How SVG-Waters battle is heating up, on and off track
Repco Supercars Championship
By James Pavey
Many, along with Supercars.com, forecast the 2021 title fight to be between Shane van Gisbergen and Cameron Waters, the two drivers who closed out last season better than the rest.
However, through the opening three rounds, van Gisbergen loomed to have all but crushed Waters’ title hopes, with the Tickford Racing driver cutting a sullen figure after Tasmania.
Prior to Waters’ breakthrough Race 11 win at last weekend’s OTR SuperSprint, van Gisbergen had defeated Waters in all four of their on-track battles so far this season.
Race 2 at Mount Panorama, where van Gisbergen sealed a clean sweep, came after Red Bull Ampol Racing outfoxed Tickford on strategy.
Race 3 at Sandown saw van Gisbergen muscle past Waters on the final lap to clinch a remarkable 17th-to-first comeback.
WATCH: SVG PIPS WATERS AT MOUNT PANORAMA
Waters then suffered a double blow at Symmons Plains, first in Race 6, when van Gisbergen needed just nine laps to regain the lead he lost to the Monster Mustang off the start.
The next day, Waters was muscled wide at the hairpin, with van Gisbergen following Jamie Whincup home in a Red Bull Ampol one-two.
Van Gisbergen’s Race 6 win prompted a frustrated Waters to speak out, the Tickford driver claiming he was "not in the same race" as his Holden rivals.
"Those Triple Eight cars are just ridiculously quick… they’re just playing with us really,” he said.
"Days like today you just kind of have to take your points… we’re not in the same race as them at the moment. We’ll just have to consolidate at the moment.”
WATCH: SVG MUSCLES PAST WATERS AT SANDOWN
Through four rounds, van Gisbergen’s margin over Waters in fifth is nearly a full round at 264 points.
However, Sunday’s Race 11 marked the third time in the last four races that Waters beat van Gisbergen to the chequered flag, stretching back to the Tasmania finale.
The Race 10 incident cost Waters 86 points in one race alone to van Gisbergen, who avoided the carnage to rise from 13th to third.
Van Gisbergen topped the weekend round points despite failing to win a race, and poked fun at Waters’ Tasmania comments after their enthralling battle.
"Bet he’s not whinging about parity now, is he?" van Gisbergen joked.
WATCH: WATERS PUSHED ASIDE AT SYMMONS PLAINS
“What an awesome race. We did different things; he did rears, we did the side.
“We couldn’t quite get him; he was awesome, he put the car in the right spots, second was where we were.
“It was a good race, but again, couldn’t get close enough to make the pass.”
The pure racer in van Gisbergen seems to be revelling in an external threat like Waters, who poked the bear at Symmons Plains, being a threat to his championship crown.
Internally, Jamie Whincup’s retirement will motivate van Gisbergen to prevent his teammate from winning an eighth title.
WATCH: WATERS HOLDS OFF SVG AT THE BEND
When asked about van Gisbergen’s comments on Supercars’ Facebook live show, Tuesday Night Takeaway, Waters said: “I just laughed about it, to be honest.
“I didn’t think much of it. Obviously heading into the weekend, we thought the Mustang was going to be a little bit better [at The Bend].
“It was, but Shane still had the quickest car on the Sunday; I just had clean air in front of me, and he had to put up with my dirty air.”
What is evident between van Gisbergen and Waters is this; there is great of respect between the two rivals on track.
Races 2, 3, 6 and 7 could have seen both cars end up in the fence, but they both acknowledged where they were in their respective races.
WATCH: SVG POKES FUN AT WATERS
Notably, Waters didn’t bite when asked about van Gisbergen’s Race 6 move, instead claiming he would have done the same thing.
Previously, Waters was trying to make the best of what he could on the weekend he had a win-competing car. When Mostert was his teammate, more often than not, it ended in tears.
Few toe the line better than van Gisbergen, who Mark Winterbottom labelled an “alpha male” and “bully” following their contact in Practice 1 last weekend.
Prior to this season, there was the threat, then, that things might get heated when things were on the line. But it didn’t happen last October in Bathurst, both van Gisbergen and Waters putting on a day-long battle for the ages.
Nor did it happen in Races 2, 3, 6, 7 and 11.
SVG got the jump on Waters in Bathurst
They have been clean and fair, befitting of a clean and fair fight between title rivals; a term that some may have already deemed redundant considering van Gisbergen’s hefty margin.
However, as we approach the Winton SuperSprint, the battle for victory will once again be wide open.
Critically, Tickford cars have performed well at their home testing venue, while van Gisbergen has only claimed one win at the Victorian circuit, back in 2017.
Whincup, meanwhile, last won at Winton since 2012.
The stop-start style circuit will likely throw another spanner in the 2021 title fight works, with Waters eyeing a reduced margin at his team’s home track.
Waters defeats SVG at The Bend
However, speaking after his Race 11 win, he knew van Gisbergen was the quicker car.
Suggesting track position is the key, Waters looms as a greater force at Winton, a venue he and his team know all too well, and one which is a bogey venue for the Red Bull Ampol entries.
“It’s so hard with the wet weather, we had no real dry running,” he said on the broadcast after the race.
“Whoever rocks up with the best set-up is going to have a massive advantage on that first day.
“Second to that, I think the Commodore has been very good at those point-and-shoot circuits, maybe they’ve got a bit of something for those kinds of circuits.
WATCH: WATERS RESPONDS TO SVG COMMENT
“Fast, flowing circuits are more suited to the Mustang, potentially.
“There’s not a heap in it; those Triple Eight cars are still bloody fast… Shane’s car was probably the quickest one today, I was just in front of him.”
The fight for the 2021 Repco Supercars Championship will continue at the Winton SuperSprint across May 28-30. Tickets are available here.
The event will be broadcast live on Foxtel and will be streamed on Kayo with highlights on 7 and 7 Plus.