ANALYSIS: Is van Gisbergen really to blame?
Monday 13th March, 2023 - 6:00am
Shane van Gisbergen has been roundly criticised for his uncooperative performance in the latest Newcastle post-race press conference – but whose fault is it really?
The Triple Eight Race Engineering driver’s behaviour towards emcee Chad Neylon and journalists such as Speedcafe.com’s Mat Coch after his victory in Race 2 of the season could reasonably be described as arrogant.
However, that would be a superficial reading of the situation.
Van Gisbergen was hardly the only driver who was unwilling to speak openly in a press conference during the weekend, or indeed on the record to journalists on any number of other occasions of late.
Seated to the New Zealander’s left was David Reynolds, who is normally prone to talking himself into trouble, but even he appeared nervous about being completely open.
As van Gisbergen continued to shirk his responsibility to answer questions, he, then Mostert and Reynolds, were asked if they had been given some sort of official instruction or briefing about commentary they might make.
Reynolds’ response was telling.
“They don’t want us to say anything negative,” he said.
When pressed to clarify whether he had been told that, the 2017 Bathurst 1000 winner replied, “I don’t know what to say,” before attempting to offer a defence of Gen3.
Who ‘they’ is, was not specified.
However, in trying to deduce to whom the reference was made, it is worth winding the clock back just over a day, to a particular moment on the television broadcast.
While walking through pit lane ahead of the Top 10 Shootout, Mark Skaife volunteered a recent exchange between himself and Reynolds on the subject of Gen3.
“Davey Reynolds just looked at me and had a little smile because we fell out of love last week, David and I,” noted Skaife as he passed the Grove Racing garage.
Asked what happened by host Jessica Yates, he explained, “Well, because David made some comments about parity and stuff that he wasn’t really as informed as I would like him to be.
“So, we had a little text exchange, and then we came up and had a little man hug yesterday, so we’ve resolved the issues.”
Those comments are likely to be the radio interview in which Reynolds said on parity, “they’ve got two weeks to sort it out or otherwise it’s going to be a pretty dismal year for us,” ‘us’ being Ford competitors.
Skaife is, of course, a television commentator, but the six-time Bathurst 1000 winner wears several hats in the motorsport industry.
Among them are his position as a director of the company (Racing Australia Consolidated Enterprises) which owns Supercars and, according to sources, the head of the Gen3 project since the departure of previous CEO Sean Seamer.
Certainly, Skaife was in attendance at the ‘mini VCAT’ which was completed just over a week ago at Temora Aerodrome, where he is thought to have played a key role in proceedings.
It is also understood that he rang multiple journalists/media proprietors on the Friday night of the Newcastle 500 weekend to complain about negative reporting on Gen3 following practice.
Furthermore, several drivers have told Speedcafe.com in recent months that they have been berated by senior figures within Supercars for comments which are perceived as negative towards the championship.
Van Gisbergen did not go that far in Newcastle, but he made reference to some sort of negative reaction to his comments in the Saturday press conference, during which he said following/passing is “probably worse than last year.”
In the Sunday press conference, the three-time champion claimed, “I said the truth about the cars I guess – tried to be honest – and it goes down the wrong way, so I’ll focus on my driving.”
Asked, as a follow-up to that comment, where the pressure was coming from, van Gisbergen replied, “I just want to focus on my driving, man; that’s what I do best.”
It was but one in a series of non-answers from the man who was present in all three press conferences held during the weekend.
Asked by Speedcafe.com how optimised drivers’ cars felt after just Friday practice, van Gisbergen said, “I guess it’s just a car; like, it understeers and oversteers.
“You’ve just got to tune it as you go. It’s a race car at the end of the day; you’re trying to get the balance as good as possible, I guess.”
When it was Brodie Kostecki’s turn to answer, the Erebus Motorsport driver added only, “It’s just a car, like Shane said.”
Van Gisbergen and Kostecki seem to be introverted characters, and the former’s behaviour is sometimes questionable.
In this instance, though, there are a number of signs which suggest that the Kiwi has been admonished behind the scenes for daring to speak his mind on Gen3.
There was, of course, nothing private about the criticism which Skaife delivered on live national television following the Sunday press conference at the Newcastle 500.
The television commentator/RACE board member/Gen3 figure said van Gisbergen’s behaviour was “not right” and that “respect is really important”, while seeming to infer that the #97 Camaro driver was smarting from the controversial disqualification from Race 1.
To be clear, it is not known who might have attempted to force SVG to toe the party line, and/or rebuked him for not doing so – Skaife is hardly the only candidate – although it is noteworthy that he did not deny that such a scenario transpired.
It is ironic, however, that Skaife should seek to criticise one driver for not talking in a press conference after quipping that he “fell out of love” with another for commenting openly about Gen3.
In Skaife’s defence this time, only a brief clip of the press conference was played on television before he offered his assessment, and once must consider the possibility that he was not aware of the context which followed (that is, that van Gisbergen was attempting to remain silent due to apparent blowback to Gen3 comments, rather than because of the disqualification).
However, what he would know is that drivers have been criticised for expressing concerns about Gen3 – because he admitted doing it himself, a day earlier.
If drivers are expected to genuinely engage with the media and, by extension, the Supercars fanbase, then questions should be asked about why van Gisbergen, among others, are reluctant to do so.
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