Skaife defends van Gisbergen criticism as ‘nothing spiteful’

Mark Skaife (centre). Picture: Ross Gibb Photography

Mark Skaife (centre). Picture: Ross Gibb Photography

Mark Skaife defended his controversial on-air remarks about Shane van Gisbergen, claiming he was not speaking as a board member and that there was “nothing spiteful” in his critique.

Skaife claimed during the post-race show which aired on Fox Sports that van Gisbergen’s behaviour in all but refusing to answer questions on the Sunday press conference at the Thrifty Newcatle 500 was “not right”, and argued that the Triple Eight Race Engineering driver had an ambassadorial duty as a Supercars champion.

What was not clear from the clip put to air at the time was that van Gisbergen was not so much smarting about being disqualified from the previous day’s race.

Rather, he was aggrieved at the reaction from “top brass” about the concerns which he has raised about the Gen3 race cars, and hence adopted a no-comment strategy as he outlined in a social media post on the following night in which he described the television admonishing as “a real kick in the teeth”.

Adding to the controversy, Skaife himself could reasonably fall into the category of “top brass” given he is a board member of the company which owns Supercars and is understood to have been the head of the Gen3 project since the departure of former CEO Sean Seamer.

Speaking to News Corp Australia newspapers, the six-time Bathurst 1000 winner claimed he was speaking only as a commentator.

“I normally cop flak from everybody for how much support and how complimentary I am of Shane and his performances,” said Skaife.

“Normally when I compliment him on his performances in the car everyone smashes me, saying ‘You’re a Triple Eight fan’ or ‘You’re a van Gisbergen fan’.

“I made sure that my comments the other day were not from [the point of view of] being a board member or hierarchy in any way from Supercars.

“I was making a comment as a Fox Sports commentator regarding what the expectation is of a champion, of an ambassador for our sport. That was simply it.

“There was nothing spiteful [intended], I certainly didn’t want him to feel like I had kicked him in the teeth for instance. It wasn’t that.

“I was making a point that there was a responsibility and a duty under the normal conditions that we play in and that was all.”

Skaife had, however, made light of the fact that he had also rebuked David Reynolds for public criticisms of Gen3 while speaking on the telecast just one day prior to the van Gisbergen controversy, remarking that they “fell out of love” but had since reconciled over the matter.

Whether Skaife was the “top brass” to whom van Gisbergen referred is not known, but the five-time champion has committed to clearing the air with the Kiwi and Triple Eight ahead of the next event.

“I called Jamie and Jeromy to say, ‘How do you want me to move forward?’” he added.

“I made the offer to fly up to Brisbane. I had a really good open discussion with Jeromy [Moore] and Jamie [Whincup], Jamie as the CEO of the business and Jeremy the technical director, to talk about the issue with Shane.

“It was a very open and honest discussion and where we finished was Jamie was going to talk to Shane and we would meet up going into the Grand Prix. That’s where I left it and I haven’t spoken to them again, we just have a couple of text exchanges.”

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