History beckons for van Gisbergen
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Shane van Gisbergen will win the Supercars title this weekend barring a miracle and will become the first New Zealander since Jim Richards in 1991 to achieve the feat.
In fact since 1991, a quarter of a century ago, only 11 different drivers have recorded a championship win. Some of the best drivers have come up short - Greg Murphy, Will Davison, Jason Bright to name a few. Even legends like Peter Brock and Dick Johnson haven't won championships in that span despite still being dominant figures in the sport.
The key to success is having a combination of the driving ability, the car and the resources to back it up. That is the common theme amongst past winners.
Richards, who triumphed in a Nissan Skyline, says he will be delighted to welcome van Gisbergen to an exclusive club of New Zealand champions alongside 1986 winner Robbie Francevic.
"I will feel fantastic," Richards tells herald.co.nz. "I'll be rapt. It shouldn't be that these records live forever. I will be up there over the weekend and I will be watching and cheering him on for sure."
Four-time Bathurst winner Murphy is widely deemed the greatest driver to never win a championship. The Kiwi finished runner-up on two occasions and had a top six finish seven times during his career. He knows just how hard it is to win and how important it is to have every piece of the puzzle fit.
Murphy believes part of van Gisbergen's success this year goes back before the season even began. It goes back to the hard work and promise the young Kiwi showed in recent years to earn the opportunity to get a deal with Red Bull Racing - the leading team in the series.
"Jamie Whincup [six-time champion] is the one of late that has absolutely owned the championship trophy," Murphy explains. "That I suppose does show how difficult it is to win.
"Someone of his calibre has been able to control it by being in the right team, with the right support and resources -that is all part of the puzzle you have got to put together.
"The thorn in Jamie's side this year has been that someone else has turned up in that same team, with the same resources and with an amazing skillset. He has lost it to his teammate - I am assuming there but I am confident that will be the case.
"That is how hard it is to win - you have got to have all those tools. This year Shane has had those tools and he has grabbed it by the scruff of the neck."
Richards noted van Gisbergen's raw talent when he debuted in the series as a teenager but he thinks it has taken a while for the youngster to learn how to manage his talent.
"He has matured a lot since he joined Red Bull - I think he has taken another step," Richards says.
"I've watched Shane ever since he came over when he was working at Stone Brothers and driving for them years ago. He has always had that natural flair and talent and all it needed was more practice harnessing that and now he is at the right team at the right time and I feel he could do anything more or less.
"To be honest I was a bit critical of some of the things he used to do a few years ago. I think a couple of years ago he wouldn't have been in this situation because he could sometimes beat himself. Now he has matured and is settled in a team that he knows can give him a car that will win.
"The proof in the pudding has been at the Gold Coast and Pukekohe where Shane was content to drive for a second place because he knew he could win the next race and keep adding those points together. That is the mental change with him at Red Bull this year."
Richards has also seen a change in how van Gisbergen is perceived by his rivals, which has also made a difference in the heat of battle.
"He has got a reputation now where he is deemed to be the fastest driver on the track. Jamie Whincup is every bit as good you could say but Shane is a bit younger and has that natural ability to grab a car and not make any mistakes and put it to the opposition.
"When another car sees Shane coming up behind them they don't think to themselves that they won't let him pass because they know that he is forceful and won't run into them but when he makes a move he will make it stick so they allow him to pass easier."
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