Sunday, July 14, 2024


NASCAR's Shane van Gisbergen on the race that modified his life

A yr ago, three-time Australian Supercar champion Shane van Gisbergen got into white and blue NASCAR Cup Series automobile on the streets of Chicago. It was the primary time the NASCAR Cup Series raced on a street track, and van Gisbergen raced for the primary time at NASCAR's highest level — in a one-off entry sponsored by part time road crewnothing less. Record rainfall flooded the track, and the TV commentators couldn't even pronounce his name.

Then Shane van Gisbergen he won.

- Advertisement -

(Then) 34 years old from New Zealand entered the 2023 Chicago Street Course within the Trackhouse Racing “Project91,” which is an “all-star car” for drivers from other series. The automobile is less of a NASCAR audition and more of a showcase — a fun solution to see what a talented outsider can do in NASCAR. Only two drivers have raced with Project91: van Gisbergen and retired Formula 1 champion Kimi Räikkönenwho drove well but never achieved a powerful end in the automobile. When a star driver tries a distinct type of racing, it’s more about show than performance.

Van Gisbergen’s debut victory prompted his decision to maneuver to America and pursue NASCAR full-time this yr, a choice he says he’s surprised looking back by how unexpected all of it was.

“Nobody thought we’d go out and win that race,” van Gisbergen tells me, recalling the race that modified his life. “That feeling when the radio opens and the engineer or the crew chief comes over shouting how exciting it was to win, and that brief surge of emotion you feel – it’s hard to explain, but it’s an incredible feeling.”

The race was treacherous, with drivers racing through the rain all day. Formula 1 champion Jenson Button he spun attempting to get to the pit lane. Pole position winner Denny Hamlin he hit the tire barrier on the second lap; Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick did the identical later, with water spraying from the barriers on impact. By the midway point of the race, greater than a dozen cars were piled up in the identical corner.

Shane van Gisbergen celebrates his victory in Chicago 2023

Shane van Gisbergen celebrates his victory in Chicago 2023

Photo: Lesley Ann Miller / Motorsports images

With 16 laps to go, van Gisbergen was running eighth. The drivers were using different pit stop strategies, with some teams opting to remain on old tyres to achieve track position and others choosing fresh tyres. Van Gisbergen pitted, giving him more speed but more cars to pass.

And he did. Van Gisbergen devoured every automobile, passing race leader Justin Haley with five laps to go. Shortly after, one in all the TV commentators began to comment, “Van Gi-vis-bu-bur…” They abandoned that thought.

Van Gisbergen cruised to victory, making NASCAR history and changing the trajectory of his life. Americans who didn’t know his name learned about him, and the victory landed him where he’s now: full-time in NASCAR.

“On the cool-down lap, everyone came up and hit the back of the car or the side of the car,” van Gisbergen said. “Everyone was giving thumbs up and stuff like that. It was overwhelming. Stopping on the straight, all the people – it was just so unexpected.”

It was the primary time a driver won on his debut within the Cup. in 60 years. But there may be a reason why van Gisbergen selected This race: He's a street racing ace, and the brand new Cup Series “Next Gen” race automobile looks more like a sports automobile (built to show left) than a standard NASCAR automobile (read: built to show a technique). AND (good). That makes it a friendlier machine for international racing stars identical to van Gisbergen, who led the race in Chicago next to colleague one-time entry Button. Even if Cup drivers are higher on road courses than ever beforevan Gisbergen had the advantage.

Still, everyone raved about him winning the race while driving on the left side of the automobile (versus the suitable, like within the Australian supercar). But that wasn't as difficult for van Gisbergen as working with NASCAR's latest five-speed sequential gearbox and stick shift.

Shane Van Gisbergen is racing in the Xfinity Series this season

Shane Van Gisbergen is racing within the Xfinity Series this season

Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsports images

“I've driven a lot with the steering wheel on the left, so switching between the two doesn't bother me too much,” said van Gisbergen. “It was just a gear change [that was different]. I've never really changed sequential gears like that. In a rally car, there was a gear shifter — but it was a typical rally gearbox, so you didn't have to use the clutch to downshift or anything like that. The Cup car was a bit specific in that way.”

Van Gisbergen's victory in Chicago got here at a turning point in his profession. Australian Supercars has just introduced latest automobile own. As van Gisbergen told Dale Earnhardt Jr. in an interview last yr: “Racing sucks. It's so boring. You're driving at 30 percent, trying to keep the tires on, and everyone's just following each other.”

“I was quite happy with Supercars until last year when the new car came along,” van Gisbergen tells me. “The way the series was going, I just didn’t like it. Then you get a shiny new toy or opportunity and that just gets me going.”

Van Gisbergen's appearance in Chicago in 2023 led to a fast announcement one other Cup Series road race last season on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he again began in a Trackhouse Project91 automobile. He qualified eighth and finished tenth.

“When we were in Chicago, I definitely had no plan or intention to come here or do more races,” van Gisbergen said. “It was pure chance. But when we got that result, everything snowballed. It all happened very quickly, in the way that [Trackhouse team owner] Justin Marks made it happen.”

Trackhouse is a young band, but because it was founded by Marks modified the landscape of NASCAR in 2020. Marks says Trackhouse is an entertainment brand, which is why he didn’t name the team after himself — like many other NASCAR team owners — and why he’s developed ventures like Project91. Trackhouse is concentrated on creating buzz in addition to on-track success, and van Gisbergen’s victory achieved each.

A yr after his victory, van Gisbergen is a full-time NASCAR competitor, signed a development cope with Trackhouse and moved to America within the off-season. He has already won two races within the second division NASCAR Xfinity Series—each on road courses—with Kaulig Racing. He also This yr I’m collaborating in several Cup raceswith the goal of getting used to NASCAR's busy oval track racing schedule before moving to Cup on a everlasting basis.

“I knew I needed a year to learn and adapt, to fit in here and settle in the country before I was in the Cup next year,” van Gisbergen said. “Jumping into the Cup after six months of preparation probably wouldn’t have been great. It would have been very, very difficult.”

Van Gisbergen doesn’t have any crazy ambitions in NASCAR. He just desires to get to the Cup Series and master the art of NASCAR’s biggest races.

“I want to be better on ovals,” said van Gisbergen. “It would definitely be great to win [an oval] race someday, but I do know I'm a great distance from that — winning it on merit. I do know I'll at all times be good on the road course. That'll come naturally. It's on the ovals that I actually have to maintain recuperating.”

As van Gisbergen settles into racing in America, he’s quick to thank a friend in Australia for the encouragement. Retired Supercars champion Marcos Ambrose, who moved to the States to race in NASCAR almost 20 years ago, has been in his ear the entire time.

“He just kept saying, ‘You’ve got to get it there. Make it work. Try to do everything you can to get it to the States,’” van Gisbergen said. “He was one of the first guys I called when I found out I was getting the drive, and he gave me a lot of advice on that.”

Van Gisbergen said his influence began even before the Chicago race that modified his life.

“He said something like, 'You have to try it and make sure you can work there full time. You'll never regret it.' And so far I haven't.”

Read more