GIZ AND DAD
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
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.