Interview: why Shane van Gisbergen has returned to drifting
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Shane van Gisbergen is set to put his sideways skills to the test when he rejoins the D1NZ National Drifting Championship next month.
The 2016 Supercars Championship title winner will make his long awaited return to the series at Baypark Stadium in Tauranga with Australian team MCA Suspension.
The opportunity comes off the back of a fledgling relationship with father and son pairing Murray and Josh Coote of MCA. The team are shipping over their VK56-powered Nissan 370Z, the same car van Gisbergen drove at last year's World Time Attack Challenge Drift Challenge.
For van Gisbergen, getting back into drifting gives him a chance to have a bit of fun without the expectations and pressure that the Supercars Championship brings.
"I've always been into drifting, sliding cars coming from speedway, so it's always been something I've been into," van Gisbergen said.
"It's just so much fun. It's a competitive sport, but mainly it's just so much fun to do. To come and do that as a hobby outside of my normal racing is pretty awesome.
"The last few years I've just been crazy busy, but this year it's worked out to be able to do most of the rounds from now on, so it'll be an awesome year."
Outside of his commitments to the Red Bull Holden Racing Team, the Kiwi has been eying up opportunities all around the world including drives in America and Europe. However, it's his home fans that'll get to see a glimpse of the Supercars star this summer.
While competing in D1NZ will no doubt be the fun part, getting to the first round will be another story entirely.
The 28-year-old will complete official Supercars pre-season testing on the Friday before Saturday's show. Qualifying takes place that night, but van Gisbergen will get a few practice sessions in on Saturday morning and qualify shortly before the top-24 battles.
The former V8 champion comes to Baypark Stadium knowing he probably won't be competitive straight off the bat. Instead, he wants to go out and get to grips with the car he'll drive for three rounds.
Van Gisbergen pictured in Rattla Motorsport's Ford Falcon D1NZ weapon. Photo / Simon Chapman
"The first round is going to be very tough. Obviously I'm testing the Supercar on the Friday and jumping straight in on Saturday before the competition is not going to be easy.
"But that should give us a good taste then we can have a good crack at Timaru and Pukekohe, which are circuits that I'll be more comfortable on."
It'll be the first time van Gisbergen has drifted competitively on home soil since 2015. The last time van Gisbergen competed at Baypark was when the series ran around the carpark. When he returns he'll be inside the speedway stadium riding the walls.
That will be another challenge he'll face, with most of the D1NZ Pro field accustomed to dragging the rear of their car around the wall-face.
"It's something I've never done. Normally in Supercars we rub the mirror and that's something you can get a feel for quite easily. But when it's the rear bumper – that's two metres behind you – that's quite a hard thing to judge.
"I haven't really done any wall rides, so that's going to be very hard to adapt to for sure. Maybe don't expect too much the first weekend, but we'll build up to it."
In the time van Gisbergen was away a lot of the former D1NZ champions have come and gone. The level of competition has stepped up too, with several teams now running six-figure race cars.
Having watched the series while he's been away, he said he can't wait to get back and compete with some of his drifting idols and mates.
"That's the best thing about drifting, everyone gets along and everyone encourages each other so much.
"You saw that at Wellington when people were crashing and the people they crashed with were helping them. That doesn't happen in any other sport.
"Drifting with all those guys that I used to look up to, Gaz Whiter, Cole Armstrong and 'Fanga' Dan, it's pretty awesome that they're still in there. Hopefully I can come back in and have a play with them. It's been a few years."
The Kiwi will compete in three rounds this season including round two at ASB Baypark Stadium, round three at Levels Raceway in Timaru, and the final at Pukekohe Park in Auckland.
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