If you think Shane van Gisbergen is a wildman winning Supercars races on the back of raw talent alone then think again.
His new-for-2016 engineer Grant McPherson rates him better than any driver he has worked with in terms of studying the data to get the best out of himself as well as his car.
And considering McPherson has previously worked with Will Davison and Mark Winterbottom at Ford Performance Racing (now Prodrive Racing Australia) and Craig Lowndes when he joined Triple Eight Race Engineering last year, that is saying something.
“Shane knows what he wants and he works at it,” McPherson told supercars.com in the build-up to this weekend’s Castrol EDGE Townsville 400.
“He is probably the stand-out driver I have worked with in terms of ability to read he data and analyse his own performance as well as the car’s performance.
“He works hardest at data of any one I have seen in the sport.”
But McPherson stressed he could not and would not separate his current and former charges on talent or attitude to their craft.
“All four of those blokes and four more if they have got the car they want are nearly untouchable,” McPherson said.
But his assessment does fill in our picture a little more of the 27-year old New Zealander, who moved from Tekno Autosports to Triple Eight for 2016 and is now a superstar of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, albeit one who mostly lets his outstanding car control do the talking.
“Shane is great to work with,” said McPherson. “He has got a lot more personality than comes across in the public and he works really hard at this job.
“He knows what he wants from the car and he is pretty good at communicating it … we just have to make sure we can give it to him to his liking.
“He has got bucket loads of talent and can drive anything, but if we give him the car that he wants then he can do it easy.”
Despite running fifth in the championship, albeit only 71 points behind his team-mate Jamie Whincup, van Gisbergen has been arguably the quickest driver of 2016 without being the most consistent.
He is equal top with Scott McLaughlin and Tim Slade with two wins and equal second on ARMOR ALL pole positions with Winterbottom and McLaughlin with two, one behind PRA’s Chaz Mostert.
He is the only driver to have been the pace-setter at two championship events, Symmons Plains and Hidden Valley, but in both cases errors robbed him of almost certain wins or podiums.
In Tassie he got caught out by oil at the hairpin and went from the lead to parked in the sand-trap with just a few laps to go. In Darwin it was passing leader Michael Caruso before the control line on a restart that prompted a drive-through penalty and a 16th place finish.
Without those errors McPherson is conscious his driver would most likely be leading the championship right now. However, he downplays thoughts of a maiden title for both of them.
“We really focus on the championship in November once we get past the enduros,” the 2015 Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 winning engineer said. “The swings and roundabouts in those couple of months can be uplifting or devastating.
“The number one thing is we know we have a very strong car and we just have to make sure when we are having a slightly off day we just bank as many points as we can.”
Van Gisbergen has spoken about how he must become mistake-free in his racing and McPherson says he is conscious of the help he can provide from pitlane.
“Probably the number one way I can help him is just remind him that he has a strong car and boost his confidence that he can trust in the car and that it will be there for him,” explained McPherson.
“Maybe those split second decisions like he took in Darwin we don’t need to take risk there because there are still a lot of laps to go and he has a fast car and will be able to get the lead back.”
Both van Gisbergen’s poles came in Darwin after an Ipswich test day helped him and McPherson dial in their Holden Commodore VF more to his liking.
“Our second test day seems to have improved some of the characteristics to his liking and hopefully if that means he can get results with a less than perfect car then we can hopefully keep building on our results and win more than two races,” McPherson said.
“The speed is there and the job is just to make sure we can keep that coming back much more often.”
If van Gisbergen is to win in Townsville it would be a first for him, although he did claim two thirds there in his time with Tekno in 2013 and 2014, as well as pole in 2013. McPherson won there with Davison in 2013, leading home Winterbottom in an FPR 1-2.
“It’s an interesting track and a mix of a street circuit with the parklands being much more like a normal race track and very flowy,” McPherson explained.
“I think he (Shane) normally is a stand-out at street tracks where he can wrestle the car a bit more and Townsville will be the same. We just need to make him comfortable in the car and let him do his thing.”