Shane Van Gisbergen continued his run of devastating speed as he and Simon Evans won the BNT NZ SuperTourers race at Hampton Downs today.
Van Gisbergen set up the victory as he drove first in the opening race at the TR Group Waikato 400 meeting and got the better of a fierce battle with Andre Heimgartner, both driving Holdens.
Teenager Heimgartner put heavy pressure on the V8 Supercar star in the opening laps and seized the lead as he shot up the inside into the fast turn one.
A few laps later Van Gisbergen hit the front again as he braked later for the downhill hairpin known as the Corkscrew.
“Andre was driving really well,” Van Gisbergen said. “It was a good battle, pretty exciting.”
However he thought Heimgartner pushed just a little bit too hard, causing his tyres to lose some grip.
“Once I got back in front I pushed hard to get a gap, as a safety margin for the driver change,” Van Gisbergen added.
The 25-year-old Kiwi won a race at the Surfers Paradise V8 Supercar meeting last month, and would probably have won both the second Surfers race and the Bathurst 1000km classic as well if not for strokes of terribly bad luck.
Van Gisbergen and Evans increased their lead in the BNT NZ SuperTourers championship, having won the first round at Taupo in September.
Heimgartner admitted that he had been too hard on his tyres while his Bathurst-winning co-driver Paul Morris put it this way: “He was too good too soon.”
Still, Morris added, the experience of fighting with such a top driver as Van Gisbergen would be useful for Heimgartner, whom he has been mentoring.
The pair dropped to third after losing time in their driver change, because Morris is bigger than Heimgartner and does not fit in the same driving position.
“We lose five seconds every pit stop,” Morris said.
Reigning champion Greg Murphy and his Australian co-driver Jack Perkins ran their Holden in fourth early on but advanced to finish second, benefitting from Heimgartner and Morris’s slow driver change.
Murphy was unhappy with the result – “Second loser,” he said.
“The car’s not handling very good, we’re definitely struggling big-time.” He was not sure what the problem was.
Ant Pedersen and Jonny Reid were the top Ford, finishing fourth ahead of the Holdens of Richard Moore-Tim Slade and Paul Manuell-Shae Davies.
Tomorrow sees two races each of 60 laps. These races will require extra pit stops for refuelling, which will pose problems of strategy for the teams as the timing of the stops could make a big difference to the results, especially if there are safety-car periods.