Shane van Gisbergen 2016 Virgin Australia SuperCars Champion

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Shane Van Gisbergen driver of the #97 Red Bull Racing Australia Holden Commodore VF Celebrates after winning race 29 and the Supercars Drivers Championship for the Sydney 500, which is part of the Supercars Championship at Sydney Olympic Park Street Circuit on December 4, 2016 in Sydney, Australia.

The final round of the V8 SuperCars season was a celebration. Over a 14 round calendar season, it came down to the final round in Sydney where Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen was crowned the 2016 Virgin Australia SuperCars Champion.

Across the two days of racing of the Coates Hire Sydney 500, once Red Bull Racing driver van Gisbergen claimed his maiden title, the competition for third place then took center stage. Volvo driver Scott Mclaughlin was only nine points ahead of former-champion Craig Lowndes. It meant that the result Sunday determined that Mclaughlin claimed third place. He finished behind first placed Gizbergen and second placed Jamie Whincup, to fill the Coates Hire Championship leaderboard.

Shane van Gisbergen 2016 Virgin Australia SuperCars Champion

The 27 year old New Zealand driver became the 20th Championship winner for manufacturer Holden, as his team Red Bull Racing team claimed the 2016 Manufacturers Championship. Even more importantly, he became just the third Kiwi to claim an Australian Touring Car Championship. The previous drivers were Robbie Francevic and ‘Gentleman’ Jim Richards.

Now being in such exclusive company, Gizbergen was elated on Saturday afternoon–and well he should be. His race was one of ‘resurrection’. Claiming pole position, it was the best place to begin from but when the lights went green, he was swamped. It saw him tangle with another car and he had to stop for lightning-quick running repairs.

Race One comeback to claim 2016 title

The Sydney Olympic Park track at Homebush, is a street circuit. Surrounded by concrete walls, there is no give. After his incident, Gizbergen returned to the field in 22nd place where he began a resurgent drive that was of ‘epic proportions’. Over the 74 lap, 250 kilometer race (race one of two) Gizbergen entertained along the way to finishing third.

The calculations were that he needed to finish third or higher to secure the title, ahead of his nearest challenger Whincup. The six-time former champion played his cards, finishing first. If Giz had placed outside the podium, the championship would have come down to Sunday’s result. Gizbergen settled that, but Whincup praised his team mate and was gracious in finishing second overall.

“Pretty awesome day to get back to third.To see my Dad and my Mum there and the team [at the finish], I was so stoked.”

Race Two Had Multiple Factors to Excite Fans

Over this final weekend, several factors counted for much. The Olympic Park track was a closed-in street circuit, so a Safety Car stoppage was more than likely. It proved true over both days, even causing Gizbergen an issue. The second factor was the Soft Tire.

Dunlop delivered a full set to each team, and it would mean high grip but increased tire degradation. This resulted in cars that had younger, fresher tires, being faster that those who didn’t. In the Top Ten Shootout, Garth Tander made the most of the tread laid down, to take pole.

In a two-stop race, any race interruptions would play into teams fuel strategy. If they could extend the window between the final stop and race end, it could prove fruitful. And over the full race, yellow flags were issued on multiple occasions. A lighter fuel load would benefit in the end.

Third Place was the talking point of Race Two

After 51 laps, Mclaughlin was in the better position. Placed fifth on the road after an restart, Lowndes was way down in 12th position. In among the back markers, Lowndes was not able to fight his way up to battle directly with the Volvo. It ended his claim for a 1-2-3 for Triple 88 Racing, but also meant that in the Kiwi drivers final race, Scott Mclaughlin was able to sign off from Gary Rogers Motorsport in style.

The Holden Racing Team had two cars inside the top five at that stage, and Tander was right behind leader van Gisbergen with 20 laps to go. Pressure mounted from the Holden team; in their last competitive race as a part of the SuperCar circuit. Sadly they were disbanding after 26 years in Aussie motorsport, Tander and James Courtney were out to keep the most successful Touring Car Championship race team ‘near the top’.

Tander was constantly a challenge, but one that the Champion van Gisbergen was able to hold off. Often lunging for space, Tander was unable to get in front and could only finish in second. A credible placing, as the West Australian driver is still to sign for 2017. This placing will surely help his short-term future.

Top Class Finish to Coates Hire Sydney 500

Along with team changes, driver contracts, end of season bragging rights were also on the line, and camped in the middle was David Reynolds. The Erebus Motorsport Penrite Racing driver was not in a place to alter any standings, but he sure could benefit from a high placing. Tander was pushing hard, so it was what was behind Reynolds was his danger.

True, Whincup had little to gain in standings, so he was in a typical ‘sprint race’ mode. Driver vs Driver, and over 20 racing laps, the Erebus driver was consistent in his car placement. He gave little opportunity for Whincup to take a place on the podium. A well deserved finish–the first top three for Erebus in over 12 months.

A Huge Workload for Teams and Drivers

By the end of the 29th, and final race of the 2016 Virgin Australia SuperCar Season, cars had traveled over 6000 kilometers [racing and qualifying combined]. The drivers were all in the zone, and the final race weekend was as exhilarating as the first race in Adelaide. Crews performed exceptionally. Often known to stay up until they complete repairs, only to turn up at dawn for a full day. Commitment is something that is similar across all forms of motorsport, and is a credit to the touring car circuit.

For the Coates Hire Sydney 500, there was practice on Thursday and Friday, qualifying on both days, the Top Ten Shootout and of course, two 74 lap races over the weekend. Plenty of work for every team; from March right up til December. A huge workload, but with that comes the rewards. For van Gisbergen and Triple 888 Racing, it was his emergence as a champion.

A Rewarding Season for a New Driver

Only joining the Red Bull team in 2016, immediate success is proof that not only was the Roland Dane signing a smart decision, but Gizbergen was a fine investment. For years, he had promise–Stone Brothers Racing and the Tekno Motorsport–but now the evidence was clear. After confirming his title reign, he sealed that with a fine victory in Race Two.

That makes for eight wins, seven times finishing second and three times he has been third, marking 18 podium finishes. That incredible combination of placings saw him take the prize ultimately. It all adds to his total of 19 wins and 66 podium finishes over his short career.

And the teamwork was plain for all to see. Whereas Nissan seemed to always suffer a drama when not needed, the Ford cars were just too inconsistent. Mark Winterbottom claimed several wins, but the 2015 champion was not a threat for the majority of the year. Neither was the much heralded DJR Team Penske team. They ‘looked good’ but looks can be deceiving.

Multi-time Champion Team Delivers Another Title

All in all, the season was widely competed for, with six drivers claiming early victories in as many races. One team began to gain dominance by midyear though, as Red Bull Racing are the standard that all must follow. Taking seven championships in the last decade; including multiple Bathurst titles as well, they look to be indomitable.

On finishing the race, and after another epic burnout (above) Gizbergen spoke to FoxSport and lauded his team for the win.

He commented that over the season:

“I had no expectations [after joining the team] but I knew I had the right equipment. It was just how long it took me to settle in. Everyone was really helpful for that, it took a few rounds for me to find my feet, and then really gelling with the engineers, we moved forward.”

“For my first year with Red Bull, it’s been amazing. It’s been a lifelong goal, and to finally achieve it is pretty special”

2016 was a champion performance–especially over the last two rounds in particular. Fast, and not afraid to throw his Holden into the corner, van Gisbergen is a future multiple Australian Touring Car title holder no doubt. A well deserved victor, with Whincup second and Mclaughlin third in the 2016 Virgin Australia SuperCars Championship, it was a terrific year and in 2017, there should be more great racing ahead.
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