FESTIVAL WINNER WILL BE DRIVER TO WATCH THIS SEASON
Formula Ford Festival winner Shane van Gisbergen will be the driver to watch at the first round of the 2005/06 New Zealand Formula Ford Championship at Pukekohe's Pukekohe Park Raceway in a fortnight's time.
Manukau, Auckland 16-year-old van Gisbergen was a popular winner of this year's New Zealand Formula Ford Festival, an annual event held at Christchurch's Powerbuilt International Raceway, and he has one of the best CVs of any of the young drivers preparing for this season's championship.
Driving his ex Kenny Smith, Trade Parts/Team 97 Racing Stealth Evo 2 at the Festival meeting van Gisbergen carded a 1-4-2 run through the heats (from marble drawn grids of 6,19 and 9) then won both the semi-final and the final (which included a compulsory pit stop) to claim the 2005 New Zealand Formula Ford Festival title from Christchurch's Marc Doran and young Wanganui gun Earl Bamber.
Winning has become something of a habit for second-generation racer van Gisbergen - who first came to the attention of motorsport fans around the country when he won the SpeedSport magazine Formula First Scholarship then finished third overall and claimed the Rookie Of The Year award in the 2004/05 New Zealand Formula First Championship.
Members of the KartSport fraternity were also aware of the name, van Gisbergen having won a North Island title in the Junior Yamaha class in - what turned out to be - an 18-month 'sabbatical' in the sport.
It was a sabbatical because since he was seven years of age van Gisbergen has been racing - and doing very well - on loose surfaces, first on All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) then Quarter Midgets.
Over the years he has won New Zealand and/or Island titles in all of the Mini and Junior ATV categories he has competed in and though he has just graduated to the Senior ranks he finished third behind New Zealand ATV legend Ian Ffitch and fellow expert Roger McDonald at the 2005 ATV Nationals in the Hawke's Bay this month.
It is the 2005/06 New Zealand Formula Ford Championship which the young year 11 student at Auckland's St Kentigern College is focused on right now however, 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, Hall's Refrigerated Transport, Buxton Leather Goods, Genuine Vehicle Imports, Hamilton Party Hire, Pro Floors, SpeedSport magazine and Sierra Motor Company.
With last season's winner (Shannon O'Brien) and runner-up (Andy Knight) both moving to other classes, this season's New Zealand Formula Ford Championship looks set to be a battle of established class stars like Simon Gamble and Phil Hellebrekers and young guns like van Gisbergen and Earl Bamber.
Bamber, who represented New Zealand at the Rotax Max category World Final at the beginning of the year, is one of a number of highly-rated karters to move to the class. Other karters who are either entering the series for the first time or are returning for a second season are William Thomason, Daniel Jilesen, Hugh Gardiner, Sam MacNeill, and top female driver Taryn Kugener.
Also returning after a couple of years out of the class is former front-runner Nelson Hartley, the older brother of Brendon Hartley, the 15-year-old who has just been selected to join the Red Bull Racing squad in Europe.
This season's Formula Ford Championship will be fought out over seven rounds, beginning at Pukekohe Park Raceway at the first round of the 2005/06 Paul Kelly Motor Racing Series over the November 5/6 weekend and ending up back at Pukekohe Park at the annual Placemakers V8 Supercar meeting on April 22 and 23.
-team 97 racing-