Kiwis ready to fly
Van Gisbergen, McLaughlin to slug it out at Pukekohe
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.’’
Kiwi ace Shane van Gisbergen almost gets airborne in his Holden during the Gold Coast race this month.
Shane van Gisbergen