Supercars drivers an ‘untapped resource’ for NASCAR
Tuesday 4th July, 2023 - 6:00am
The man who brought Shane van Gisbergen to NASCAR has described Supercars drivers as an “untapped resource” for the stock car category.
Already regarded as a highly versatile driver, van Gisbergen demonstrated another string to his bow with victory on his NASCAR debut in the Chicago Cup Series race.
In doing so, he became the first Antipodean to win in either Cup or Xfinity since Marcos Ambrose’s exploits in 2014 at Watkins Glen.
However, he is also the second New Zealander to break through in a top-tier North American competition in as many years, following in the footsteps of Scott McLaughlin, who made a permanent switch from Supercars to IndyCar at the end of 2020 and scored a maiden win at St Petersburg in February 2022.
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Justin Marks, co-owner of the Trackhouse Racing team which fielded van Gisbergen on the streets of Chicago, believes there is plenty more talent from Supercars which could succeed in NASCAR.
“If you look at Cup racing, especially with this new car on the street courses, if you look around the world, the closest thing that there is to the NASCAR Cup Series anywhere in the world on road courses is the Supercars series,” said Marks, who has a handful of Cup Series starts as a driver himself.
“I mean, the cars are very similar, and the talent there is unbelievable.
“Obviously, we had Marcos Ambrose in the series for a number of years, Scott McLaughlin came over and won in the IndyCar Series, and then when you look at Scott Dixon and the guys in that part of the world, I mean, there’s so much talent over there.
“I just sort of thought of it as, like, kind of an untapped resource.”
Van Gisbergen drove the part-time ‘Project91’ entry, an initiative which was created to bring talents from foreign countries and disciplines into NASCAR.
The Kiwi is the second driver to race in the #91 Chevrolet Camaro, after two starts so far for Kimi Raikkonen, but Marks drew a contrast between the three-time Supercars champion and the 2007 world drivers’ champion.
“It’s difficult to take a guy like Kimi Raikkonen, who’s raced in Formula 1, and put him in a full-bodied stock car,” he added.
“Obviously incredible talent, but there’s a lot to learn there, whereas Shane’s had a lot of experience in cars like this, so I just figured, if a guy like him could come over, and we could put the programme together like we have for Project91, that he could get to speed really, really quickly and be able to contend.”
Marks’ comments are sure to be well-received by not only van Gisbergen, who now appears at least an even-money chance of leaving Supercars for NASCAR in 2025, but a number of his present-day rivals.
Current championship leader Brodie Kostecki, who cut his teeth in stock cars in North America, is looking for at least cameos in NASCAR, and Cameron Waters has expressed similar interest in NASCAR or sprintcar action on the other side of the Pacific.
Ironically, Marks neglected to mention another Antipodean who has excelled in North America, namely Queenslander Will Power, the most recent IndyCar champion.
Power has two IndyCar titles and an Indianapolis 500 win to his name, while Queensland-born New Zealander Dixon is a six-time champion in the category and also a victor in its flagship event at ‘The Brickyard’.
McLaughlin has four race wins as at the halfway mark of his third full season and has already come close to triumphing on an oval, despite a previous lack of experience on such circuits and a predominantly tin top path to IndyCar.
Ambrose’s nine years in NASCAR yielded two Cup race wins and five in the second-tier national series, all on road courses, and fellow Australian Ryan Briscoe won eight races during his time in IndyCar.