I’m in Melbourne and getting ready for Sandown this weekend, and for me, the start of the enduros is always one of the best times of the year. There’s always a big buzz ahead of Sandown because it’s the first one before Bathurst and then Gold Coast, and there’s a lot of anticipation and people wondering what teams and driver combinations will work and so on. There’s been a good feeling around the workshop, plenty of energy, so we’re ready to go. It’s more critical for us this year because of the championship, we really need to have a good Sandown, so we’ll go there and get the best result we can to try to set up the next few races.
I’ve always enjoyed the enduros because they’re just different, they don’t feel like anything else we do. It becomes so much more of a team game because you have a co-driver, and the way you work together is so critical to how the result goes. We had a pretty important test last week where it was all about getting (co-driver) Matty (Matt Campbell) acclimatised into the car, and working out the few things we have to compromise to make it work for both of us, not just me. Ironing out those fine details like finding a set-up that works for both of us, coming up with all of that is cool. And then from a team point of view, there’s so much more strategy involved and team play, so everyone’s more involved. And the retro livery on the car looks pretty sweet too.
Matty’s fit in really well so far, I have to say. There’s the obvious physical difference between us, I’m pretty tall compared to most drivers and he’s a lot shorter than me, so we have the little baby seat we put in there for him when it’s his turn so he can be sitting up and forward. He jumped into the Supercar and I was really impressed with how he built up and didn’t over-reach too early. By the end of the test day he was pretty much my speed, so that was very impressive. I’m pretty stoked he’s in my car. I didn’t know him that well before he came to the team – we’d raced against each other in a Porsche once last year – but I definitely noticed how good of a job he did last year in his first Supercar races in the enduros. Once (2016 co-driver) Alex (Premat) departed, Matty was the number one on our list – a very short list – for this year, so we were stoked to get him. I reckon he’s going to do really well.
Looking back to the last few events at Sydney Motorsport Park and QR (Queensland Raceway) before that, I’ve had four podiums in five races – which probably would have been five had Scotty (McLaughlin) not turned me around in Sydney – but still no more wins.
Since my last win at Winton, I’ve finished third five times, so it’s good to up there, but a bit frustrating to not get another win. I feel like in both qualifying and race pace, the last few rounds have seen us make some pretty good headway. OK, so we can’t get a pole because of what Scotty’s been doing – nobody else has either – but we’ve been right up there. We’ve made some big steps forward, and ‘Shippy’ (race engineer Grant McPherson) and I are working really well together and finding a good base set-up for our car to start every weekend, so that has really helped us. We’ve made a lot of progress, so hopefully we can keep making inroads and moving on up.
The enduros really made the season for me last year – me and Alex were second at Sandown and Bathurst, and then first and second on the Gold Coast – and it was the part of the year where I kicked clear a bit and took some control. It’s a bit different this time because we’re further behind – I go in 258 points off the lead – but the goal is the same. There’s no other way around it, you’ve got to have three consistent weekends and four consistent races, and you can’t compromise that. Car speed is a focus, sure, but you just can’t have any mistakes. Matty and I have to be able to drive on the limit but not make any errors, and then the guys have to make great calls in the pits. The races are so long and there’s so many opportunities to make mistakes on the track or in the pits – at Bathurst you might have five or six driver changes and so many pit stops, and so much happens. They’re long days and you can’t afford to be off your game for a second, and that’s where the big teams shine through, minimising the mistakes. We feel like we’ve prepared and we know what to expect in most scenarios that come up.
That’s the more serious stuff, but before I go, I’m hoping you’ve all had a look at this little video we did with my dad?
If the smile on my face didn’t give it away, it was definitely one of the cooler things I’ve done. To see your dad driving a Supercar around – and bloody quickly as well! – was heaps of fun. He had a ball, driving a full-spec Supercar – he’s pretty lucky to be able to do that. We did it the week after Darwin in the Supercar, and then we drove the rally car a few weeks later when I went back home to NZ for a bit. Really, really enjoyable. And yes, dad’s still talking about it …
Enjoy the next few weeks – I know we will – and I’ll catch up with you after the enduros.
By Shane van Gisbergen, with Matthew Clayton for redbull.com