Van Gisbergen’s regret over ‘retirement’ saga
Shane van Gisbergen says he regrets not being more upfront about the true reason behind his controversial exit from Stone Brothers Racing in 2012.
Van Gisbergen is this weekend poised to seal his maiden Supercars title on the streets of Sydney Olympic Park just four years after being farewelled from the category.
The 2012 festivities, which included his rivals signing an SBR bonnet with well wishes, came after the Kiwi moved to back out of a recently renewed three-year contract with the team.
News of Van Gisbergen’s decision to leave SBR broke at Winton’s penultimate round, where he had told its crew that he was no longer enjoying racing and would return to New Zealand.
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A subsequent public announcement from the team stated that the 23-year-old was leaving for ‘personal reasons’ and stressed that the decision was ‘no way caused by’ the team’s impending takeover by Erebus.
History shows that Van Gisbergen returned to Supercars the following year with Tekno Autosports, taking two poles and a victory at the season opening Clipsal 500.
He raced under a legal cloud for his first 18 months at Tekno due to an ‘unconscionable conduct’ dispute instigated by SBR that was eventually settled out of court.
Reflecting on the saga, Van Gisbergen says that he should have publicly quashed suggestions that he was suffering depression and was permanently retiring from the category.
“What I should have done differently was to just be honest with the media a lot more and tell them the story rather than the team saying it,” Van Gisbergen told Speedcafe.com.
“All of that stuff (about retirement and depression) was never from me.
“I kept pretty quiet and to myself which is kind of the person I am and a lot of people heard the wrong story and still believe that.
“You get fans that are still pissed off about it and I should have said something (at the time) but didn’t.
“I wasn’t in a good place (mentally) but it was portrayed that I was in a worse one.
“The short of all that is if it stayed as Stone Brothers I would have kept racing, I just didn’t want to be in the new part (Erebus).
“From what happened four years ago, I’ve come a long way as a person and have learnt to enjoy racing so much more.
“Whether I come fifth or eighth, as long as I’ve done my best job I’m happy and feel I’ve got something to build on.
“Definitely my approach to racing has changed a lot since then and I definitely enjoy things a lot more.”
The legal action between SBR and Van Gisbergen focussed largely on when the Tekno deal came about.
Shifting from SBR/Erebus, which was about to embark on a tumultuous period with its new Mercedes-AMG package, to Triple Eight customer team Tekno was in hindsight a savvy move that led him to his current drive with Red Bull.
While there remains widespread scepticism about the timing of the Tekno talks, Van Gisbergen insists he had fully intended to have a year off when he left SBR.
“I would have rather have stayed on the couch than raced for the new team,” he said.
“What came up with Tekno over the break is something I believed in.
“I stand by all that stuff and how it happened and I definitely think I’m a better person, a better racer and in a better spot than I would have been without it.
“The last four years have been the best four years of my life. It’s been awesome.
“I’m very grateful to be in a spot to get the championship I’ve always dreamed of.”
Van Gisbergen has undoubtedly become a more rounded driver over the last four years, with his skill set honed via a gruelling schedule of racing in and out of Supercars.
His ability to handle the pressures of dealing with media and fans has, however, been the most obvious improvement this season following the shift from Tekno to Red Bull.
“This year we’ve done a lot of media stuff which, to be honest, I didn’t think I’d like and a lot of people thought I’d struggle with,” he said.
“But the way they do it and manage it is so awesome and they make it fun and worthwhile doing.
“I probably never had the right training or the right people around to help with it, but this year it’s been a pretty cool and easy transition.
“The media exposure around this team is 10 times what I’ve been used to. It’s massive.”
Van Gisbergen’s ability to deal with the spotlight was tested like never before on home soil last month at Pukekohe.
A newspaper story on the eve of the event claimed rival drivers would try to deliberately crash out Van Gisbergen as revenge for previous on-track incidents.
“I’ve never been under so much scrutiny and pressure off the track,” he said, having gone on to win the event, earning the Jason Richards Trophy.
“It was crazy what was going on there, I wasn’t really ready for that, but once I put the helmet on that kind of thing doesn’t affect me.
“I was fine with it and Sydney will be no different, I’ll just be more prepared.”
Van Gisbergen has, after all, spent 10 years preparing for this weekend’s Sydney 500.
It was in 2007 that he was plucked from obscurity in New Zealand by Ross and Jimmy Stone and placed at satellite squad Team Kiwi for a handful of races before filling the place of Russell Ingall at SBR the following season.
Although a big leap both personally and professionally for the quietly spoken Kiwi, Van Gisbergen didn’t take long to impress with his raw ability, furthering the Stones’ reputation as talent scouts.
Van Gisbergen says he’ll always be grateful for his chance at SBR, but admits that the turmoil of his exit from the team means he no longer has any relationship with Ross Stone.
“I never see Ross around any more and never speak to him,” he said.
“But I have a lot of time for Jimmy and have a lot of respect for him.
“I still see him in the paddock working on his son’s Touring Car Masters team (Matt Stone Racing).
“When you see him with that Torana he built, it’s awesome to see how excited he is.
“I’m always thankful for what they did for me.”