much fun this year and we have to keep remembering that, to keep having fun but turn up and be more consistent on our side of the garage. We have a new car which is an exciting challenge but for us it will be to have the year with no mistakes and stay up front every weekend.