Tagged the “Sonny Bill Williams of motor racing”, Kiwi V8 Supercar star Shane van Gisbergen has broken his silence on his controversial off-season switch of teams and denied that he ever announced his retirement.
Van Gisbergen’s return to racing with the Tekno Autosports team at the opening event of this year’s Aussie V8 championship series has caused uproar at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide this weekend.
The 23-year-old – who late last year sensationally turned his back on a recently signed three-year contract with Kiwi team Stone Brothers Racing – failed to finish in the championship’s opening race after starting on pole position.
After quitting SBR, it was reported that van Gisbergen had retired from V8 racing, citing a lack of motivation.
But early this year it was announced he had signed on with the Holden team Tekno Autosports.
The news surprised V8 fans and stunned the new owners of SBR, Mercedes’ Erebus Motorsport, who believed van Gisbergen had broken the terms of his release with them. This was followed by reports that SBR were seeking an injunction to enforce a one-year, non-compete clause.
Fellow Kiwi V8 racer Fabian Coulthard has also weighed into the debate, criticising van Gisbergen over his behaviour.
“It was generally thought that he (van Gisbergen) was having an issue and was going to have a year off and then come back in 2014,” Coulthard said on Friday.
“But to go about it how he has gone about it, I think he probably could have gone about it in a slightly better way with the lying.
“Among the drivers, we don’t really appreciate being lied to.”
Until the opening event, van Gisbergen has maintained a silence but has now revealed that he was desperate to get out of an alleged toxic environment at SBR.
‘‘I didn’t want to stay somewhere where I wasn’t happy. I was hating life and had to get out,’’ he told News Ltd in Australia yesterday.
Van Gisbergen said he was unhappy that SBR were switching manufacturers from Ford to Mercedes and there were arguments between him and figures inside the team.
“There were a couple of clashes. It wasn’t a happy atmosphere and it was going to get more political with the takeover,’’ he said.
‘‘Just the big glitzy stuff with Mercedes. I want a fast race car. I want to race and have fun. I wasn’t allowed to do NZ Super Tourers.’’
The Aucklander also said that while SBR claimed he’d retired, he never actually said those words.
“Not by me. Never from my mouth. No one has heard my side and it has all come from other people,’’ said.
However, van Gisbergen received a car bonnet signed by all drivers of the field as a retirement gift.
“I know there have been a lot of comments by the drivers. I feel quite bad because they signed it, but at that point I was going home. Things have changed now,” said van Gisbergen.
Van Gisbergen said his move to the Australian owned Tekno Autosports wasn’t motivated by money, but his desire to take out the title.
“I want results,’’ he said. ‘‘That is what I am driven by. I love racing and I love the atmosphere.
‘‘I want a good car, a good time and I want to do my best.
‘‘So far that is all happening here at Tekno. I want to win championships. I think I can do that here. I want to win races and go for it. We have a great car run by good people. That is the reason I came back.’’
- © Fairfax NZ News