Debut victory for Kiwi van Gisbergen
Tongues were wagging about Kiwi star Shane van Gisbergen before he had even arrived at the V8 Supercars season opener in Adelaide this weekend - for all the wrong reasons.
However, the controversial driver walked away from the tight street circuit with a much more positive buzz on Sunday after holding out defending champion Jamie Whincup and emerging with race two honours.
Van Gisbergen was the talk of the track after his former team Stone Brothers Racing threatened legal action in a bid to stop him from racing for Tekno Autosports following a messy off-season departure.
And the flying Kiwi continued to dominate conversation by clinching his third career victory on a weekend in which he also claimed back-to-back pole positions.
The 23-year-old finished more than two seconds ahead of four-time championship winner Whincup in the 250km race with his Triple Eight Holden teammate Craig Lowndes third in front of a sell-out 95,000-strong crowd.
Van Gisbergen snapped a 34-race winning run by Holden's Triple Eight and Ford Performance Racing who had combined to claim every V8 Supercars event since November 2011.
The young upstart's win seemed an apt way to usher in an exciting era under new Car of the Future (COTF) specifications.
All 28 competitors boasted new vehicles, including newcomers Mercedes and Nissan, the first time an entire field had done so at the same round in touring car history.
Initially it was business as usual as Lowndes took out the opening 250km race by more than 20 seconds on Saturday.
And it seemed his teammate Whincup would extend their Holden team's dominance on Sunday before van Gisbergen got the jump with a clever 42nd lap pit stop.
Van Gisbergen appeared to have an unbeatable six second buffer over the Holden ace but lost his advantage when the safety car emerged after Alex Davison hit the concrete wall with 13 laps left.
Van Gisbergen, who won at Hamilton and Darwin in the 2011 series, somehow kicked clear to emerge unscathed from the mad scramble that ensued to claim line honours.
His win almost made up for the disappointment of race one when he claimed pole but failed to finish due to gearbox problems.
Still the Holden Triple Eight team again appears to be the team to beat this year.
Whincup backed up Saturday's third-placing with second on Sunday.
And Lowndes was third to lead the series on 279 points, 12 ahead of Whincup and 39 ahead of Ford's Will Davison.
“It was an awesome race,” said Van Gisbergen after climbing out of his Holden Commodore.
“I made a mistake (in race one) starting in neutral and I got to redeem myself.
“The car was faultless and here we are.”
Van Gisbergen said his biggest career victory was the ideal morale boost given his off-track dramas.
“All the stuff that’s gone on... it’s great to just get out on track, get on there, get the results. It’s pretty cool,” he said.
“It hasn’t been easy, I’m not going to lie. I feel my best when I’m in the car driving my best. I just get on with it.
“Outside the car there’s all those things hanging around but I’m in a happy environment, I’m really loving life at the moment.”
Rookie Kiwi driver Scott McLaughlin also relished his first experience as a full-time V8 Supercars driver.
The 19-year-old exceeded expectations by recording sixth and ninth-place finishes for Garry Rogers Motorsport.
“Top 15 was my aim, to make the top 10 is unbelievable for my confidence and the team.
McLaughlin’s Holden Commodore was bounced about late in the race but he held his nerve to underline the New Zealand V8 SuperTourers champion’s bright future.
“It was pretty full-on there, I got ruffled and bustled a little bit but I had a lot of fun out there. I’m stoked.”
McLaughlin had raced the Clipsal circuit twice before in the second-tier Dunlop series but that was no comparison to taking on back-to-back 250km races.
“It’s the length of time that you’ve got to concentrate, there’s oil on the track, there’s lapped cars, it’s so much difference to what I’m used to,” he told Channel 7.
“They said if you can get through Clipsal you can get through any event of the year, I trust that now.”