The combination of Shane van Gisbergen winning his first Supercars championship title, fellow Kiwi Supercars driver Scott McLaughlin securing third place in the hard-fought Australian championship and Europe-based Kiwi sports car racer Earl Bamber confirmed to race for the Porsche LMP1 team marks another significant weekend of New Zealand motorsport.
Van Gisbergen secured his debut Virgin Australia Supercars Championship title on Saturday in Sydney with one race in hand, a race he then won in convincing style on Sunday. The Gold Coast-based 27-year-old, from Auckland, became the first New Zealand driver since Jim Richards in 1991 to win the title, after a dominant first year with his team Red Bull Racing Australia.
“It’s a lifetime goal (to win the championship) and to finally achieve it is pretty special,” said van Gisbergen. “I want to come back next year and try to win it again.”
The battle for third place went down to the wire on Sunday with 23-year-old McLaughlin, originally from Christchurch, able to record his best-ever result in the Supercars championship as he concluded his contract with Garry Rogers Motorsport. McLaughlin joins fellow Kiwi Fabian Coulthard at DJR Team Penske for the 2017 season.
“It would be massive to finish third and the best thing I’ve done since I’ve been here,” McLaughlin told Speedcafe.com prior to Sunday’s final race. “Third in the championship is a big deal. For me it would be my best championship result yet and I will probably do that anyway because I will finish fourth at least.”
Also on Sunday, Le Mans 24 Hours winner Earl Bamber secured the final vacant seat in next year’s Porsche LMP1 line-up, confirming his new role via social media. The 26-year-old from Whanganui joins fellow Kiwi Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard in the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid to contest next year’s nine-round FIA World Endurance Championship.
Wayne Christie, President of MotorSport New Zealand comments: “Once again New Zealand celebrates a fantastic, history-making weekend of international motorsport. To have two New Zealanders in the top three of the Australian Supercars Championship is unheralded – our heartfelt congratulations to both Shane van Gisbergen and Scott McLaughlin on delivering their finest results to date in the incredibly tough Supercars Championship.
“To also have two New Zealanders racing for Porsche’s World Endurance Championship programme is incredibly exciting. Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber have already achieved so much on the world sportscar scene and I’ll be one of many thousands of Kiwis watching their exploits in the forthcoming 2017 season.”
Christie adds: “It is worth noting that Shane van Gisbergen and Brendon Hartley graduated from New Zealand’s Elite Motorsport Academy together in 2005 and Earl Bamber was a 2007 Academy graduate. All three have kindly paid credit to the important role that the Academy played in their career development and, as Chairman of the Motorsport Academy Trust, it’s particularly exciting to see our graduates achieving the heights they have this weekend.”