Two years after shedding tears over winning the Jason Richards Trophy, Shane van Gisbergen has revealed a special moment shared with the late Hall of Famer.
Van Gisbergen was the first and so far only Kiwi to win the JR Trophy, awarded to the highest points-scorer across the Pukekohe weekend from 2013.
Richards raced full-time in Supercars from 2001-10, when he was diagnosed with cancer, which he fought until his death the following December.
While there are five Kiwis in the current Supercars field, only two of them – van Gisbergen and Fabian Coulthard – raced in the main game with Richards.
Van Gisbergen made his Supercars debut as an 18-year-old at Oran Park in 2007, driving under the Team Kiwi banner with which Richards had his first start seven years earlier.
When asked on Supercars Trackside why winning the JR Trophy meant so much to him, van Gisbergen recalled being warmly welcomed to Supercars by Richards.
“I was 16th after the first practice and Jason came straight up as we were going to drivers’ briefing and said how impressive it was,” van Gisbergen said.
Van Gisbergen finished 20th, 13th and 23rd in his first Supercars weekend
“I didn’t tell him we were one of the only cars on new tyres! But he welcomed me to the series and wished me luck for the weekend.
“He was always friendly and that’s just the kind of guy he was.
“Even when he was fighting through his illness, he was still coming to the track, smiling with his family with him and everything.
“He was just an inspiration and a true Kiwi hero. To win a trophy with his name on it, I did tear up a little bit, I’m not ashamed to say.
“It was one of my best achievements.”
Under the spotlight
Van Gisbergen enters the ITM Auckland SuperSprint as one of two Kiwis fighting for the Supercars title, trailing Scott McLaughlin by 14 points with just two events remaining.
That promises to make for a high-pressure weekend on and off the track for the pair, who are in high-demand with the fans and media.
“It’s a bit crazy, we start so early in the week, but you just remember the early days there, the early 2000s when Murph (Greg Murphy) was winning, it was awesome going to watch,” said van Gisbergen.
“Now being on the other side of the fence, getting to experience that, but I only grew up 20 minutes away, so I stay at home most nights and travel out to the track and go racing.
“It’s pretty special to be able to do that.
“Now as well, there’s five Kiwis in the championship. It’s pretty cool to have that number back up again, and most of us are in good cars.”
Van Gisbergen’s 2016 title was the first for a Kiwi in the Australian Touring Car/Supercars Championship since Jim Richards, 25 years earlier.
“It’s a pretty cool era for Kiwis in motorsport,” added van Gisbergen.
“We’ve got one in Formula 1 (Brendon Hartley) and Earl (Bamber) in the World Endurance Championship (winning the title in 2017).
“Then myself versus Scotty, Ford versus Holden, North Island versus South Island, it’s pretty cool times.”