Richie Stanaway has no regrets at walking away from motor racing, despite winning the Bathurst 1000 so soon after his return.
The 31-year-old conquered Mt Panorama with Shane van Gisbergen on Sunday, showing that even though he’s spent most of the last three years out of the sport, he’s still got the talent to mix it with the best.
Next year he’ll drive full-time for Grove as he continues to get his career back on track, but now being a Bathurst winner is a world away from where he was at the end of 2019 when he hung up his helmet, disillusioned.
“It was a rough time to be honest when I stopped racing,” Stanaway said.
“If you would have asked me a couple of years ago if I’d be on the top step at Bathurst, I would have said it felt like a million miles away.
“It was pretty surreal to be back here, and I’m very fortunate to get the opportunity to do that wildcard last year.
“That led to the drive at Red Bull and then to racing back full-time. It’s very satisfying to get things back on track and I can’t wait to go racing full-time again.”
Greg Murphy got back into a Supercar last year at Bathurst to team up with Stanaway, hoping to entice him back into the sport.
Stanaway said doing the last two Bathurst 1000s with two of New Zealand’s greatest-ever motor racing drivers enabled him to regain his love for racing.
“It’s helped a lot driving with both of them because they’re two of the most iconic drivers from New Zealand,” he said.
“To drive with Greg last year, I needed that inspiration to come back.
“Then the same again this year with Shane, it’s inspired me to get the most out of myself and come back and do things properly.”
Stanaway did a revealing interview with Stuff last weekend where he said he didn’t feel like he’s the enigma of Australasian motorsport, as he’s been labelled.
What’s clear after last weekend is that Stanaway is going to give it his all next season and he’s regained his passion for motorsport.
“I definitely felt like I made the right decision at the time. I wasn’t regretting it, I enjoyed my time away,” he said of his retirement in 2019.
“But I had enough time between stopping racing and the wildcard opportunity, to be open to the idea of coming back and it progressed from there.
“At the start of this year I was still unsure if I was just going to come back to co-drive and be around a little bit, but not full-time.
“But as the year progressed, I got more certain that I wanted to come back racing full-time.
“My experience working at Triple Eight has given me confidence, because the confidence was pretty low after 2018, 2019. I felt like I had forgotten how to drive.
“Coming into a great team like this, it’s given a huge boost to my confidence again. That’s why when the opportunity came up to race at Grove, I was certain that coming back was the right thing to do.”
While Sunday was a great day for Stanaway and Van Gisbergen, it was a tough one for the other Kiwis in the race.
Andre Heimgartner had to retire due to mechanical issues with his car, Matt Payne finished 11th, Fabian Coulthard was 14th and Jaxon Evans placed 21st.
“We were going pretty good in the first stint,” Payne said.
“We were running around seventh and then Kevin (Estre, his co-driver) got in and made a mistake going into turn one.
“He got stuck in the gravel which put us down a lap and then it was recovery from there.
“It was hard to pass for me. Once I got behind someone, the tyres got overheated and then it’s hard to get a run on someone.”
Evans’s chances of a good result came to an end when his partner, Jack Smith was hit by Macauley Jones.
“It was a long day,” Evans said.
“Things got off to a pretty good start, I was happy to take the start for the second time in a row and it was pretty special to see all of those fans on the first few laps.
“But we got caught up in an incident and had to spend some time in the garage fixing it and it never really felt comfortable after that.
“The race progressed and I got back in it at the end. I felt pretty comfortable so I was able to have a bit of a push and see what we were capable of.
“In the end, not the result we were after, but I still had a lot of fun driving around.”