Shane van Gisbergen believes co-driver Alex Premat will be a fast and reliable partner in the endurance races.
With the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship so close this year, the enduros will have a huge influence on the end result – particularly Sandown and Bathurst, with 300 points for each win and zero for those who don’t finish.
Whether Premat is up to the task has been a big talking point, as other drivers have had test days and opportunities in co-driver only sessions at events.
The Frenchman completed two full-time seasons in Supercars with Garry Rogers Motorsport and proved a quick co-driver with Scott McLaughlin in 2014-15, the pair earning a podium finish at the Gold Coast in ’14 and threatening at Bathurst.
Van Gisbergen is second in the standings heading into the Red Rooster Sydney SuperSprint, 110 points behind leading teammate Jamie Whincup, but only 10 ahead of defending champion Mark Winterbottom.
Whincup and co-driver Paul Dumbrell are a proven combination, with victories at all three enduros, and Winterbottom’s new co-driver Dean Canto has performed strongly with David Reynolds the last few years.
“I’ve got no issue with his speed, I think he’s been the top guy on speed the last couple of years,” Van Gisbergen said of Premat on the Inside Supercars panel.
“The racing is a bit of a question mark but he’s going to have a lot of time in the car – he’ll be here on the weekend, drive on Monday on the ride day and some of Tuesday, and full test day as well.
“We needed to get him out because he hasn’t done as much as we’d like.”
Van Gisbergen revealed on last night's episode of Inside Supercars he had input in the decision to lock in Premat and feels he is a strong option – possibly even stronger than previous TEKNO co-driver Jonathon Webb, who Van Gisbergen won the Bathurst 12 Hour with earlier this year (along with Alvaro Parente).
“He was a no brainer when he became available,” Van Gisbergen said of Premat.
“[Webb] was an option at one point, yes – but he hasn’t raced for three years now full-time and last year that sort of showed. He was a little bit rusty in the races – his pace was no issue, he was fast enough but just around other cars he was a bit timid and that cost us the race, actually.
“We lost pit priority when [Marcos] Ambrose passed us but I think Alex will be no issues there.”
Premat is a driving instructor in Las Vegas, and Van Gisbergen emphasised that he has had opportunities to race this year.
“He’s in a car most weekends, and there’s EXR cars in Vegas, he did a few races at the start of the year, so he’s been in the car more than you think – so I think he’ll be fine.”
With GRM, Premat’s speed was never in doubt as he adjusted to the unique Supercar, but he had a reputation as a ‘crasher’.
Race winning driver Lee Holdsworth believes, in a structured environment like Triple Eight, Premat will be able to realise his potential.
“Like Shane said, there’ll be no problem with speed,” Holdsworth, who was able to steer a few laps at Monday’s Preston Hire Racing shakedown after injury, said.
“One thing Triple Eight seem to be really good at is managing their drivers – and he’s probably one guy that does need a bit of management to keep him on track and keep the thing clean, so I think it’s not a bad thing. I think he’ll do a really good job.”