Ki­wis ready to fly

Van Gis­ber­gen, McLaugh­lin to slug it out at Pukekohe

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS - David Long david.long@stuff.co.nz

New Zealand motor rac­ing fans will never have had it so good as next weekend at Pukekohe, when Shane van Gis­ber­gen and Scott McLaugh­lin slug it out for the 2019 Su­per­cars cham­pi­onship. Per­haps not since David Tua de­feated Shane Cameron in 2009 have two gi­ants of New Zealand sport gone head to head like this. While there will be 24 other cars on track for the penul­ti­mate round of the se­ries, all eyes will be on the only two driv­ers in con­tention for the ti­tle, with McLaugh­lin hold­ing a nar­row 14-point lead in the cham­pi­onship. It will be a bat­tle of driv­ing abil­ity, tac­tics and ma­chin­ery, but it will also be a test of nerves as nei­ther driver can win the cham­pi­onship in Pukekohe, but they can lose it. ‘‘It’s awe­some, the next two rounds are go­ing to be re­ally cool,’’ van Gis­ber­gen said, who never seems to get fazed by any­thing. ‘‘I’m look­ing for­ward to hav­ing a good crack at it and I’m pretty sure it will go down to Sun­day at New­cas­tle.’’ As well as a bat­tle be­tween the driv­ers, this sea­son there’s also been an epic con­test be­tween McLaugh­lin’s DJR Penske team in a Ford and van Gis­ber­gen in his Triple Eight Race En­gi­neer­ing Holden. At the start of the sea­son the DJR Penske cars were quick­est, but as the cam­paign went on Triple Eight’s cars were faster. But over the last cou­ple of rounds, at Bathurst and Gold Coast last weekend, there seemed to be lit­tle be­tween them. ‘‘On the weekend we were very close and the next two tracks suit us both,’’ van Gis­ber­gen said. ‘‘We’ve both have good re­sults there and the teams are just as good as each other. ‘‘I think it will come down to who makes the least mis­takes over these next two rounds. ‘‘Prepa­ra­tion will be cru­cial too, we’ve got to turn up with a good car next Fri­day.’’ It’s fit­ting that the New Zealand round of the Su­per­cars se­ries will have such a big im­pact in de­ter­min­ing which Kiwi driver wins the cham­pi­onship, but it does mean New Zealand motor rac­ing fans will be split, hav­ing to make a de­ci­sion on who to cheer for, al­though van Gis­ber­gen doesn’t mind. ‘‘That’s the best thing about the Kiwi fans,’’ he said. ‘‘Nor­mally they cheer for Holden or Ford, but when a Kiwi wins, that’s the most im­por­tant thing. ‘‘I don’t care who peo­ple are cheer­ing for, as long as it’s a Kiwi — it’s go­ing to be pretty awe­some.’’ While van Gis­ber­gen has to re­side in Aus­tralia be­cause of his Su­per­cars com­mit­ments, he re­mains a proud New Zealan­der. ‘‘There’s no New Zealand V8 se­ries at the mo­ment, so I can’t come here to race as much as I want. ‘‘Yes, I used to do the Su­perTour­ers and loved that. ‘‘They do have a V8 se­ries and an en­durance se­ries which is start­ing to get big­ger. ‘‘So yes, I want to come and race here as much as I can.’’ Mean­while, Su­per­cars an­nounced re­cently that, for 2019, the Pukekohe round of the se­ries will swap places with Sandown in the cal­en­dar, so will take place in Septem­ber. It’s hap­pened be­cause Su­per­cars have had trou­ble get­ting hold of 747-400 freighter planes to trans­port the cars over, so they’ll go by ship. As this takes longer, it’s an is­sue hav­ing the Pukekohe race two weeks af­ter the Gold Coast round, hence the switch, but to a time where there’s more un­cer­tainty about the weather be­ing good. It’s some­thing van Gis­ber­gen isn’t happy about. ‘‘I don’t make those calls, but it’s a weird one,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s the per­fect time for the race here in Novem­ber. The weather is good and the rugby sea­son is over. ‘‘Some things they do don’t make sense, but it might be OK.’’

‘‘I don’t care who peo­ple are cheer­ing for, as long as it’s a Kiwi.’’

GETTY IM­AGES

Kiwi ace Shane van Gis­ber­gen al­most gets air­borne in his Holden dur­ing the Gold Coast race this month.

Shane van Gis­ber­gen

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