A third place finish at Sydney Olympic Park is enough to secure the 2016 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship for 27-year old Shane van Gisbergen.
He becomes the first New Zealand driver since Jim Richards in 1991 to win the title, after a dominant first year with Red Bull Racing Australia.
Today’s finish means the gap to Jamie Whincup – who won the race – is 170 points, and unassailable with only 150 on offer tomorrow, giving van Gisbergen his maiden championship after debuting back in 2007 with Team Kiwi.
2010 champ James Courtney would not give him an inch in the closing stages of the 250km race as van Gisbergen stalked him for a podium finish. The new champ took the position on the final lap showing no intention to drop back and take the points.
Even an early drive through penalty couldn’t stop him after an altercation with outgoing champ Mark Winterbottom.
“Pretty amazing feeling – sorry to Mark, I went up the inside and didn’t commit,” van Gisbergen said.
“It was good racing, a big battle with James and Scotty (McLaughlin) at the end.
“What an amazing year, thanks to all our sponsors … pretty awesome day.
“I just wanted to do a burnout but we’ll do that tomorrow.”
Disaster struck early on as van Gisbergen failed to capitalise on pole position and dropped through the field off the startline, while teammate and championship challenger Whincup took control of the race.
Frustrated behind Winterbottom, van Gisbergen tried to make a pass at turn nine, but punted The Bottle-O Falcon, earning a drive-through penalty.
That wasn’t enough to keep him at the rear of the field with a well-timed safety car for a heavy hit from Dale Wood helping put him back in the game.
He was ninth on the restart and picked his competitors off one by one, a battle ending badly for Todd Kelly who was in the tyres.
Charging through the field, engineer Grant McPherson told him “no risk with this bloke mate” as he approached Courtney for third.
Whincup drove a flawless race but couldn’t do any more to stay in the title fight.
“We give it our all, like all year – a big congratulations to Shane and 97 crew,” the six-time champ said.
“The winner of the championship is the most consistent. Not quite our year but I’ve enjoyed the battle and look forward to doing it again next year.
“I had a great year, we just absolutely got hammered with points at a crucial time of the year … not taking anything away from 97.”
David Reynolds impressed driving up from last to 10th after a penalty for an error in procedure at the end of qualifying.
Scott McLaughlin and Craig Lowndes were battling for third in the championship, with McLaughlin jumping ahead on the table as he finished fourth and Lowndes eighth.
Holden Racing Team is looking for a strong finish in the teams’ championship, with Garth Tander second and James Courtney fifth after McLaughlin squeezed past with van Gisbergen on the last lap.