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Shane van Gisbergen makes an early statement to open the 2022 Supercars season

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Roar Guru
6th March, 2022
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His legendary partner-in-crime Jamie Whincup may have hung up his helmet, but Shane van Gisbergen has fired the first shot of this year’s Supercars season, taking out the first race under lights at Eastern Creek in Sydney.

The first race of the new season was originally fixtured to be held in Newcastle, which would’ve been the first time the city has hosted a Supercars event since November 2019, only for concerns over the omicron variant of COVID-19 to see that race postponed to later this year.

Instead, Eastern Creek was given the honour of hosting the season’s first race for the first time this century, while it was also the first time since 2011 that a season’s opening race was held under lights.

Whincup’s retirement at the end of last season, and subsequent promotion to Red Bull Ampol Racing team boss this year, saw 19-year-old rookie Broc Feeney step into the shoes of the seven-time Supercars champion.

Jamie Whincup

(Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

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I’ll have more on Feeney shortly, but let’s take a look at how van Gisbergen took out the first race of the new season.

The Kiwi was pipped for pole position by Anton de Pasquale, who was fastest in the first qualifying session for the day and was the last racer to contest the top-ten shootout (which is contested in reverse order, with the tenth fastest racer going first).

This saw the 32-year-old settle for second on the grid, and after nearly 20 laps found himself trailing surprise leader Andre Heimgartner (who at this stage held a five-second lead over his closest opponent) and de Pasquale.

Van Gisbergen then took the first of three pit stops, then took the race lead by nearly seven seconds on lap 28. At one stage, his Red Bull teammate Feeney was in second place, only to then drop to sixth two laps later.

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As the race wore on, the focus turned to the battle for second place between de Pasquale and Will Brown, their tussling allowing the Kiwi to extend his lead to more than ten seconds after 40 laps.

The 26-year-old Shell V Power Racing driver then overtook Brown on the next lap, at the end of which defending champion van Gisbergen took his second pit stop to not just refuel, but also to change tyres in order to adjust to the wet conditions, with the threat of heavy rain looming.

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

By the time the Red Bull Ampol veteran returned to the fray, he had trailed de Pasquale by more than 20 seconds, though managed to halve the deficit before eventually taking the lead back when the latter made his second pit stop of the race.

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At lap 59, van Gisbergen’s lead on second-placed Brown had blown out to nearly 40 seconds, threatening to turn the first race of the season into an embarrassingly easy victory; well, that was until the Kiwi decided to take a pit stop with 14 laps remaining.

Brown became the new leader of the race, holding a near ten-second lead, before being overtaken by de Pasquale on Turn 5 with ten laps remaining.

Then, at the pit straight, van Gisbergen would reclaim the lead from de Pasquale and would hold his lead to the death, while Chaz Mostert would overtake Brown with five laps to go to push him off the podium.

In the end, the reigning champion would cross the line first with a 20-second gap on de Pasquale and Mostert (who crossed the line ten seconds behind), thus picking up where he left off last season.

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It is his 55th Supercars race victory, still one win short of compatriot Scott McLaughlin, who departed to race in the NASCAR series at the end of 2020, and 2007 series champion Garth Tander.

Shell V-Power’s Scott McLaughlin.

(Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

“I didn’t really race anyone for the rest of the race; I just drove around. Pretty cool”, van Gisbergen said post-race, while also admitting he was surprised that the three-stop strategy had proven successful for his team given the margin he had on Brown at one stage in the race.

Brown struggled towards the death to finish in seventh position, behind Will Davison, Brodie Kostecki and Nick Percat.

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Rookie Red Bull Ampol driver Broc Feeney finished in ninth place, matching his result from the top ten shootout, which he just qualified for after being tenth fastest during the qualifying session.

The 19-year-old drew praise from his more experienced teammate post-race, who said that he would continue to be sledged by rival drivers for the first six months until he gains and gives respect as he continues to compete in more races and therefore gain some experience.

Scott Pye and David Reynolds both failed to finish the race due to a power steering and gearbox issues, respectively.

Van Gisbergen was less successful in Sunday’s day race; after qualifying 21st and therefore missing out on the top ten shootout, the 32-year-old Kiwi attempted a comeback in the main race, only to finish sixth and off the podium, blaming his own poor driving for the lowly result.

That race ended up being won by Chaz Mostert, which, combined with his third-place finish in Saturday night’s first race, saw him take the lead in the championship standings after the first round of the season.

Chaz Mostert.

(Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

It is the first time the soon-to-be 30-year-old, who has raced over 260 races in his career and famously Bradburied his way to victory at Bathurst in 2014 after starting in last place on the grid, has led the title race, holding a 27-point lead on van Gisbergen.

It also means that, for the first time since early 2016, the championship leader would be someone not from Triple Eight or Dick Johnson Racing, when then-defending champion Mark Winterbottom (Prodrive, now Tickford Racing) led after five rounds.

In the intervention, van Gisbergen, the since-retired Jamie Whincup and since-departed Scott McLaughlin had taken turns leading the championship, and have won 12 of the last 14 Supercars titles between them.

McLaughlin (2019) and van Gisbergen (last year) led from start to finish in their respective championship-winning seasons; the former was in the midst of a hat trick of titles.

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As a matter of fact, Winterbottom has been one of only two drivers (the other being James Courtney in 2010) to interrupt the big three’s Supercars dominance since 2008, the year Whincup won the first of his seven championships, winning in 2015.

The trio’s recent dominance in this sport is akin to the big three in men’s tennis (namely Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who along with Andy Murray had taken turns dominating the sport since 2003).

Coincidentally, their collective long reign at the top of the tennis standings ended recently when Daniil Medvedev took the number one ranking for the first time two weeks ago.

Back on topic to finish off, and with the first round of the new Supercars season in the books, focus now turns to the Tasmanian SuperSprint, which will be held in three weekends’ time.

As for the fate of the postponed Newcastle 500, a date is yet to be announced for the rescheduled event, though with no scheduled races after October’s Gold Coast 500, it is likely to take its place as the season decider towards the end of November, as it did between 2017-19.

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