WRC News | Why van Gisbergen believes the rally is his biggest challenge yet

With one of the most diverse and successful portfolios in motorsport, it’s hard to believe that racing all-rounder Shane van Gisbergen still has a lot more to learn.

But that’s exactly what the two-time Supercars Champion is about to discover a whole new discipline of racing.

Rally.

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The Kiwi has nearly two decades of experience on tarmac and has won numerous titles and races including the Bathurst 1000, Bathurst 12 Hour and Bathurst 6 Hour.

Away from the pressure cooker of supercars, van Gisbergen has seen his vice slide between trees across the Australian and New Zealand countryside.

Despite his relative inexperience, van Gisbergen clinched a historic class win at the Auckland Rally on his rallying debut in his father Robert’s bright red Ford Escort RS1800.

Shane van Gisbergeb with his Supercheap Auto-supported Skoda Fabia R5. (included)

A day later he triumphed in the Battle of Jack’s Ridge rally sprint, the first time he had competed in a top-class rally car.

Now, almost two years after his debut, van Gisbergen is facing the Rally New Zealand – the 11th round of the FIA ​​World Rally Championship.

As van Gisbergen explained to Wide World of Sports, rallying is worlds apart from circuit racing.

“The way I’ve described it to people, it’s like going to Bathurst for the first time and doing two laps in a rental car at 60km/h and then you have to go straight into the top 10 shootout. No practice, just full in,” said van Gisbergen.

“The first time you drive the car, you’re driving it at street speed, and then the first time you push, you’re on the clock. There’s no warm-up, you’re just right there, pretty crazy about it.”

Rally isn’t without its frustrations, however.

Shane van Gisbergen will make his FIA World Rally Championship debut at Rally Auckland. (Giltrap Group)

Unlike circuit racing, a relatively small mistake can have huge consequences, as van Gisbergen discovered when he went off the road en route to victory at Hawke’s Bay.

“Mostly because it was so stupid,” he said of the mistake.

“Just a small mistake, but a stupid mistake with big consequences. This was easy, all the exams were fast, open and fluid except for one. I just didn’t change my riding style fast enough and made a mistake on the start stage.

“It’s hard. If I make a mistake or screw something up, I think about it too much and I think about processing it. You don’t get another try at that corner.

“If you stuff it full you’ll never see it again, whereas in circuit racing you have a minute and then you’re back there and you have to fix what you got wrong last time.

“The hardest thing is to clear your head, reset yourself and just keep going because you have the whole stage ahead of you. It’s a whole different mindset.”

Rally New Zealand is a far cry from the one day rallies he has competed in at home and in Australia.

The event features four days of competition with a ceremonial start on Thursday followed by a special stage at the Auckland Domain with the backdrop of the Auckland Museum.

A total of 276.44 km of competition stages will be held over the four days. The run on Friday is the longest of all, covering 157.98 kilometers over six stages.

Before the competition begins, there is a lot of preparation to be done between him and his co-driver for a week-long event.

“There are three rally days. So, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, do the recce (exploration) of these stages,” said van Gisbergen.

“You have your notes, which you read through, but you also film them. Then, when you go through your notes, review them again and edit them as well.

Shane van Gisbergen made his rally debut on home soil in 2020. (Simon Chapman)

“I’m not trying to memorize any stages at all, just maybe a few tricky spots or crossings, but other than that you just go off all the notes.

“I have only completed one rally so far. The preparation goes into the night. So if you drive three days in a row every day, it gets pretty crowded.

“It should be good. I’m just trying to keep it pretty low key at first. It’s a long week for sure so I need to save some energy and then straight after Bathurst too.

“There are two massive weeks ahead. It’s amazing how an event starts on Monday and then runs until Sunday. A whole week long but I’m up for the challenge.

“I am open to learning and continue to build on the experience.”

Van Gisbergen has a knack for being competitive in whatever he rides. If it has four wheels, most expect it to be in front.

Shane van Gisbergen aboard his father Robert van Gisbergen’s Ford Escort RS1800. (Simon Chapman)

However, his definition of success is simply finishing the rally.

“I’m sure the competitive team will come out as soon as I put the helmet on,” he said.

“But how I approach it, like I said, I’m open, I’m learning and I’m getting better and better every day.

“The way to get better is to do every stage and be there on Sunday. I just plan to build on what we’ve learned so far and end up there.

“Whatever I quit probably won’t change what I do going forward. It’s just a cool experience and I love being involved in the rally.

“It’s my family background. I would love to do more in the future. Circuit racing will probably always be my focus.”

Robert van Gisbergen (left) with son Shane van Gisbergen. (Geoff Rider)

This family connection will come into its own at the rally.

“He really worked hard,” said van Gisbergen about his father Robert.

“It has given him a new life or focus this year. Obviously he hasn’t been able to race many races with me in recent years.

“Driving the rallies in New Zealand, the first one I was able to win, was cool. That was our first rally together, I think. It was a pretty cool experience.

“We did a test day on Monday after Pukekohe [Supercars] and dad had his car there too which was great.

“He’s racing again and he’s going to be racing at Jack’s Ridge on Sunday too. It’s pretty cool.”

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