Fabian Coulthard yesterday claimed Shane van Gisbergen misled people about his controversial comeback from retirement, reigniting a simmering feud ahead of the V8s’ return to Pukekohe.
Van Gisbergen shocked V8 followers last year when it was announced, aged just 23, he would be “retiring” from the sport despite having agreed a three-year deal with Stone Brothers Racing. Six weeks later he signed with Tekno Autosports to race in this year’s series.
Van Gisbergen maintains he never used the word retirement but went along with the team’s plan to couch it that way because he didn’t intend to come back.
Coulthard, who goes into this weekend’s ITM 400 Auckland on the back of two wins at Tasmania, raised the situation again at a media call for three of the four Kiwis racing at Pukekohe this weekend.
“It’s not that I wasn’t happy,” Coulthard said in Van Gisbergen’s presence. “It was how he went about it. I am happy Shane’s in the category. It’s good. It’s competitive. We still get on very well.”
He then told the Herald: “I’m not just speaking for myself, I’m speaking for the whole driving group when I say something like that.
We just want answers.”
For Van Gisbergen, who has never enjoyed being in the spotlight, it’s an uncomfortable situation. He refused to be drawn on Coulthard’s comments, preferring to focus on Pukekohe, but admitted it was frustrating.
“What he says is [annoying],” Van Gisbergen said. “The way it looks from the outside, it doesn’t look good, but it’s definitely not what happened. I’m not happy the way it turned out but I’m here racing. People don’t know the full story. It’s interesting what people say but they don’t know the full story and I can’t say it, unfortunately.
“One day I would like to write about it and tell everyone.”
Controversy is nothing new to V8 Supercars. Drivers can be outspoken, sometimes brutally so, and it translates well to rivalries on and off the track. Coulthard said he still got on well with Van Gisbergen and wanted to see another Kiwi win if he didn’t, but his comments add another dimension to this weekend’s racing.
Series leader and four-time V8 Supercars championship winner Jamie Whincup was comfortable about Van Gisbergen’s return.
“It’s great he’s in our category,” he said.
“He’s a serious talent. We are better off with him than without him.
“Comments have come out that we are all disappointed because we all signed a bonnet for him to say farewell and he was lying to us and what-not, but I think it’s pretty factual what went on.
“He wanted to get out of his deal at Stone Brothers, he could see that going pear-shaped, he didn’t get along with the new owner and did what he could.” APNZ