Roland’s View: SVG’s unique moment in motorsport

Shane van Gisbergen’s NASCAR win was quite a moment. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

I’m biased I know, but SVG is an absolute legend!

Last weekend there was plenty of first class motor racing happening around the planet, there were some great races and some excellent Aussie and Kiwi performances, but there’s only one event that’s worth talking about today.

The performance of Shane van Gisbergen on the streets of Chicago was quite simply the most stunning debut by a driver in a top line professional category in the modern era. His weekend as a whole, let alone the race win, will quickly become one of the great legendary stories of our sport.

I, like many other people who have worked with Shane over the last 16 or so years that he’s driven professionally, couldn’t be prouder of what he achieved in the Windy City. And whilst I watched the race in awe of his speed and race craft, I can’t say that I was surprised by the outcome.

In fact, I’m nothing short of amazed that some of the regular NASCAR drivers appeared not have seen him coming. The post race comments were often amusing but surely these guys and teams would have done their homework? Or do they really exist in an American bubble to the extent that they didn’t spot the train heading down the tunnel?

All credit to Paul Morris and Boris Said for making the connection with Trackhouse Racing in the first place and I am very sure that Boris, who certainly does take an interest in the wider world of motor sports, saw the potential in this one off drive for SVG. And hats off to Trackhouse for the whole Project91 scheme, something that would be great to see copied here in Australia, as I alluded to last week.

The Chicago venue represented the perfect opportunity for an outsider to arrive on the scene with one less handicap to contend with when compared with the regular drivers, namely a brand new track with no prior experience for anyone.

But be in no doubt, that still left a mountain of other obstacles for a new comer, such as minimal Cup car experience (a few laps in the days beforehand being all Shane had), no category experience with strategy, rules etc, plus a grid full of other drivers who, whether they knew of SVG’s track record or not, weren’t about to make life easy for him.

The sheer scale of Shane’s achievement cannot be underestimated. Whilst I certainly always felt that he had it in him to spring this result, there are any number of things that can go wrong along the way through no fault of the driver, especially in those difficult conditions.

As the chequered flag fell, I was reminded that  early last year I put SVG forward to GM to drive the Garage 56 Camaro at Le Mans this year. GM in the US decided to go elsewhere. Maybe now they will take Shane seriously as the world class driver that he is – there is simply no better and more versatile driver on GM’s books anywhere in the world today.

And it is that sheer versatility that is so impressive and so rarely seen. Only Mattias Ekstrom is in the same league in terms of diverse success at an international level.

Shane’s performance at the weekend, quite rightly, reflects well on the standard of the top five or so Supercars drivers when being judged on a global level. He is undoubtedly the best driver in Australasia at the moment, but there are several others who are growing fast. Hopefully they get their chances internationally in the future.

Meanwhile, as SVG returns to the Supercars paddock this coming weekend, I hope that those who were so quick to criticise him earlier this year are now humble enough to show him the respect he deserves.

If he makes comments about the cars and the category in the hope of making improvements then listen and engage him as one of the best racing brains in the business. The NASCAR win had as much to do with what Shane did outside of the car as it did inside. He can apply himself like no other.

It honestly still makes my blood boil when I remember the glib approach of some members of the TV presentation team at Newcastle to the issue of driver cooling for Shane and several others. This guy is world class. Show him the respect he deserves.

Finally, as I reflected on Monday on Shane’s NASCAR debut, I was trying to recall another race win over the last 50 years or so of my involvement in motor sport that felt as special or as extraordinary. I did eventually remember one, one that will mean little to those of younger years, but it was special. That was Mike Hailwood’s comeback win at the Isle of Man in 1978 on a Ducati.

For me, two unique motorsports moments to be cherished that both brought a tear to my eye.

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