AT the ripe old age of 17, ayoung Kiwi racer named Shane van Gisbergen made his V8 Supercars Championshipdebut at a very damp Oran Park Raceway.
Like the circuit, vanGisbergen’s drives to 20th and 13th in the in the tworaces that weekend - behind the wheel of the Team Kiwi Ford - are now history.
It projected the teenagestar into the limelight on this side of the Tasman and attracted the lure ofmajor teams – including team owners Ross and Jim Stone, of Stone BrothersRacing.
The Brothers quickly signedvan Gisbergen and it was there he established himself as one of the fastest andmost committed drivers in the series. He rose from 15th in thechampionship in his maiden full season to fourth in 2011, taking his first racewins along the way.
His win at the ITM Hamilton400 – his first in the sport – that year was perhaps the most popular Kiwi racingtriumph since the halcyon days of Greg Murphy at Pukekohe, half a decadeearlier.
In five short years vanGisbergen had rocketed from being a young driver with plenty of potential toone of the sports biggest names – and a man tipped by most to be the heir-apparentto Jamie Whincup’s domination of the sport in recent years.
He was also a fan favouritethank to his carefree nature and natural ability to destroy a set of Dunlops’with his extroverted victory celebrations.
However in 2012, cracksbegun to appear in the otherwise strong relationship. The SBR Fords were offthe pace and just two teams – Triple Eight and Ford Performance Racing – were doingall the winning. Despite a sprint race win at Sandown, it became clear as theyear went on that things were not all rosy in the #9 camp.
And it seems a combinationof the above factors, not to mention the weight of expectation as the ‘leading’driver in Ford’s iconic squad, was what led to the events of the past eightweeks.
No, he never retired - hewent on Holiday. Went drifting. Drove forklifts (see Twitter). He recharged his batteries. And away from the limelight,he made a decision.
As a result, #9 will become#97 in 2013 as he joins Jonathon Webb at Tekno Autosports in an incrediblystrong two-car Holden team, with a pair of Triple Eight-built VF Commodore’s ontheir way.
It is a new start, a newbeginning and a new opportunity for one of the sport’s most popular stars.
Yesterday he spoke with Channel 7 News in Brisbane whenannouncing his Tekno Autosports deal.
“Last year things weren’t goingso well and I wasn’t very comfortable where we were. I just wasn’t really enjoyingmyself. I just needed to get away really and think about where I wanted to beand what I wanted to do and I’ve had a great break over Christmas... And herewe are.
“People that weren’t closeto me probably didn’t really know what was going on, but people around couldsee what was happening,” He told Channel 7.
“Things needed to be changedin myself and it’s pretty exciting about what is about to happen. I’m prettyhappy to be here.”
Van Gisbergen joins a Teknoteam on the rise, creating a formidable two-car team that should rise rapidlytowards the top of the standings.
“I’ve seen Jonathon (Webb)really improve in the last few years in a pretty good environment so far,” he said.
“I came here yesterday andmet the whole team and everyone is pretty excited for the year ahead and everyonegets along well. I’m looking forward to it.
“I think if we gel well...and put it all together and get it right then we can win some races.”
So: new car, new team andnew outlook. Despite the intense media speculation the six weeks back home haveclearly generated the best result for the sport– with one of its biggest stars back on deck and in a competitive ride for2013.
“Where I was the last fewyears was a factory team and I was a pretty young guy coming into it, and therewas a lot of pressure. Now with this year and the environment I’m in I can gohome, race in New Zealand, hang out with family and they’re welcome to come tothe races. It’s going to be really good.
“This is the next chapter inthe career. We’ll push on and hopefully have some fun.”