Roland Dane: “SVG right up there in world terms”
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Red Bull Racing boss Roland Dane knew newly-crowned Supercars champ Shane van Gisbergen would be a star from the time he debuted in the series as a teenager back in 2007.
The Giz, 27, completed his maiden Supercars championship on Sunday, becoming the first New Zealander since Jim Richards in 1991 to achieve the feat.
Dane, regarded as the brains behind the Red Bull Racing dominance of Supercars over the past decade, says he took notice of van Gisbergen as soon as he set foot in Australia.
"Almost from the day he was first driving in Australia with Stone Brothers ... it was clear that there was massive talent there just waiting to be harnessed.
"When he started driving for Tekno in 2013 in a Triple Eight-built car we really had an insight into his performance and we could see very clearly how good he is and how he was developing even further.
"We did a deal - Robert, his father, Shane and I quite a long time ago to come to Triple Eight. We were setting ourselves up to be ready for him to come here for the beginning of this year and I'm very pleased with the decision."
Much has been made of van Gisbergen's more mature driving in 2016. There have been fewer mistakes and rash passing attempts but Dane isn't sure his team has had as much influence over the driver as many might think.
"We have just had to give him a consistent platform from which to work in the car. Once he got that under him he was very difficult to beat.
"There is always the period needed for his relationship to develop with his engineer and that took a few weeks. We saw him rolling out the consistent results after that. He has developed more out of the car than in the car. In the car he is a pretty known product and is pretty developed. He knows what he is doing.
"Outside the car he has started to really shape up and mature and really absorb what he's seen [teammates] Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes doing and take the elements of what they do and use them and develop his own style."
Van Gisbergen's success this year - he not only won the Supercars championship but also the Bathurst 12 Hour race as well as the Blancpain GT series in Europe - has many people wondering what his next step might be. He even has been asked questions about whether he has an ambition to drive in Formula One.
While age, body shape and lack of the huge financial resource needed will prevent van Gisbergen from making a jump to F1, his talent is not lacking, according to Dane.
"In terms of skill level, I think the real thing that sets him apart from a lot of people is his versatility and the fact that he can drive different sorts of cars in different disciplines and be successful in them.
"There have been several drivers over the years but the guy you could most easily draw a parallel with Shane is Mattias Ekstrom from Sweden, who has been the DTM champion and has been a star for many years for Audi but is also world rallycross champion now, too, and has shown adaptability. He put his hand to doing a Nascar race a few years ago and acquitted himself well.
"He is probably the person I could draw the comparison to Shane with.
"Shane has got every right to hold his head up high and people know that around the world. The McLaren place him very highly in the rankings in terms of the GT category. He is right up there in world terms."
- NZ Herald