NASCAR has come calling for reigning Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen, with the New Zealand driver set to debut in the series at the inaugural street race in Chicago later this year. Talks between the 34-year-old and Trackhouse Racing first began late last year, with van Gisbergen set to make his debut in the American series in July.
Remarkably, the street race in Chicago will be the first time Van Gisbergen has taken the wheel of any NASCAR machinery, however Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks said there was no doubt his experience in the Australian series would hold him in good stead. Trackhouse Racing is the same team that gave 2007 F1 champion Kimi Raikkonen his own NASCAR debut when he was on hiatus from the open-wheel series in 2022.
Van Gisbergen will driver under the Project91 banner, a group whose main goal is bringing high-profile overseas talent into the NASCAR series. He follows in the footsteps of fellow Kiwi and former Supercars champion Marcos Ambrose, who enjoyed a seven-year career in the NSACAR Cup Series, making his name as a road course specialist.
In between his Supercars commitments, Van Gisbergen has also been an active participant in New Zealand rallying. He said his latest motorsport venture was the culmination of a long-held dream.
"I can honestly say I have dreamed about an opportunity in NASCAR, but really never thought it would become a reality," he said. "I can't wait to get to the States to meet everyone and prepare for Chicago.
"It's NASCAR's first time on the streets of Chicago so in some ways everyone will be a rookie like me, but I don't underestimate that it's going to be a huge challenge. There is so much I have to learn about these cars and how the races are run.
"The learning curve will be quite steep, but I am ready for everything they will throw at me. I know a lot of Kiwis and Aussies will be watching and I'm honoured to get this opportunity."
If you thought Marcos Ambrose was good, wait until you see Shane van Gisbergen on the streets of Chicago...
I admittedly have very high expectations for this, even though it's his #NASCAR debut, but the guy is a wheelman.
— Nick DeGroot (@ndegroot89) May 18, 2023
Shane Van Gisbergen is a huge pickup for Trackhouse. I think he could be a surprise contender at Chicago #NASCAR
— Daniel Kriete (@DanielKriete4) May 18, 2023
— Adam Stern (@A_S12) May 18, 2023
— John Newby (@JohnNewby_) May 18, 2023
Debate: Is there a racing driver more versatile than Shane van Gisbergen right now?
Success in all of those and soon to be running around in NASCAR.
📸 @daniel_kalisz #Supercars #NASCAR #RepcoSC pic.twitter.com/PbHbv2gLu8
— Smon Champman (@simonchapman_) May 19, 2023
Van Gisbergen will be joined by teammates Ross Chastain, the current championship leader, as well as the series' only Mexican-born driver, Daniel Suarez. Marks, the owner of the team, said the two races Raikkonen had competed in during 2022 and 2023 had been a major hit with fans.
Though he conceded Van Gisbergen had a lower profile than the former F1 champion, the Kiwi star does have a dedicated following among motorsport die-hards and Marks predicted he would acquit himself well in his NASCAR debut. He believes there are some parallels between the two categories that could benefit Van Gisbergen.
"We have been very pleased with the fan reaction to Kimi's participation the last two seasons," Marks said. "I'll concede the American racing fan might not be as familiar with Shane as they are with Kimi but if you talk with anyone in Australia, New Zealand and that part of the world they will tell you he is one of the most talented drivers on the planet.
"He's used to street racing in heavy cars and I think everyone will be very impressed with his performance."
Van Gisbergen's NASCAR foray comes amid Supercars frustrations
Van Gisbergen has been notably unhappy with how the Supercars series has been playing out in recent months, declaring the series was 'worse than ever' recently. He has been particularly disappointed in the absence of a race in New Zealand this season, after the Pukekohe circuit was officially closed following a farewell round last season.
Supercars has also introduced new 'Gen3' cars for this season, with the Chevrolet Camaro replacing the now defunct Holden Commodore. Ford entries continue to use the Mustang body.
Van Gisbergen indicated in an interview with Fox Sports that his decision to stay in Supercars until the end of 2024 was principally guided by his fondness for the Triple Eight outfit he has raced for since 2016. He made his debut in the category for Team Kiwi in 2007, becoming the 200th Supercars driver in the process.
He said the drivers had less impact on car setup and performance than in prior seasons, despite embracing the challenge of the new machinery. He was most critical however, of the off-track operations - again lambasting the series for removing New Zealand from the category altogether and criticising them over races that were held in other overseas venues over the years where Supercars has little to no fanbase.
"It's weird because the series is worse than ever, all the background stuff, it's really bad," he said. "But the team is awesome. I loved the challenge this year of the car.
"The car is difficult, but as a driver you have to think, it's the same for everyone ... as a driver you feel like you have less influence."
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