It takes tal­ent, tech­nique and guts to win Aus­tralia’s hard­est-fought mo­tor­sport cat­e­gory. But for reign­ing Su­per­cars cham­pion Shane van Gis­ber­gen, he has a real ace up his sleeve... his dad

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents -

The father-son bond that fos­tered a Su­per­cars champ

ROBERT van Gis­ber­gen dances around the Holden Ba­rina rally car and leaps into the air so high there’s no way you would be­lieve the bloke’s got a se­ri­ous back in­jury.

“F__k­ing awesome,” he shouts into the driz­zle.

It’s an em­phatic re­ac­tion made even more star­tling be­cause he’d been so low-key just sec­onds be­fore.

Then he’d been play­ing down any chance he had of match­ing his son’s speed in the Ba­rina. His son just hap­pens to be Shane van Gis­ber­gen, the 2016 Aus­tralia Su­per­cars Cham­pion and per­haps the best rac­ing car driver go­ing around in Aus­trala­sia right now.

“It’s pretty close,” Shane had said as the Ba­rina cooled, tin­k­ing and tonk­ing, mud and spray cam­ou­flag­ing its sign­writ­ten sides.

“Well, you do this for a liv­ing so I’m glad I gave you a run for your money,” Robert had re­sponded.

They had just driven the Ap4-spec four-wheel drive Ba­rina up and down a drive­way on the fam­ily prop­erty at Manukau south of Auck­land, com­pet­ing against the stop­watch and each other.

It’s a match-race the two of them have staged ever since Shane was old enough to throw a leg over a quad, and it’s been con­ducted in the past in ev­ery­thing from a front-wheel drive Corolla sta­tion wagon to a Mit­subishi Lancer Evo rally car. And in all those years, Shane has never beaten his father. Sure, Robert sets a time and Shane had gone faster, but then Robert has al­ways gone faster again on the same day.

The seeds for to­day’s match-up were sown at Home­bush last De­cem­ber when Shane wrapped up his first Su­per­cars cham­pi­onship, and father and son em­braced tear­fully after the race.

“My dad is a racer him­self,” Shane had ex­plained. “He has been a great in­flu­ence and he has sac­ri­ficed a lot.”

To cel­e­brate the achieve­ment of this shared dream, the first drive­way shoot-out be­tween the two of them for five years be­came the se­cond part of a video shot by Shane’s team, Triple Eight Race En­gi­neer­ing, and spon­sor, Red Bull.

Part one took place a few weeks ear­lier when Robert drove Shane’s Holden Com­modore VFII Su­per­car at Nor­well on the Gold Coast.

At Nor­well, Shane had set a time and Robert then had a crack. In­cred­i­bly, after just 12 laps in the 650 horse­power mon­ster, he got within six tenths of his son’s best ef­fort.

“It was pretty im­pres­sive to just jump in a car that took me a few years to mas­ter,” says Shane. “Okay, it’s Nor­well, it’s a small track, but it’s still pretty awesome. They are not an easy car to drive.

“If he had a proper go, or he was 10 years younger, you’d al­most train him up for Bathurst.”

Shane says that with a quiet laugh, but there’s also pride tinging on awe. If there’s a ri­val Shane van Gis­ber­gen truly re­spects, it’s his father.

There’s noth­ing new or rare about fa­thers and sons who share a pas­sion for mo­tor­sport, but there’s some­thing that dis­tin­guishes the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Robert and Shane.

A used car whole­saler by trade, Robert loves cars and ral­lied for years very suc­cess­fully in New Zealand. He also raced quads, which are a big deal in NZ, and Sprint­cars.

Shane was lit­er­ally born, raised, and com­pletely im­mersed in petrol-head heaven. From as early as he can re­mem­ber he was watch­ing his dad race, his dad was help­ing him, or they were go­ing head-to-head; quads, go-karts, cars, sim­u­la­tors, ra­dio-con­trolled cars, slot cars. They’ve tested each and all of them and Robert has beaten his son plenty of times.

“I think he is a bet­ter nat­u­ral driver, he picks things up quicker than me. I have to work at it,” says Shane. This from a bloke whose 2016 Bathurst co-driver, Alex Pre­mat, says he has the tal­ent to be a Formula 1 driver… if he wasn’t built like a lum­ber­jack.

Shane started rac­ing a quad when he was six and quar­ter midgets at Western Springs speed­way by the time he was nine. Then it was karts, Formula Vee, Formula Ford, the Toy­ota Rac­ing Series, and, 10 years ago, Su­per­cars. He was just 17.

“I didn’t know he was go­ing to be driv­ing a Su­per­car. It didn’t come across my mind at all. We just had fun to­gether,” re­calls Robert.

“That’s why I race, be­cause it’s fun and en­joy­able,” adds Shane. “Ev­ery­thing I have gone and done, we have gone and done it be­cause we en­joyed it.”

As Shane pro­gressed and his tal­ent be­came ob­vi­ous, his father set him chal­lenges. In quad races Shane was so dom­i­nant Robert would grid him up fac­ing the wrong way so he would have to turn around and race through the whole field.

“He loved pass­ing and he loves pass­ing. When he was nine-years old in quar­ter midgets he loved pass­ing cars, just out­side and in­side, and he learned not to hit them,” re­calls Robert. “He’d watch and learn how oth­ers be­haved, find their weak­nesses.”

He still does. Shane’s abil­ity to place his car and make a pass is the best in Su­per­cars.

Robert is more than a petrol-head, he’s a per­fec­tion­ist. He ad­mits he is wound up far tighter than his son, who in­her­its a more re­laxed de­meanour via his mother Karen. The quads and cars Robert pre­pared for his son to race were al­ways per­fectly pre­sented and fast. After all, win­ning is clearly part of the fun. “For me as a so-called car salesman to be able to get a race-win­ning car set-up, I was rapt,” says Robert. “I just wanted to beat those full-time en­gi­neers and race hot-shots. I worked it out my­self – I got a bit of help from my mates – but that was my goal.”

Robert’s per­fec­tion­ist zeal is re­flected in the at­ti­tudes he has im­pressed on his son. It’s easy to as­sume, based on his in­cred­i­ble car con­trol, that Shane can rely on his wits to get him by. Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth.

His en­gi­neer Grant Mcpher­son, who has also worked with elite Su­per­cars driv­ers Will Dav­i­son, Mark Win­ter­bot­tom, and Craig Lown­des, says Shane is the best he has en­gi­neered in terms of study­ing the data to get the best out of him­self and the car.

“He knows what he wants from the car, and he is pretty good at com­mu­ni­cat­ing it,” Mcpher­son said in 2016. “We just have to make sure we can give it to him to his lik­ing.”

The mes­sage ‘No mis­takes’ is taped on Shane’s fridge at his Gold Coast apart­ment and in his locker in the race trans­porter. It is his father’s mantra passed down. That’s ex­actly what he de­liv­ered dur­ing his run to the Su­per­cars ti­tle.

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