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Unpacking the enigma: Shane van Gisbergen

THE complex character that is Shane van Gisbergen. Where to start?

Supercars is about to lose one of its all-time great talents and enigmas, with this weekend’s VAILO Adelaide 500 the last round of SVG’s career Down Under, at least for now.

So, what exactly are we, as an industry and as fans, about to lose as NASCAR-bound van Gisbergen sails off into the sunset?

There has arguably never been a more complex superstar in ATCC/Supercars history.

From bursting onto the scene as a raw 18-year-old at Oran Park in 2007, the proud New Zealander has divided fans.

Once Ford’s next big thing, van Gisbergen has gone on to win three championships for General Motors and is an outside chance of a fourth before departing next month.

VIDEO: Triple Eight’s farewell to SVG

This year alone has been a fascinating period for van Gisbergen.

He’s readily shown disdain for the new Gen3 cars, his gears having particularly been grinded by how driver feedback was supposedly not taken onboard.

He’s clearly fallen out with Supercars brass and has been all too ready to give them a clip at any opportunity, the tone set by a war of words with Mark Skaife post-Newcastle.

He’s rarely seemed happy with his car, especially aggrieved by the steering feel which has seen his #97 Red Bull Ampol crew work tirelessly to execute countless parts changes and even a chassis swap.

He’s also reminded us of his bottomless talent, from his Sydney Motorsport Park masterclass to yet another Bathurst 1000 victory – oh, and casually upstaging NASCAR aces in Chicago to win in his Cup Series debut.

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Along the way, he’s perhaps shown a more human side to himself than ever before.

On the surface, van Gisbergen can seem abrupt, or even rude and difficult to deal with.

Dig deeper and there’s the van Gisbergen that many in the industry know and love.

Typically shy, SVG has transformed into a leader ready to stand up for his peers.

He’s let his guard down more than ever in trusting selected media to tell his story and has championed the likes of Ryan Wood and Richie Stanaway as they rise up (or back up) the ranks.

But none of this is totally new.

Van Gisbergen has long been a head-scratching mix of hero and villain.

There was the infamous park-in of Scott McLaughlin at the 2018 Pukekohe round, followed by his frantic efforts to aid that very same rival after a frightening 2019 Gold Coast crash.

He angered fans by controversially retiring and then unretiring in pivoting from Stone Brothers Racing (Ford), which was becoming Erebus Motorsport (Mercedes), to Holden-aligned Tekno Autosports.

Shane van Gisbergen at a signing session yesterday in Adelaide. Pic: Supplied/Mark Horsburgh

A decade or so on, he had almost the entirety of Australia and New Zealand behind him as he took on – and defeated – the Americans in NASCAR, all the while sporting a grin from ear to ear.

Simply not as clearcut as a Craig Lowndes-type hero, it’s been a rollercoaster journey where it’s often been difficult to know exactly what to make of van Gisbergen.

There’s every chance the enigma will grow further in Adelaide, as he puts up with Gen3 machinery for one last time and prepares to bid farewell, with no real certainty as to whether he’ll ever return, even as a co-driver.

Expect emotions, both good and bad, and some sort of spectacular burnout to finish on (he set quite the benchmark last year in Adelaide).

What cannot be contested is the vast ability of the 34-year-old, whether it’s in a Supercar, NASCAR, sprintcar, rally car, open-wheeler or whatever else.

Van Gisbergen is excitedly awaiting the chance to embark on a new journey, and like McLaughlin has done since ditching Supercars for IndyCar, is likely to have a fair chunk of fans stay glued to his career.

Adelaide represents one last chance to soak up the enigma before it’s gone, maybe for good.

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