Virgin Australia Supercars Championship leader Shane van Gisbergen heads home to New Zealand happy at the prospect of a classic sprint race battle against his Red Bull Racing team-mate and title rival Jamie Whincup in the November 4-6 ITM Auckland SuperSprint.
The Pukekohe outing has a unique four sprint-race race format in a season where pit stop racing has been part of every other championship event.
No pit stops in New Zealand means no double-stacking, an issue both van Gisbergen and Whincup have had to cope with across the season, most obviously in the Pirtek Enduro Cup, which van Gisbergen and co-driver Alex Premat wrapped up at the Castrol Gold Coast 600.
Van Gisbergen has a 148-point drivers’ championship lead over Whincup with 600 points up for grabs across Pukekohe and the Coates Hire Sydney 500, which comprises two 250km races.
“For us it would be great to have a straight fight, no safety cars and race ourselves,” van Gisbergen said.
“It’s a good problem to have two cars racing up the front for a championship although it does make it a bit awkward at times.
“I look forward to Pukekohe, we both go good there and the same at Homebush.
“So hopefully safety cars don’t influence it and we can race hard and fair as we have been doing all year.”
Van Gisbergen, who will become the third New Zealander after Robbie Francevic and Jim Richards to win Australia’s top touring car title if he defeats six-time champ Whincup, recognises the strong position he is in.
“It’s pretty cool, I am in a good spot and it’s the best opportunity I have had to get a championship,” he said.
“There’s still 600 points up for grabs, anything can happen, so I have to make sure I don’t make any mistakes and there’s no double stacking at Pukekohe so away we go.”
Van Gisbergen and Premat posted incredibly consistent 2-2-1-2 results across the four races that comprised the Pirtek Enduro Cup, despite stacking at both Sandown and Bathurst, a 10-second time penalty on Saturday in Queensland and then a passing redress on Chaz Mostert that he ended up performing twice, meaning he actually passed the Supercheap Auto Ford Falcon FG X three times.
“The first one I took too much kerb, it was the first time I was following a car that close and you just follow the rear wing, and I just misjudged it and passed him anyway,” van Gisbergen explained.
“But the second time I didn’t think I used four wheels but they [the team] saw it [on television], but it was actually a replay of the first one and they thought I had done it again.
“So I redressed on his [engineer Grant McPherson] call … I laughed, let him [Mostert] through, carried on and then passed him again in the same place without going four wheels off.”
After that van Gisbergen closed to within a couple of seconds of Whincup, but elected not to go on with after being warned for over-use of the kerbs and receiving the bad sportsmanship flag.
“The next step from there was drive-through and I had a big gap behind so I just cruised it,” van Gisbergen said. “You could see Jamie’s car, he was driving real straight and he would have been saving tyres and fuel.
“I would have loved to have had a go, I had a really good car, but we will never know.”
Asked if championship position came into the decision to back off, he said: “No, I just didn’t want to do a trip through pitlane.
“There was no risk. Third place was 10 seconds behind, so I just backed down. It was going to be hard to get to Jamie and pass him so I was having to push so hard over the chicanes and that’s where I was making up my time and once you have used up all your warnings it’s pretty hard to get away with it again.”