Motorsport: Shane van Gisbergen ready to break Bathurst duck

Shane van Gisbergen. Photo / Photosport

The opening practice of the 2020 edition of the Bathurst 1000 could have rekindled animosity. Shane van Gisbergen collided with Scott McLaughlin’s co-driver Tim Slade at the top of the mountain, causing the Kiwi driver to miss a fair chunk of practice.

Last year, van Gisbergen had called for McLaughlin’s Bathurst win to be rescinded due to his teammate Fabian Coulthard slowing down behind a safety car, allowing McLaughlin to gain an advantage while in the pits.

Van Gisbergen finished less than a second behind his fellow Kiwi and described Coulthard as a “sacrificial lamb”.

DJR Team Penske were found complicit and deducted 300 points in the team championship, while Coulthard was relegated to last.

The Red Bull Holden Racing team driver is not dwelling on the past, however, and is just looking forward to racing this weekend.

“It’s going to be a good weekend but it’s really strange with no one here,” van Gisbergen told the Herald on Sunday. “It’s a weird atmosphere with no crowd and no one camping.

“It’s quite different but I’m sure once we get racing the focus will be on driving.”

The New Zealander’s season has improved of late and the results are getting more consistent.

“The car’s definitely been quick lately and racing isn’t a problem. Qualifying has been a bit of a struggle especially on softs but once we get going, we’ll be fine.

“It’s different around here and there’s a long way to go. In the run up to the race we’re going to be focusing on getting the car as comfortable as possible.

“It’ll be different this year as there aren’t as many support categories so the track will be quite different with no rubber. Towards the end of the race though it should be back to normal,” he said.

The Bathurst 1000 is similar to the Indianapolis 500 in that it’s one of the hardest races to win due to the nature of their respective tracks, the length of time of the race and the incredible number of variables that all have to be aligned for success. Bathurst might just be a bit harder as teams have to contend with co-drivers being thrown into the mix.

“I don’t really know what makes it a hard race to win, and everyone seems to have a story,” says van Gisbergen.

“We’ve had really good opportunities in the past few years but haven’t been able to make it happen [especially in 2016 with the starter motor failure].

“We’ve done some pretty intense preparation in the run up to the race this year so we should be okay. We’ve given it everything we can to make sure the car is reliable and fast and we’re concentrating on getting the basics right.

“You normally get really pumped up seeing the big crowd but this year it’s different so there’ll be more focus on the racing.”

The track itself is unlike anything else on the Supercars calendar. It was built as a tourist loop up, across and down Mt Panorama for the residents, and visitors to, the New South Wales city of Bathurst.

“It is unusual in some ways with blind corners and heavy compression in some places. It’s a track I like because it’s a rare place where it rewards bravery. There’re not many tracks that do that any more,” mused van Gisbergen.

“It’s not a place where you can on it in a couple of laps. You have to build up over the weekend and keep up with the track. It takes a bit to get hooked up.

“These days there is no place in the race where you can relax. It’s a full-on sprint race from start to finish and you want to be out front right from the start. You just have to keep it together for a 1000km.”

McLaughlin is already the 2020 Supercars champion elect and is favoured to defend his Bathurst title, before heading to America for his IndyCar debut at St Petersburg, Florida next week.

McLaughlin will start from second on the grid in today’s race, after being toppled by a superb lap from Cam Waters in the top 10 shootout last night, who took pole position by 0.4 seconds.

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