At the ripe old age of 17, a young Kiwi racer named Shane van Gisbergen made his V8 Supercars Championship debut at a very damp Oran Park Raceway.
Like the circuit, van Gisbergen’s drives to 20th and 13th in the in the two races that weekend – behind the wheel of the Team Kiwi Ford – are now history.
It projected the teenage star into the limelight on this side of the Tasman and attracted the lure of major teams – including team owners Ross and Jim Stone, of Stone Brothers Racing.
The Brothers quickly signed van Gisbergen and it was there he established himself as one of the fastest and most committed drivers in the series. He rose from 15th in the championship in his maiden full season to fourth in 2011, taking his first race wins along the way.
His win at the ITM Hamilton 400 – his first in the sport – that year was perhaps the most popular Kiwi racing triumph since the halcyon days of Greg Murphy at Pukekohe, half a decade earlier.
In five short years van Gisbergen had rocketed from being a young driver with plenty of potential to one of the sports biggest names – and a man tipped by most to be the heir-apparent to Jamie Whincup’s domination of the sport in recent years.
He was also a fan favourite thank to his carefree nature and natural ability to destroy a set of Dunlops’ with his extroverted victory celebrations.
However in 2012, cracks begun to appear in the otherwise strong relationship. The SBR Fords were off the pace and just two teams – Triple Eight and Ford Performance Racing – were doing all the winning. Despite a sprint race win at Sandown, it became clear as the year went on that things were not all rosy in the #9 camp.
And it seems a combination of the above factors, not to mention the weight of expectation as the ‘leading’ driver in Ford’s iconic squad, was what led to the events of the past eight weeks.
No, he never retired – he went on Holiday. Went drifting. Drove forklifts (see Twitter). He recharged his batteries. And away from the limelight, he made a decision.
As a result, #9 will become #97 in 2013 as he joins Jonathon Webb at Tekno Autosports in an incredibly strong two-car Holden team, with a pair of Triple Eight-built VF Commodore’s on their way.
It is a new start, a new beginning and a new opportunity for one of the sport’s most popular stars.
Yesterday he spoke with New Zealand TV network, TV3 NZ, when announcing his Tekno Autosports deal.
“Last year things weren’t going so well and I wasn’t very comfortable where we were. I just wasn’t really enjoying myself. I just needed to get away really and think about where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do and I’ve had a great break over Christmas… And here we are.
“People that weren’t close to me probably didn’t really know what was going on, but people around could see what was happening,” He told TV3 news.
“Things needed to be changed in myself and it’s pretty exciting about what is about to happen. I’m pretty happy to be here.”
Van Gisbergen joins a Tekno team on the rise, creating a formidable two-car team that should rise rapidly towards the top of the standings.
“I’ve seen Jonathon (Webb) really improve in the last few years in a pretty good environment so far,” he told TV3.
“I came here yesterday and met the whole team and everyone is pretty excited for the year ahead and everyone gets along well. I’m looking forward to it.
“I think if we gel well… and put it all together and get it right then we can win some races.”
So: new car, new team and new outlook. Despite the intense media speculation the six weeks back home have clearly generated the best result for the sport – with one of its biggest stars back on deck and in a competitive ride for 2013.
“Where I was the last few years was a factory team and I was a pretty young guy coming into it, and there was a lot of pressure. Now with this year and the environment I’m in I can go home, race in New Zealand, hang out with family and they’re welcome to come to the races. It’s going to be really good.
“This is the next chapter in the career. We’ll push on and hopefully have some fun.”