Shane van Gisbergen has been regarded as one of the rising stars of the V8 Supercars championship since he arrived in the category at 17.
He steadily improved in the series, finishing each year better than the previous and stood on all three podium places over his six years in the sport.
However, van Gisbergen has decided to put his helmet away for a while to go and experience a few new things and enjoy life.
The Kiwi started driving at around 8 years old on the family farm and the first car he bought was a 1987 Toyota Starlet. As his dad Robert was into rallying, Shane spent many hours as a kid watching him race.
But van Gisbergen’s introduction into motorsport was motocross before moving on to speedway quarter midgets and then ATVs, where he won a couple of New Zealand championships. He didn’t squeeze himself into a single seater until he was 14.
People sat up and noticed his abundance of talent after winning the Formula Ford title in 2006. He backed this up in 2007 when he finished second to Daniel Gaunt in the Toyota Racing Series.
“I only spent a season in each open-wheeler class and then made the big, big jump into V8s,” said van Gisbergen.
“Getting into these things [V8s] was like starting racing all over again. The style of racing, and the driving style, was all different and it took a few years to get my head around it.
“I’m still learning and still haven’t mastered the V8s after all these years yet, and you will always keep on learning.
“Each year I’ve got better and better and I feel I’m driving the best I ever have. It’s all just experience and time.”
He made headlines as the youngest driver to sign up for the main game at just 18. The normal route into V8 Supercars for young pilots is through the Development Series so they can get a taste of rubbing handles and banging doors. Not for the Kiwi affectionately known as The Giz, though. Straight into it.
“I’m 23 now and it’s all I’ve really known is racing these things and the time has gone pretty quick,” said van Gisbergen.
He has been asked many times about what attracted him to V8s and not a single-seater career. This weekend his answer was a little different.
“Ask me in a couple of months’ time when I miss it all. Maybe I’ll be able to answer the question when I’ve had time to think,” he said.
“Watching open-wheel racing on TV is pretty boring and I liked the V8s because the racing was really exciting. It’s not so much any more with the fuel races, but back then it was great to watch and all I wanted to do was race V8s.
“Going to Pukekohe and racing there in V8s was always my goal. I had no interest of going to Europe and all that stuff – I wanted to come here [Australia] and race V8s.”
The contact aspect of the big taxis appeals to some and van Gisbergen is no exception. He doesn’t mind a bit of contact, either giving or receiving, but a deliberate punt off the circuit is a big no-no.
“Everyone hits each other and you get it back and it all makes good racing, but not when there’s too much contact like happened to me in Saturday’s race,” said van Gisbergen.
As with all good tin-top racers, Bathurst is van Gisbergen’s favourite track. It’s especially so for Kiwi drivers not only for the history of the place, as here nearly all the circuits are flat. The continuing change of elevation and direction at Mt Panorama make it a challenging place to conquer.
“I really like Bathurst but you can’t beat racing in front of a home crowd, especially when I won at Hamilton,” he said. “That was amazing and will probably be my best memory of my time in V8 racing. I remember doing the burnouts and everyone going nuts. It was a pretty cool feeling.
“Getting that win was the hardest thing as it was a long time coming. We’d had some good results up until then but the win hadn’t come off for us. It didn’t matter in the end as that was the best place to get the first one.”
The Giz has to be admired for taking control of his own destiny. And who knows, he may get itchy feet and want to go racing again one day.
“It’s a different feeling,” he said. “It’s a bit weird and I’m sad to be leaving but I’m also really excited about the future. It’s sort of like leaving a family [SBR] as I’ve been here five and a half years.
“I’m looking forward to waking up in the morning and not really knowing what I’m going to do that day. I’m looking forward to being 18. 19, 21 etc and going and having some fun.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s been good here in V8s but it’s time I just went and had some fun and do different stuff.”