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HomeNewsVan Gisbergen to make Sprintcar racing debut

Van Gisbergen to make Sprintcar racing debut

WITH the smoke still clearing from his wild Supercars championship celebrations, Shane van Gisbergen is preparing to embark on a bold new challenge.

The versatile Kiwi will this week return to his homeland to make his Sprintcar racing debut, contesting the North Island Sprintcar title at Baypark Speedway on December 10.

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It’s the first in a series of Sprintcar outings van Gisbergen has planned for the summer, which marks both a return to his racing roots and a chance for redemption.

Van Gisbergen grew up racing speedway, contesting four seasons in Quarter Midgets from the age of 10 before returning for a season of Three-Quarter Midgets ahead of his Supercars career.

However, a return to speedway action aboard a Midget in November 2020 was cut short by his Supercars squad Triple Eight after a single event.

SVG briefly raced this United Truck Parts Midget in 2020. Pic: Facebook

“I did one Midget race and then got the call to stop,” van Gisbergen told V8 Sleuth of his 2020 foray.

“I got my arse kicked (finishing ninth in the feature race at Baypark) and then I hated not having the opportunity to get better the next week and improve. It’s stuck with me for a long time.

“I got the call from the guys I raced the Midget for, Brian Theobald and Shaun Insley, to ask if I wanted to drive their Sprintcar.

“I was surprised to get another call, and Jamie (Whincup, Triple Eight team principal) said ‘yes’. The Sprintcar is a bit safer, bigger cockpit, you’ve got the wing as a cushion, I guess.

“But also, Cam (Waters) drives one, Brodie (Kostecki) drives one, I think a couple of other guys are doing some, and we just don’t race enough.

“Next year we’re only doing 12 races (Supercars events), so I need to keep myself sharp somehow in the off-season and I think this will be a cool challenge.

Van Gisbergen testing a Sprintcar at Archerfield in 2015. Pic: Supplied

“I’ve driven one (a Sprintcar) a couple of times but never raced one. The last time I drove one was probably 2015, so it’s been a while. I’ll be pretty rusty, but I’ll be right.

“I don’t know when I’ll have to come back (to Australia) for Gen3 testing, so I’ll do as many races as I can over the summer before I have to get back.”

Van Gisbergen’s roots in speedway go back to his father Robert, whose time behind the wheel included a stint in Sprintcars.

“They’re absolute beasts,” he said, noting he’ll be asking ‘RVG’ for some tips before driving the #97A United Truck Parts entry.

“Obviously you’re on dirt and you’re in an open-wheeler that’s 500kg with big aerodynamics and 900bhp.

“You sit in them like you’re in a bus. It’s the most foreign feeling but you get the biggest rush.

“The races last for five minutes but so much can happen. It’s crazy but I’ve always been a fan of it, so it’ll be a good challenge.

“I expect I’ll get my arse kicked but hopefully after five or six races I can start going half ok.”

Sprintcar racing adds to an incredibly diverse 2022 schedule for van Gisbergen, who won a season-record 21 Supercars races this year on his way to the title, including Bathurst.

In addition to GT outings, which included the Le Mans 24 Hours, van Gisbergen has tried his hand at rallying via the Australian championship and the NZ round of the WRC.

A planned outing in the Trans Am Series at Queensland Raceway in August though was blocked by Triple Eight, amid rumoured pushback from Supercars.

Van Gisbergen has meanwhile held talks about a possible NASCAR Cup Series debut next year, although on Sunday downplayed any desire to race in America full-time.

Shane van Gisbergen celebrates without his right boot, which was used to keep his burnout going. Pic: Mark Horsburgh

Asked about van Gisbergen’s extra-curricular activities, Triple Eight boss Whincup said the team will continue to treat each request on a case-by-case basis.

“He asked the question whether he can race a Sprintcar over the summer break and of course as a company we do our due diligence and we believe it’ll be a benefit to him and us that he does it, so we’ve given him the all-clear,” Whincup told V8 Sleuth.

“It’s a balancing act. The more driving you can do the better you are at that particular thing, but you can certainly get worn out and do too much as well, so finding that happy medium is what my job is, and we feel we’ve found that so far.

“You always have to keep assessing each opportunity as it comes.”

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