Bathurst winner and 2016 Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen is the first big name wildcard driver secured for next month’s New Zealand Grand Prix at Hampton Downs.
A test in the current FT60 car was organised for the 31 year old Aucklander by Hampton Downs and TOYOTA GAZOO Racing New Zealand and the circuit has helped him secure the drive for the 66th running of the iconic race on January 23-24.
His addition comes with a COVID-19 caveat however as most things have over the past 12 months. Van Gisbergen is due back at his Supercars base on the Gold Coast on February 5 and, at present, the Queensland government requires travellers entering the state to complete two weeks quarantine.
So Van Gisbergen will need that stance to be revised in order to compete. In consultation with TOYOTA GAZOO Racing New Zealand, Hampton Downs and his Red Bull Ampol Supercars team, the decision has been made to err on the side of optimism and enter the race.
“Shane is one of New Zealand’s greatest drivers and ambassadors of the modern era and will be a massive drawcard for the first running of the New Zealand Grand Prix at Hampton Downs, which we’ve coined the Race of Champions,” Hampton Downs chief operating officer Josie Spillane said.
“Hampton Downs has been working hard behind the scenes to deliver several NZ champions for the event and we are delighted Shane has stepped up and committed despite the COVID cloud hanging over the final outcome.
“If we put everything in life on hold until we know what is happening with COVID – we’d do nothing. So we commit, we put in the hard yards and we hope that New Zealand and Australia continue their success in their battle with COVID, and that results in an open border with Queensland.”
Van Gisbergen admits it would be a dream to add his name to that list while he is also keen to honour the legacy of the legendary Kenny Smith, who will contest his 50th Grand Prix in 2021.
“The New Zealand Grand Prix carries so much history and it is going to be really cool getting the chance to compete in it,” he said. “Hampton Downs is an awesome venue for it and will provide great racing.
“While I don’t have any expectations and adapting to driving the cars will take a bit of getting used to, it is going to be a lot of fun and I will give it my best.
“It would be amazing to race alongside Kenny Smith again. That guy is an absolute legend, and it will be neat to say I was there for his 50th Grand Prix.”
Hampton Downs has been working on securing a number of other high-profile drivers to compete in the race while Toyota New Zealand has received clearance to bring a number of up-and-coming international drivers into the country to contest the New Zealand Grand Prix and the Castrol Toyota Racing Series.
Billed this year as the Race of Champions, the 2021 New Zealand Grand Prix could be one of the biggest for major names since Bruce McLaren himself was behind the wheel.
The MotorSport New Zealand-sanctioned event doubles as the opening round of the championship. A joint venture by Hampton Downs and Speed Works Events, it will run over the weekend of January 22nd-24th with practice, qualifying and two races for drivers before the New Zealand Grand Prix itself on Sunday 24th over 28 laps of the circuit.
A legendary list of previous winners includes Stirling Moss, Prince Bira, Jack Brabham, John Surtees, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart and legendary Kiwi racers Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon. More recently, it has been won by current F1 drivers Lando Norris and Lance Stroll. There’s an impressive list of Kiwis on the winners roll of honour too, including three time winners Craig Baird and Nick Cassidy and Smith, as well as Bathurst and Supercar legend Greg Murphy.
It will be the first time the Grand Prix has been held at the North Waikato circuit and the first time any Castrol Toyota Racing Series event has been held on the longer and more challenging 4km international format track which has ten corners and a current lap record of 1 minute 27.637 seconds.