V8 Supercars heroes Jamie Whincup and Shane Van Gisbergen talk competitiveness, Australia’s best bit of track, and Trans-Tasman cake ownership.
“That’s disgraceful,” said Whincup. “He should be deported.”
Charming, well-liked and universally respected, Triple Eight Racing’s pairing of seven-time Supercars series victor, Virgin Australia ambassador Jamie Whincup (Australian), and 2016 champion Shane van Gisbergen (New Zealander) are superstars of their sport. So who’d have expected that one throwaway film question might have ruined it all?
“So,” we asked ‘SVG’, “would you say you’re more of a Bullitt man or a Mad Max guy?”
“Bullitt?” said the Kiwi. “Is that the one with Steve McQueen? I don’t know – I haven’t watched it.”
“Oh,” we said. “Mad Max, then.”
“I haven’t seen Mad Max, either.”
Cue long pause. And potential expulsion from the country.
Can two of motorsport’s greatest competitors make peace long enough to give us an insight into their almost three decades of combined Supercars experience? Or will Shane be bundled into a van by the Department of Home Affairs, doomed to live out his days in a Dunedin shed with Dave Dobbyn and Dustin Martin’s dad?
What’s the best part of any track in Australia to race?
Yep, yep. It’s actually a couple of corners before Skyline [at Mount Panorama, Bathurst]. We all call it ‘The Grate’. You come down into a dip, big compression and the steering literally locks up because the loads are so high. So you’ve got to be prepared and have the steering set to what angle you want. And then the compression, you just can’t turn the car for a split second because the steering jams up. It’s got walls on either side, inside and outside, and the walls are your apex points and your exit points, so if you ride on the wall, then you’ve done a good job.
I don’t think I’ve ever been through there on the limit and got away with it. Every time you come up to it your brain says, ’Yep, we’ll go faster this lap.’ And your foot just comes straight off the pedal. It’s such a crazy corner.
How does it get in the car?
The normal rule is that it’s 20 degrees hotter than ambient temperature. In Adelaide this year it was 40 degrees all week, and first race of the year, it was a killer – 60 degrees in the car for a 250-kilometre race, so almost two hours. We were in there, battling. The exhaust is right below you and right beside you, so the heat just comes straight through. It’s not like a road car, there’s no insulation at all, it’s just straight metal, and it just absorbs everything.
What’s it like to win a championship?
Yeah, it took a while to sink in. You know, I won mine on the Saturday in 2021 so I still had Sunday to race, and yeah, was just a cool feeling. It was my dream to be in the series, and then to win one was just icing on the cake.
What do you like most about it?
The battles. Our cars are so awesome to race and you can go wheel-to-wheel and someone can hit you and carry on. It’s just a battle you know, I’ve had some of the best races and jumped out of the car stoked and I’ve come fourth or fifth. I just love racing, and V8s I think has the best racing and also some of the best drivers.
And some of the most competitive personalities. It’s remarkable it doesn’t get more heated.
Yeah, but they’re people you work with the whole time. That’s why I think in our sport you don’t see drivers fighting like you do in rugby league or something, because you’ve got to race that guy the next week, you know? If you square someone up, they’ll get you. Plus it is dangerous, so you’ve got to look after each other. There’s a fair bit of comradery, but even if you sometimes see them for a drink afterwards, it’s hard to be friends because they’re fighting for the same goal. So it can be pretty tense and tough but it’s still cool.
Are you madly competitive at every activity?
I’m naturally a competitive person. I like to get the most out of any activity. When you get older, you’re a bit more aware of your limits, so… well there is no limit. You’re more aware of your expectations, I should say.
So you’ll be competing against the grandkids at ping-pong when you’re elderly?
I think so. I actually reckon I got it from my father. Dad always used to say: ’The day you beat me is the day I’ll give it away,’ so he was always battling with me ’till he was 50 years old.
Ayrton Senna talked about being so ‘in the zone’ that it was almost like observing yourself driving, without conscious thought. Do you get that?
I know exactly what he’s talking about there. Most athletes will get it, when you’re so in sync with what you’re doing. You’re not actually consciously thinking about changing gears, where to turn into the corner, where to brake, it’s all happening naturally and it’s almost like your brain is thinking about something else. Ayrton explained it better than anyone; you can almost sit above and just look at what’s going on because your body is just acting instinctively on the task at hand.
It sounds awesome.
It can be really dangerous as well; you can make mistakes that way. I’ve made some pretty silly errors when everything’s happening naturally, and I’m not actually fully focused on what I’m doing. While it’s great, and it’s a very surreal, weird feeling, I try to snap out of it as quick as I can.
It’s part of your job, but for a layperson, what’s it like to crash at high speed?
The feeling is that everything’s happening in slow motion. A half a second crash feels like it goes on for 10 seconds, as you do everything you possibly can to one: try and get out of the situation, or two: try to minimise as much as you can. You will remember every hit, every G, every roll – it will feel like everything is in slow motion, and the amount that your brain is taking in at that time is out of control, and you’ll be able to remember that for the rest of your life, it’s just embedded.
You’ve won seven championships. When did you feel comfortably established in the sport?
The answer to that is never. The cemetery is full of disposable people. There’s always someone ready to take your job. To be in one of the best racing seats in the country, at the top level of motorsports, your job is never secure.
Finally, deportation. SVG hasn’t seen Mad Max, yet he races VB’s for a living. Send him home, you reckon?
Yeah, back over the ditch I reckon. I think he still claims the lamington is his, and how he can do that is beyond me, but he claims the lamington is from Kiwiland and it’s as good as [marshmallow-based New Zealand confectionary delicacy] the chocolate fish, he reckons.
They can dispute pavlova, but lamingtons are from Qld. Anyone at the airport could set him straight.
Exactly. It’s unbelievable. Next thing you know, they’ll be claiming Russell Crowe.