Shane van Gisbergen will take his shot at conquering Mount Panorama this year with three-time Bathurst 1000 winner Garth Tander by his side as co-driver in the no. 97 Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodore.
The Supercars veteran confirmed on Wednesday that he would be stepping down from full-time driving in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, and for both Triple Eight Race Engineering and Tander it was consequently an easy decision to join forces for the PIRTEK Enduro Cup.
As part of a two-year partnership at least, the 2007 series champion will drive alongside van Gisbergen for the Bathurst 1000, Gold Coast 600 and Sandown 500. Both drivers have a championship and a PIRTEK Enduro Cup win apiece, while Tander has an impressive record at Mount Panorama, having claimed memorable victories in the Great Race in 2000, 2009 and 2011.
“Triple Eight have clearly been the class team in Supercars for the best part of the last decade, their results speak for themselves,” Tander said.
“When the opportunity arose to join the team alongside Shane for the enduros it was clearly the best way for me to transition from a full-time driver to a co-driver in this next phase of my career.
“I’m really looking forward to joining the team, hopefully bringing some experience and speed along with me, but mostly looking forward to learning from my new teammates, Shane, Jamie and Craig.”
In 2019, van Gisbergen’s eyes are set firmly on conquering the mountain, an achievement that he’s yet to accomplish, but has come close in recent years, most memorably in 2016 when he took second place, a mere tenth of a second behind the winner.
“Shane has come so close at the mountain a couple of times in the last few years, I’ve been close a few times in the last few years, so while the mountain doesn’t owe anyone anything, if you keep putting yourself up the front at that race, eventually the cards can fall your way,” Tander added.
“Between Shane and I, we will have a ton of experience and plenty of determination to conquer not only Mount Panorama, but also the GC600 and Sandown.
“Whilst Shane and I haven’t shared the same car yet, we’ve been teammates in Australian GT before, and already have a strong friendship and mutual respect. Ironically, it was Shane breathing down my neck when I won my last Supercars race at the Sandown 500 in 2016. I have always enjoyed racing against Shane, and the only downside I can see in this deal is that I don’t get to race against him on track anymore!”
Confirmation of van Gisbergen’s co-driver has been a topic of discussion since the announcement of Craig Lowndes’ retirement from full-time driving last year. In the wake of his 2018 co-driver, Earl Bamber, confirming his lack of availability this year and the announcement that Lowndes will team up with Jamie Whincup, van Gisbergen was in need of a new co-driver.
“As far as experience goes, there’s probably not many better drivers,” said the 2016 Championship and Enduro Cup winner. “Craig is back driving with Jamie, which is fitting, and if you can’t have Craig then Garth is definitely the best person to have on your team.
“It’s pretty special to have someone of his calibre with multiple Bathurst wins. I haven’t won Bathurst yet, so he’s the best person to give me a shot at that. Someone of that experience who already has those achievements on his CV will be awesome to work alongside. Hopefully he can help me to finally win Bathurst!”
Since joining Triple Eight Race Engineering in 2016, van Gisbergen has had three co-drivers who have all been based overseas, making preparation for the endurance season more challenging.
“Having Garth in Australia and already having a good relationship, it’ll be pretty easy to work well together quickly,” he continued.
“All this year he’ll be coming to test days and races to integrate himself into the team as soon as possible and we’ll do everything we can to get him up to speed and learn the Triple Eight philosophy.
“Continuing my theme, it’s a shame not to have the same co-driver again. Earl did a stellar job, but being a factory Porsche driver, some of the big races on his calendar conflict with ours again. He did an amazing job for us last year.”
Triple Eight Managing Director Roland Dane said it was an easy decision to team up van Gisbergen and Tander: “As soon as we heard that Garth would be taking a step back from full-time driving, it made sense to find out whether he had any plans for the enduros locked in yet. It’s happened very quickly, but we’re extremely happy to be welcoming him to the team.
“On paper it will be a very good partnership. Shane and Garth are a similar height, Garth is obviously very experienced in not just a supercar but a Holden and they both know how to handle pressure when it matters the most. With Bathurst being the first enduro on this year’s calendar, we should be in a good position to come in as well prepared as possible.”
The 2019 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship gets underway late next month with the Adelaide 500, 28 February-3 March, while the endurance season kicks off with the Bathurst 1000, 10-13 October.