Old friends Shane van Gisbergen and Simon Evans just missed a perfect weekend as they won the first round of the BNT NZ SuperTourers championship at Taupo today.
The V8 Supercar star and the fast-rising Aucklander dominated the first two races of the Rush Security Taupo 400 meeting in their Holden and looked set to make it a hat-trick, till fading tyres slowed Van Gisbergen late in the final heat and dropped him to third.
That race went to former Toyota Racing Series champion Mitch Cunningham – the Aucklander’s debut victory in this top category — and his Australian co-driver Cameron Waters, who benefitted from a smart strategy call just before the race started.
Evans, now one of the top resident drivers, scored his debut victory on Saturday and followed that up by winning this morning’s race as well.
Van Gisbergen took the first stint this morning and drove superbly in difficult, changing conditions to establish a good lead before handing over to Evans. These two have been mates since their junior karting days.
“The track was wet and dry so it was hard to judge the grip,” Van Gisbergen said. “It was good to be driving on a nice wet tyre.” The Hankook wet-weather tyres have proved to be grippy and durable.
Greg Murphy and Australian co-driver Jack Perkins came in second in another Holden although Murphy said the car’s setup was not as good as it had been. “The rear of our car is not good,” he said.
Andre Heimgartner profited from a decision to pit early to change to slick tyres as the track dried out, as he and Aussie Paul Morris brought their Holden home third for the second time this meeting.
The final race was shortened from 46 to 23 laps after a delay caused by a banner strung across the finish line. High winds had the banner flapping so violently it threatened to bring two poles crashing down across the track.
Everyone started on slick tyres but rain began to fall on the warm-up lap and Cunningham made the brave decision to pit before the start to fit wet tyres.
“We rolled the dice – we had nothing to lose,” he said. After the others followed suit later, he held a sizable lead.
A quick driver change saw Van Gisbergen seize the lead and initially he pulled away, but later his car slowed and Cunningham’s co-driver Cameron Waters caught and passed him. The Australian opened a safe gap and brought the Ford home first.
“I’m rapt with the win,” Cunningham said. “It’s been a long time between drinks.”
Van Gisbergen’s tyres had faded; Evans said the pressures might have been wrong. But the pair were not too disappointed at missing a rare perfect weekend.
“We’ve won the round and we’ve got the championship lead – we’re buzzing,” Van Gisbergen said.
Second overall were Hamilton’s Ant Pedersen and Aucklander Jonny Reid, who raced their Ford to second in the final race. “It was a last-minute effort so we’re pretty happy,” Pedersen said.
Heimgartner and Morris were third overall although they were only seventh in the final heat.
Fourth were young Aucklander Richard Moore with Supercar co-driver Tim Slade, while fifth went to Nelson’s John McIntyre – having his first race for the best part of a year – and fast-improving young Taupo racer Mark Gibson.
The BNT NZ SuperTourers endurance series concludes with meetings at Hampton Downs and Pukekohe in November.