Clipsal 500 winner and defending Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen continues his hectic start to 2017 this weekend with a trip to the United States of America ahead of a participation in Sebring 12 hour event.
For van Gisbergen, it will become his third endurance event of the year, but he seems to be juggling the double duty well after a commanding performance in Adelaide to open the season.
Van Gisbergen flew out of the blocks, taking two pole positions and driving aggressively so ensure a comfortable victory on Saturday before a hard-fought one on Sunday. From the get-go, he has shown he won’t be giving up his championship lying down.
But the New Zealander has a talent for handling any car he steps into and driving well in endurance races, which explains why he has had strong performances in longer races – both in the Supercar category and other race championships throughout his career – and why he has been chased for races in the United States to open 2017.
It could only be a matter of time before he becomes a permanent fixture racing endurance races around the world.
“It’s always good to experience a new track and a different style of racing,” van Gisbergen told Supercars.com of the Sebring 12 Hour, which was first held in 1952.
Endurance racing, particularly if he is able to reach the top of the class and go to races like the Le Mans 24 hour, is not only a way to see the world but race the best cars available on the best tracks and get his name in lights to potentially open up other opportunities down the track.
While Supercars is a high-class championship with great drivers, tracks and competition – although based on the results of the last decade the last point is a little debatable – it doesn’t come near the endurance championship.
There is nothing quite like charging around a track in the dark in a sports car doing 350 km/h. If you can handle that, then you can handle anything in the world of motorsports and it’s little wonder the Kiwi’s driving has come on so much since he began racing around the world.
One Australian who did end up going around the endurance tracks of the world was Mark Webber. After his retirement from Formula 1, he spent a couple of seasons at the pointy end of the racing world.
While he never managed to win the Le Mans 24 hour race, his Porsche team won the World Endurance Championship in 2015, and he has set the bar for all drivers from Australia and New Zealand to aim at.
Even if van Gisbergen decides to stick with Supercars in the long term and only does endurance racing at the start of his season, it could be a path many drivers decide to follow in the future.
While the Bathurst 12 hour event – now rated one of the best longer races in the world – gains plenty of traction from Supercars drivers, most tend to ignore the others.
Van Gisbergen is breaking that trend, and being part of the Daytona 24 hour was a big plus for the career of the aggressive driver.
“There are a lot of drivers in Australia that could go far if they got the opportunity,” said Van Gisbergen.
“I’m not sure why others haven’t done what I have, but maybe there will be more in the future.”
It’s not the first time he has been to the States for endurance racing and he has a solid history, finishing second in his class during the 2015 version as well as putting in solid performances at the Spa 24 hour event in Belgium over the last couple of years.
Van Gisbergen has shown how racing early in the season on different tracks in unfamiliar cars can seriously give you a leap on competition.
No amount of Supercars testing days is able to prepare a driver for the real thing – that is, pushing the pedal in anger and trying to beat opponents.
The Kiwi has done it, shown it works and it is likely to set a precedent for more and more Supercars drivers to do the same thing in the coming years.
Using the Bathurst 12 hour as a stepping stone is the right way to go about it, and even if it doesn’t end in a career change, we should expect to see plenty of Supercars drivers on the international stage in the future.
It’s hard to pinpoint any negatives for Van Gisbergen (or anyone) and driving endurance races around the world to go hand-in-hand with a drawn out Supercars season.