Shane van Gisbergen has emphasised racing in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship remains his priority after wrapping up his first title at Sydney Olympic Park this afternoon.
The 27-year old New Zealander, who jets all over the world to race GT cars, made that completely clear after finishing a dramatic third in the opening 250km race of the Coates Hire Sydney 500 and establishing an unbridgeable point lead over team-mate and race winner Jamie Whincup.
“I do a lot of racing overseas but it is all to improve V8s [Supercars],” van Gisbergen told the post-race press conference.
“We only get two test days a year and we don’t get enough time in the car so I really think as a driver I have improved with all the extra-curricular stuff.
“Every time I go overseas and I experience cool things, but the best level of driving and the best series is always V8s.
“Even the guys up the back – some people give them a hard time – but they are within six-tenth of the front in qualifying and they are at a pretty high level across the field.
“So definitely V8s is the best racing and the best sport have been a part of and I will come back and try and defend next year.”
Van Gisbergen wins the championship in his ninth full-time season and his first driving a factory-backed Red Bull Racing Australia Holden Commodore.
“It has been a pretty awesome few years in the series and I am finally champion of the sport, a lifetime goal achieved,” he said.
Perhaps frighteningly for his opposition, he promised to come back even stronger in 2017.
“Hopefully we can build on this and not have that period of learning we had at the start of this season,” he said.
“That will help us.”
Van Gisbergen needed to finish fifth to ensure he won the championship, but after a slow start, a botched pass of defending champion Mark Winterbottom and a pitlane drive-through penalty, he found himself in 22nd.
After qualifying on pole the usually-attacking van Gisbergen admitted he was too cautious off the start and in his attempt to pass Winterbottom.
“I was just too conservative [at the start] and got mucked around at one, I let everyone go and then got hit at two. So there was a bit of carnage and passing back through I just wasn’t as assertive as I normally am.
“Normally I just throw it in and get it done. I just hesitated and it cost us.
“Once I was in that position there was nothing to lose and I just went crazy and hit everything except other people, so it was good.”
Van Gisbergen benefited from a late safety car to charge forward from ninth on fresh tyres. In the closing laps he had driven into fourth behind Holden Racing Team driver James Courtney, who repeatedly blocked his attempts to pass and claim the podium position.
Van Gisbergen was caught in a sandwich as Wilson Security GRM’s Scott McLaughlin pressured him from behind in his Volvo S60.
The action became so frantic that van Gisbergen’s engineer Grant McPherson advised him to drop behind McLaughlin if he wanted to, but he was loath to do so because it would hinder team-mate Craig Lowndes’ fight with McLaughlin for third in the championship.
Eventually, Courtney outbraked himself at turn one and both van Gisbergen and McLaughlin were able to get by.
“I knew on brand new tyres we would have good chance to come through,” he said. “We just went easy for the first few laps and then started picking them off.
“I knew getting past Scotty would help Craig in the championship so I got in front of him but then James was so slow he couldn’t get out of his own way.
“They told me to slow to save my spot but Scotty was attacking me, so I didn’t really want to pass James but he kind of forced me to.”