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WHY VAN GISBERGEN MISSED MCLAUGHLIN AT PUKEKOHE

SHANE van Gisbergen has conceded it was difficult to be the centre of attention in the Repco Supercars Championship’s emotional return to New Zealand.

In previous years, Kiwi fans have been spoilt for choice with van Gisbergen, Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard all in frontrunning outfits.

After two years away, the category returned with van Gisbergen the new dominant force, McLaughlin in the United States racing IndyCar, and Coulthard on the sidelines.

That, combined with van Gisbergen’s introvert traits, did not make for an always easy experience for the 33-year-old who was swamped by adoring fans.

OPINION: The perfect Pukekohe send-off

“It’s been pretty tough, like I kind of wish Scotty was here,” said the 2022 championship leader.

“He’s the nice guy and helps with that stuff, I’m a bit shy with that and still struggle with it.

“But I guess when I’m in the car I felt good and especially that last race, seeing the crowd and the responses when I pass someone and even when I was side-by-side with Cam (Waters) and didn’t get him, you could see them going wild.

“It’s pretty motivating and hard to just stay focused and then when I passed Cam into the hairpin the next lap they all go nuts.”

The jubilant Red Bull Ampol Racing crew. Pic: Mark Horsburgh

Van Gisbergen even had support on the track as the Race 29 battle for the lead played out.

“I was just really glad Shane was able to get it in the end,” admitted Andre Heimgartner, who completed a Kiwi double podium.

“I was hanging back there and no offence on Cam but I was cheering for Shane obviously.

“I was really gunning for Shane, I was there when he won his first race at the Hamilton street race in the crowd, one of the ones going nuts, and I was obviously one of the ones going nuts when (Greg) Murphy and all those guys won (at Pukekohe) so it was pretty cool.”

Winning the last ever Supercars race at Pukekohe, and claiming his third Jason Richards Memorial Trophy, made for an unforgettable weekend for van Gisbergen.

“To me, that’s better than Bathurst,” he said.

“This is all time for me, it’s pretty cool.”

Van Gisbergen now holds a 525-point advantage over Waters with three rounds remaining.

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