Stone Brothers Racing’s Shane van Gisbergen established himself as the leading Ford contender in the opening half of season 2011.
With race wins in Hamilton and Darwin, the 22-year-old Kiwi finds himself as TeamVodafone’s biggest threat as the title chase enters its second half.
With the SP Tools Falcon being prepared to compete on its home soil at Queensland Raceway, Speedcafe.com’s Stefan Bartholomaeus spoke to van Gisbergen about his season so far.
SPEEDCAFE: Third in the championship with two wins on the board is an enviable position to be in. How do you rate your first half of the season?
SHANE VAN GISBERGEN: We just haven’t been consistent enough. We’ve been really strong at a few races but then we’ll go to the next race and qualify 23rd or something, so we need to increase our consistency track to track.
Qualifying certainly hasn’t been our strength of late, that’s our biggest focus right now. We had a good test day here recently so hopefully we’ve sorted something there.
SPEEDCAFE: Alex (Davison) and Tim (Slade) have both struggled in qualifying on occasion this year as well. Are you asking for similar things from the car?
VAN GISBERGEN: There’s been times where one of us will be up the front, or where we’re all good or all really bad. Our car is not like a Triple Eight car where it’s always in the window. When our cars are good they’re really good, but we just need to find a good base set-up to take to each track so we can just work on little things rather than having to make massive changes to try and make it work.
Queensland Raceway should be a pretty good track for us being our test track, and then the rest of the tracks (to come in 2011) we’re normally pretty competitive at. So I’m looking forward to it, but we really need to improve in qualifying, because our race pace is always in the top four or five.
SPEEDCAFE: Your cars have shown great soft tyre life in the races this year. You appear to take it a bit easier in the opening laps of the stint, is that a deliberate strategy to make them last longer?
VAN GISBERGEN: Not really. Our car just really doesn’t seem to work the tyres the way the others do, which I think has something to do with why we’re not that great in qualifying. Our fastest laps are generally not quite there, but our race pace is always quite good.
It’s not link I’m feathering it around and saving tyres. Of course you don’t go like an idiot on the soft tyres and burn them up, but I’m not cruising around at half throttle, it just seems to be that our car looks after them. Maybe our set-up is good for the races like that, but maybe the cars need to be more aggressive for qualifying. That’s what we’re trying to work out.
SPEEDCAFE: What do you make of the new race format this weekend then, having two shorter races on the Saturday back-to-back?
VAN GISBERGEN: I think it’s good how we’re changing the race formats and stuff, it keeps it exciting, but I don’t know, I think this one has to prove itself. I’m more in favour of the races we’ve been doing this year, they’re pretty exciting with the strategies that can play out and how you approach the races. You can be aggressive at the start and pit early or pit late and be aggressive at the end. I like the races that we’ve been having, but it’s something different and it’s the same for everyone.
SPEEDCAFE: We mentioned at the top that you’re third in the championship right now. Are you looking at that and thinking the title might just be possible this year?
VAN GISBERGEN: I’ve been getting asked that a lot lately. Of course I’m aware of where I am in the championship, but I’m not even trying to think about that at the moment, it’s just about taking it race to race.
There’s a race coming up at Bathurst that’s 300 points just for one day so there’s a lot of racing to go before we even consider going for the championship. So for now I’m just focussed on getting race wins and podiums and getting our consistency where it needs to be.