When Shane van Gisbergen won the 2016 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship at Sydney Olympic Park earlier this month he dedicated the victory to his family, noting the influence his father Robert had had over his career development.
Robert was a rally driver himself - although his motorsport activities have been limited since he broke his back in 2012 operating a digger - and he has been his son’s coach, manager and closest confidante throughout his career.
Robert, or ‘Cheese’ as he is nicknamed, was at Sydney Olympic Park to watch Shane achieve a “lifetime goal”, and along with wife Karen gave supercars.com an insight into their son, why he loves Supercars and how they helped him progress to the elite level.
Shane van Gisbergen Supercars champion. How does it feel?
Robert van Gisbergen: “Pretty awesome actually. I am glad he has finally done it. He has had a few ups and downs in his V8 Supercars career, but he has been forging ahead... He works hard for it, he deserves it.”
The feedback from people such as (Shane’s race engineer) Grant McPherson is how studious he is and how hard he applies himself. I get the feeling a lot of that comes from you judging by what he said in his post-race press conference about you being a perfectionist?
“I like things to be dead right.
“I will never forget the day I went to his apartment and I saw this big sticker on his fridge that said ‘no mistakes’. That’s the secret to success.”
Did that sticker symbolise a realisation, that the message had got through?
“It’s just something Shane is aware of that that’s the secret. And I have always strived for perfection.
Shane certainly doesn’t get his relaxed attitude and demeanour from me that’s for sure. It all comes from his mum and my wife Karen, she is the one who has always harped on to him about making sure he has fun.
If you are not having fun you need to do something, you need to change things so it is fun.
And he has had some fun in the last four years.
He enjoyed his stint with TEKNO and at Red Bull – even though a lot of people have said he is not going to handle the pressure there – he has just done an outstanding job.
And Red Bull is not as regimented as everyone thinks out there, there are certainly controls in place. Look at what they have done with him.”
Shane is a tremendously gifted motor racing driver, motorcyclist, RC (radio-controlled) racer for that matter. How much of his talent is naturally there and how much has come out of the hard work?
“We have never really thought of it that way. Shane has just had fun through the years. We have raced each other, everything we do together is a challenge. On the simulator we are always challenging each other, we are always racing each other. We just do it for fun.
Early on when we were racing quads and things I never thought he had exceptional talent, it’s just we had fun together. We were just mates having fun and he just got better than me in most things though (laughs).
But I tell you what, he lifted my game. I used to kick his arse but things have changed.”
When did the transition come, when did he start beating you?
“Oh the time he puts on that Hyper Stimulator, I couldn’t get near him. I can give him a run on the rally and some of the dirt stages but he always comes out on top at the end.
He just picks up a track so much faster than I do. I will take an hour to get to practice on the track whereas he is on the pace in five minutes.”
That’s on a computer, but what about the real world. I hear on your gravel driveway you still have a hold on him?
“Yeah, we haven’t done that for a little while and I’ve got a feeling he … the last time we did that challenge it was a Lancer Evo four-wheel drive thing and it was pretty close.”
So how long is the driveway?
“It would be about one-and-a-half kay.”
How close did he get to you?
“He wasn’t quite in the same second but he was close. I feel pretty proud of my driveway and certainly to beat him I was on my edge, I had to give it my all.”
How long ago was that?
“It was before I broke my back, so maybe five years ago.”
Do you think there will be a rematch any time soon?
“Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. There will be a rematch.”
So how is your injury now. Sorted?
“Oh no, I would probably be okay to go up and down the driveway. I’d still give him a go.”
As a journalist I interact with Shane in a purely professional way. Ask a question and get an answer and that’s the end of that. Can you give me a bit of a picture of what he’s like away from the hype and pressure of a race meeting?
“He’s my son mate … I don’t know how to answer that one (laughs). Look, he’s competitive and we still race each other online, he’s in Australia and I am at home in New Zealand. He’s relaxed, he’s relaxed. He doesn’t like issues.”
He talked about winning the Supercars title as the achievement of a lifetime goal, how did that come about?
“He has always been fans of two drivers; one was Graham Standring in midget speedway and Greg Murphy in Supercars and there was a time in Shane’s motorsport journey that he had to make a decision if he was going to go to Europe in single seaters, in which he would have been quite proudly supported by the Giltrap family. Or he could take the tin-top Supercars route in Australia.
I had to refrain him from making that decision and make him sleep on it overnight, but I knew what his answer was going to be. I said to him ‘you have to put some thought into this, it’s your choice’ and I’ve always had him make the choices.
And so I let him sleep on it and he was out of bed the next morning before I was; ‘Dad I am racing V8 Supercars, I just want to race Supercars’.
There was absolutely no doubt.
I said to him ‘mate have you done your plusses and minuses’ because that’s what you have to do. He said ‘you are not talking me out of it Dad’ and I said ‘I am not trying to talk you out of it’.
So that was it, I said ‘I will tell the Giltrap family that you want to race V8 Supercars’. He turned down the A1GP and that’s how he came here; this is what he wants to do.
He doesn’t want to drive GT cars in Europe.”.
He says it’s only a learning exercise to improve his Supercars skills?
“He does it for fun, he does it for fun. He reckons this is the absolutely the toughest championship to win and he absolutely loves it. He loves the challenge.”
To be number one and do it by beating Jamie Whincup in a head to head battle must mean a huge amount to him and you?
“At the end of the day he has won the championship ahead of Jamie. Jamie is a champion, he’s the best and Shane is the champion this year. But he is going to have a hell of a job backing it up and I think both Shane and Jamie are going to have an absolute blinder year between them next year.
They work well, they share well, and contrary to what all the keyboard warriors and all these other people go on about, the expectation of a war and the s*** that goes on in the team. That doesn’t happen, they are mates and they respect each other.
They really do work together and deep down they are racing each other and fighting with each other but the engineers share.
It’s just not like the previous multi-car team Shane was in [Stone Brothers Racing]. It’s just different.”
It’s an exceptional operation, the record bears that out.
"It’s my sort of operation. It’s polished and I love perfection and I just love it. I am just so proud that Shane is part of it. V8 Supercars is polished.”
How do you think Shane feels about the prospect of Jamie coming back even harder next year?
“Oh he will love it. He will strive for it. It will be good, he loves a challenge.
We saw that when he drove through the field on Saturday [at Homebush to win the championship].
It’s something that we have always loved, the concept of starting from the back in races, whether it be motocross or whatever.
He was dominant in the quads back when he was in the junior class and at the grid starts they used to run we had him facing the wrong way and he had to pass the whole, entire field.
I’ve always been one to pass to race."
Did you set out to train a champion race driver?
So why do that to him?
It’s what I used to do to myself. Initially I wanted him to be a rally car driver. That’s my passion, but it was actually Karen who got Shane to do the Formula Vee Scholarship [and start road racing in 2004]. So that was Karen’s doing not mine.
So did he blue about having to start off the back facing backwards?
No he loved passing and he loves passing. When he was nine-years old in quarter midgets he loved passing cars, just outside and inside and he learned not to hit them.
He’d watch and learn how others behaved, find their weaknesses.
So does Shane have any talented siblings coming through the ranks we’ll be seeing soon.
Karen van Gisbergen: No his sister is in to snowboarding. She’s getting good at it though…