Quiet achiever: André Heimgartner on how likely he is to stay in Supercars
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Away from the iron-clad dominance of Scott McLaughlin and DJR Team Penske, this year's Virgin Australia Supercars Championship has featured plenty of curious stories in its mid-pack. Among them is the rise of 24-year-old André Heimgartner.
The New Zealander finds himself riding a wave of momentum, following an impressive sophomore season with Kelly Racing. The results have placed him in a healthy position as the Supercars rumour mill heats up.
He's currently off contract for 2020, but recently told Supercars.com that he hoped to stay with Kelly Racing while also acknowledging that there are options on the table.
“There's a lot better chance of [getting a drive] than not. We're going through it at the moment and trying to piece a deal together,” he told Driven. “But it's looking a lot more positive than it has in previous years, put it that way. It should be confirmed or out in the public in the next month or so.”
Heimgartner's debut in the series was unconventional. Plucked from the Super2 development series to join Super Black Racing's maiden Bathurst 1000 campaign in 2014, Heimgartner stunned with a strong rookie drive. He stuck with the squad for the full 2015 season, before shuffling across to the struggling LD Motorsport in 2016.
It was a journeyman's trajectory that led to him missing out on a drive for 2017. Thankfully fate handed him a late endurance call-up with Brad Jones Racing, with a particularly notable drive at the Gold Coast sparking renewed interest from Kelly Racing where he remains today.
Despite the career roller-coaster, Heimgartner says he wouldn't do things any differently if given a chance to change history.
“I suppose you always learn in your career as you go along. I think I did what I could at the time,” he said. “I came back bigger and stronger, and obviously made amends. Every sport's tough, and sometimes it just goes like that.”
Now, for the first time in his Supercars career, Heimgartner is enjoying some stability.
Two seasons with Kelly Racing have reaped impressive improvements. He ended last season 17th in the points and, with the Supercars hitting Pukekohe next weekend for the ITM Auckland SuperSprint, he currently sits 13th in the points; comfortably leading the rest of his four-car team.
“[Pukekohe] is definitely one of the highlights, along with Bathurst and those sorts of tracks. Your home event is always something you look forward to more than, you know, going to Winton.
"It's one of the first tracks I ever watched Supercars at back in the day. I used to go there when I was 6- or 7-years-old with my Dad and sister watching the cars go around. I never thought I'd actually be on the other side of the fence actually racing. It's always a bit special and surreal.”
Out of his 2019 results, Heimgartner's first solo podium at Phillip Island in April rates highly (only bettered on the day by the two Shell V-Power Racing Ford Mustangs). But he's also coming off a fifth-place at last month's Tailem Bend event.
The improvement has been eye-opening for numerous pit-lane observers; particularly given that the Kiwi is competing in a Nissan Altima — a car most consider to be the weakest of the current line-up — and noting the struggles of teammate, boss, and former champion Rick Kelly.
Outside of the Supercars circus, Heimgartner has also spent a lot of time working on his fitness. His racing schedule has increased as well, with the addition of Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia and TCR Australia to his roster.
"I think last year we had the speed, I just wasn't putting it together and the team wasn't putting it together. And we just had a bit of bad luck. This year I think we've shown the same speed, if not more.
“After the season we had last year we sort of knew that [the results] were possible. But we're probably having a better season than we thought we could have. Although, you're always hoping and planning to get better and improve.”
A strong run through the Pirtek Enduro Cup with co-driver Bryce Fullwood could see Heimgartner enter the tail end of the Supercars Championship top 10. Not a bad feat, given that just two Nissan Altima drivers have ever recorded a top-10 championship finish over the last six years.
The ITM Auckland SuperSprint kicks off next weekend at Pukekohe Raceway. Practice on Friday will be followed by a race on Saturday and a race on Sunday — Heimgartner joined by fellow Kiwis McLaughlin, Fabian Coulthard, Shane van Gisbergen, and Richie Stanaway.