With two calendar clashes between the 2017 Australian Supercar championship and the Blancpain Endurance Cup, this weekend’s Sepang 12 Hours is set to be Shane van Gisbergen’s last outing as a McLaren factory driver. On the eve of the race, Racing.GT look back at some of the Kiwi’s best moments in a McLaren.
Van Gisbergen’s first outing with McLaren came at the Spa 24 Hours in 2014, but he didn’t get a chance to drive before Tim Mullen crashed out at Blanchimont. Therefore, Monza was in effect a second debut, but on his first visit to the track and with a new car to get to grips with, it was a quiet weekend for the Kiwi, as he finished 16th.
He didn’t have to wait long before getting off the mark though, as Von Ryan Racing executed the perfect race to win at Silverstone. After taking over from Rob Bell ahead of schedule under a Full Course Yellow, Van Gisbergen was catapulted into a handy lead, but had to fuel-save from the word go. Having hit his numbers, he handed over to Kevin Estre with the lead intact and the Frenchman did the rest.
On sheer pace alone, McLaren shouldn’t have had a chance to win at the Nurburgring, but another superb strategy call from Dave Ryan thrust them into the mix. Starting a lowly 24th, Ryan’s decision to pit just after the Safety Car was scrambled to recover Harold Primat’s Bentley put Estre clear out in front. The result had significant implications in the championship battle, preventing the No. 7 Bentley from scoring the points they needed to overhaul the No. 23 Nissan.
On his return to the Mountain, Van Gisbergen was in scintillating form and set the fastest time ever recorded in qualifying to take pole. In the race itself, he was simply unstoppable, running at the head of the field for his first double stint before having a nap and jumping back in for the end. A pit indiscretion made life harder for himself, but Van Gisbergen’s pace in clean air meant he emerged after his final stop clear of the chasing Nissan of Katsumasa Chiyo. It was the first race for Garage 59 after taking over from Von Ryan Racing and a sign of things to come.
Just as was the case at in the title race, McLaren were just too strong for HTP at Monza. A sterling opening stint from Bell put rookie Come Ledogar into the lead during the middle stint before Van Gisbergen found himself stymied in traffic, inviting pressure from Maxi Buhk. Lap after lap they followed each other nose-to-tail, but with a year’s experience under his belt, Van Gisbergen was able to repel the challenge and start the season in the best possible fashion.
On another day, McLaren might not have won the 6 Hour mini-enduro at Paul Ricard, but crucially, they made fewer mistakes than their rivals. When the race-leading Bentley caught fire and the AF Corse Ferrari neglected to pit under a Full Course Yellow, Van Gisbergen, Bell and Ledogar ran out winners again, putting them in command of the title race.
Van Gisbergen wasn’t able to join his team-mates at the Nurburgring due to a clashing Supercars meeting at Sandown and must have resigned himself to losing the championship he had worked all year for. But in a bizarre twist, Bell was penalised for contact, Ledogar had a spin and stand-in Duncan Tappy suffered a puncture, which meant they finished outside the points, while fourth for HTP meant they fell one point short. As a result, Van Gisbergen would get to share the title with his team-mates from the other side of the world. They don’t come much stranger than that.