It’ll be cold in country Victoria, but the Red Bull Holden Racing Team star has warm memories to draw upon as the Supercars series shifts to Winton this weekend.
By Matthew Clayton for redbull.com
Shane van Gisbergen’s first mistake of his Winton Supercars weekend came before he even got on the plane, but we’ll forgive him for this one. There’s not much call for a beanie in May in Queensland, but Winton on the edge of winter is another matter. Which is why SVG’s first priority once he gets to the country Victorian town will be to find something to keep his head warm, having left his own beanie at home. “Bit of an error there,” he laughs.
Van Gisbergen might have forgotten his headwear, but the recent memories of Winton for the Red Bull Holden Racing Team star are good after he won the second race there 12 months ago, snapping a long run of outs for Triple Eight since the advent of the Car of the Future era and ending a drought that stretched back to 2012. SVG won the opening two races of this season at the Adelaide 500 but hasn’t seen the view from the top step of the podium since, meaning he’s attacking this Winton weekend with his usual enthusiasm, and maybe a little more confidence than usual.
“In this day and age where we do so many street circuits and hybrid tracks, Winton is rare in that it’s a conventional classic-style circuit, and that’s why I like it,” he says.
“It’s always good to go there and it’s always nice to drive, and it’s always well attended being where it is in the middle of a fair few bigger towns.
“It’s going to be colder there than usual this weekend, so the early-morning sessions we do will be pretty interesting trying to get some tyre temperature up. That’s the challenge there – you can have a decent out-lap and it’s a long lap with a lot of corners, but because it’s so cold, it’s really difficult to get the tyres up to temperature to get the most out of them when they’re at their best. There’s a fine art to it.”
SVG comes to Winton as the closest challenger to series leader Scott McLaughlin (Team Penske) in the title chase, but McLaughlin’s slim lead has widened to a chasm after four straight race wins, including one from 19th on the grid in Race 12 of the season in Perth a fortnight ago. The deficit to the front isn’t ideal (158 points), but it’s hardly insurmountable, if the topsy-turvy nature of this year’s Supercars championship so far is any indication of what’s to follow.
SVG remains confident that, as long as “the little things” get cleaned up, he and RBHRT teammate Jamie Whincup can get right back into the title fight, starting from this weekend.
“I think we’ve got good speed, but we seem to be in a run of mechanical problems and other things going wrong that mean we can’t always show it,” he says.
“In Tassie I was running well, but on Sunday we had a brake drama. At Phillip Island, I was fast but we had a power steering failure. There’s a whole lot of problems we’ve had that have made us seem more off the pace than we are, if you’re only looking at the results.
“The car is quick, I’m pretty sure about that. It’s all the little things we can tighten up to make the difference. Everyone is so close now and we’re all pushing so hard to make every little gain we can that little things can cost you. It’s easy to overlook all the little stuff, so we’ve needed to take one step back to make sure we get everything right while continuing to push hard.”
Perth last time out was a weekend of extremes for Van Gisbergen, who flew forwards on Saturday (started 12th, finished third) but went backwards the next day (started on pole before finishing fifth). Winton, with its old-school layout, will likely be more to SVG’s liking than Barbagallo Raceway, a circuit he openly admitted wasn’t one of his favourites even before his up-and-down WA weekend began.
“The surface over there just gets battered by the sand, so while you’re doing 54-second laps in qualifying, in the race that blows out to lap times of a minute or more, and you feel like you’re driving around at 30 per cent,” he explains.
“It makes for good racing and it’s a challenge for all us drivers, but I prefer a track where you get to drive at 100 per cent the whole time. It’s not frustrating as such, but you do want to drive as fast as you can for as long as you can, but there you have to drive to what the track gives you. If you go fast early, you’re going to be even slower later because you’ve worn your tyres out. So you’re never really racing, more conserving. You’re looking to come up with a car that looks after its tyres the best as much as anything.”
There’ll be no tip-toeing around at Winton this weekend for SVG, who – once he’s able to get warm – is confident that the hard work the team is putting in behind the scenes is about to pay big dividends.
“Over the last few weeks we’ve had a big reset with our preparations, and I think we’ll get some of those little things that have hurt us out of our system,” he says.
“We had a massive build-up to the season with the new car (ZB Commodore) build – that was such a huge undertaking for everyone – so I think things will settle down from mid-year.
“I’m pretty confident it’s about to get a whole lot better for us.”