VAN GISBERGEN STARS AND EXTENDS HIS SERIES LEAD AT SECOND FORMULA FORD ROUND
Fast-rising young Auckland racing driver Shane van Gisbergen extended his lead in the New Zealand Formula Ford Championship with two wins from three starts at the second round of the 2005/06 championship at Christchurch's Powerbuilt International Raceway at Ruapuna Park over the November 26/27 weekend.
Van Gisbergen, 16, who won the New Zealand Formula Ford Festival at the same track earlier in the year, was again the overall winner of the round (from fellow young gun Earl Bamber and class front-runner Nelson Hartley) and had he not hit oil on the track in the final Formula Ford race on Sunday he could well have left the meeting with an unbroken winning streak.
"That was the plan," he said from his Manukau City, Auckland, home this week. '"It was good to win the round, and get the most points, but I would have liked to have gone three-out-of-three in the races. We were pretty sure we could do it, but when Nelson and I hit the oil Earl got away."
The oil was dropped in the braking area for the first gear hairpin corner late in the third race when the oil filter on one of the cars came off. Because race leader Earl Bamber was holding the defensive inside line he missed it. But Van Gisbergen and Hartley, who had been dicing with Bamber and using the middle and outside lines, hit it and skated straight off the track.
Luckily, both were able to continue, but by the time they got back onto the track Bamber was gone and both Simon Gamble and Kim Crocker had got past.
Having driven through the field from last place to first after a spin in the first race at the first round of this year's Formula Ford Championship at Pukekohe Park, Shane has proved that being down doesn't necessarily mean you are out, though Crocker and Gamble proved harder to pass - until someone else dropped oil (another filter letting go) and Shane was able to dive underneath the pair as they slid wide.
And so, another eventful weekend for the country's latest emerging motor racing star, who topped the time sheets in free practice on Friday, but had to work hard on Saturday and Sunday to match his car's suspension set-up to the changing track conditions.
"We were quick when we first got there, " says Shane, "but after that every session we went slower."
The problem was grip, or rather the balance between the grip at the front and the grip at the rear.
"The initial turn-in was good, but I couldn't get the power down when I wanted to. The car just pushed (understeer) when I got on the gas."
Which explains his unusually low fourth fastest time in the qualifying session on Saturday morning.
Not only was the car not quite right, Shane also missed his 'window' early in the session, then was slowed when - guess what? - someone dropped oil on the track.
"I was just trying to make the tow work (taking advantage of the slipstream effect of other cars on the track) when the oil was dropped so that pretty much was that."
The fact that he was was able to catapult off the line from fourth spot on the grid and lead the first Formula Ford race of the weekend that afternoon would tend to suggest that the handling problem was sorted, but that was not quite the case.
"Earl (Bamber) still had the car speed on us but I thought that if I could get a good start and get into second or third I would be able to have a go at him," explained Shane.
As it turned out he didn't have to. It was the Trade Parts #97 car which got to the first corner first, and when Bamber, who drives a Powerbuilt-backed car, drifted wide trying to go round the outside he lost valuable time on his arch-rival.
Bamber was able to draft the deficit back, and at the line Shane's advantage was just 0.293 of a second, but it was Shane who was in front!
With the help of former New Zealand Formula Ford champion John Crawford and his Motorsport Solutions team most of the power-on understeer had been dialled out by Sunday morning but the weekend's second race was another close-fought affair.
Or at least it was until Shane stunned the large crowd by driving right round the outside of Earl Bamber at the hairpin and pulling away!
You just don't do that in a Formula Ford, but Shane did, and those who were there and saw the move will be talking about it for years to come. It wasn't the only good one the 16-year-old sensation pulled off in the race either. He also made up a couple of places through the sweeping left-hand corner onto the start/finish straight.
Again. Conventional wisdom says you just don't do that. Shane did.
And so to Teretonga Park in the Deep South, where the third round of the 2005/06 New Zealand Formula Ford championship will be held in early January. The country's southern-most circuit is one of the few Shane hasn't raced at before but as a keen student of all things motorsport he is champing at the bit to get there.
"It's fast and is rated by some people as the best track in the country so, yes, I am looking forward to going there," he says.
Shane Van Gisbergen has just completed his year 11 year at Auckland's St Kentigern College and now is focused on winning the 2005/06 New Zealand Formula Ford championship with a campaign backed by Auckland specialist motor vehicle parts supplier Trade Parts plus a group of businessmen who have clubbed together under the Team 97 Racing banner.
Numbered in that group are The Metalman, Halls Refrigerated Transport, Buxton Leather Goods, Genuine Vehicle Imports, Hamilton Party Hire, Pro Floors, Speedsport magazine and Sierra Motor Company.