Written by Jake O’Callaghan, Edited by Sean McKean
The Chicago Weekend
This past weekend, motorsports fans were treated to witnessing one of the greatest drivers of all time shifting disciplines and showing up even the most experienced drivers in their own series. Shane van Gisbergen, three-time V8 Supercars Champion and two-time Bathurst 1000 winner, took a trip to Chicago to try his hand at NASCAR racing. He competed in the inaugural Chicago Street Race, the first ever street race in NASCAR Cup Series history.
The Kiwi competed in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car, a car intended to open up the world of American stock car racing to the world’s best talents from other disciplines. Trackhouse Racing have quickly become one of the foremost teams in NASCAR, finishing second in last year’s driver’s championship with Ross Chastain. Previously, F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen competed in the #91 in two races, showing good speed but not being able to consistently fight up front. Van Gisbergen was called for this race due to his extensive experience racing Australian stock cars on street courses.
The weekend was fraught with harsh weather conditions, rain and lightning storms battering the circuit. After a delayed start, the Cup Series race got underway on Sunday afternoon with very wet conditions. After a long and difficult race, where the track eventually dried out and green flag racing was at a premium, van Gisbergen was in position at the end of the race to battle for the win. He had climbed from 18th to 2nd in less than 20 laps and was in a battle with Kaulig Racing driver Justin Haley for the win. After a tough battle of back-and-forth passes, Van Gisbergen managed to overtake Haley with a lap to go, going on to win the race.
Van Gisbergen became the first driver to win their debut Cup Series race in 60 years, and questions were raised over the potential of a full-time campaign on the cards for the New Zealander.
Future Full-Time NASCAR Driver?
When asked about the potential of a full-time season in NASCAR, van Gisbergen did not deny the possibility. responded;
“I’d love to come over here. I miss racing in the States… it’s so much more enjoyable… I’m committed next year to Supercars but in 2025, who knows?”
It was known that van Gisbergen was contracted to race in Supercars next year, however, the possibility of a NASCAR opportunity opening up earlier has emerged, thanks to the words of his Supercars Team Principal at Triple Eight Race Engineering, Jamie Whincup.
Speaking on July 4th, Whincup stated that if van Gisbergen were to ask to be released from his contract to race in the States in 2024, he “would not stand in his way.” Van Gisbergen has previously expressed his frustration at the direction of the V8 Supercars series, particularly with the new Gen 3 car introduced this year.
Not the First Driver to Make the Switch
If Van Gisbergen were to make the switch to American stock car racing, he would not be the first driver to compete in both. Van Gisbergen himself told the media that he had spoken to Marcos Ambrose and Boris Said before the race, two drivers that have competed in both disciplines. In particular, many similarities can be drawn between Ambrose and van Gisbergen. Ambrose was a two-time Supercars champion that made the switch and performed incredibly well for a driver that didn’t have any experience racing American tracks. His expertise was on road courses (all seven of his national NASCAR series wins coming on them), but his performances on ovals were not to be ignored, he consistently logging top 10s and competing with drivers who had raced on ovals their whole lives.
Oval racing is something van Gisbergen has spoken of being something he will struggle at initially, referring to beating experienced NASCAR drivers in his first race, stating, “If this was an oval, it would be the other way around.” He also said that he needed to get used to a spotter talking in his ear throughout the race. However, it has been proven that years of experience is not needed to become a solid oval racer, and with the abundance of raw talent in Shane Van Gisbergen, there is no question that he can grow to become a real contender should he make the switch.
Shane Van Gisbergen is a tremendously talented racing driver, and his trophy cabinet speaks for itself. He further showed his talent and ability last weekend, coming to America and being able to adapt to a similar but sufficiently different car and beating career NASCAR drivers at their own game. Van Gisbergen would be a force to be reckoned with should he make the jump to American stock car racing full-time.