Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Shane van Gisbergen set for NASCAR debut at Chicago

It had been all but confirmed for about eight months, but Shane van Gisbergen is officially going NASCAR Cup Series racing. On Thursday, Trackhouse Racing Team announced the three-time and reigning Supercars Championship winner will make his stock car début at the Chicago Street Race on 2 July. He will drive the #91 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.

Last September, Van Gisbergen revealed he was in talks with Trackhouse owner Justin Marks about racing in NASCAR on a date that did not clash with the Supercars calendar.

“I can honestly say I have dreamed about an opportunity in NASCAR, but really never thought it would become a reality,” van Gisbergen stated. “I can’t wait to get to the States to meet everyone and prepare for Chicago. It’s NASCAR’s first time on the streets of Chicago so in some ways everyone will be a rookie like me, but I don’t underestimate that it’s going to be a huge challenge.”

Van Gisbergen is the top driver in Supercars today with three titles including the last two. Nine races into the 2023 season, he sits third in points with three victories.

While Supercars has been his specialty for much of his career, the Kiwi has also started to dabble in other disciplines. Most notably, he has been competing in rallying in his free time which included the World Rally Championship’s Rally New Zealand in 2022, where he finished third in WRC-2.

Van Gisbergen has long been a fan of NASCAR, but the interest to race was amplified following the introduction of the Cup Series’ Next Gen car, which is much more compatible on road courses than its predecessors and shares various traits with touring cars like the Supercars. The Chicago Street Race will also be the first Cup race on a street circuit, of which Supercars has plenty.

“There is so much I have to learn about these cars and how the races are run,” continued van Gisbergen. “The learning curve will be quite steep, but I am ready for everything they will throw at me. I know a lot of Kiwis and Aussies will be watching and I’m honoured to get this opportunity.”

He will be the first Supercars regular to compete in NASCAR since Marcos Ambrose, who won two Cup races. Points leader Brodie Kostecki and Cameron Waters have also expressed interest in racing NASCAR, as have former Supercars champion and current IndyCar driver Scott McLaughlin.

The start comes as part of Trackhouse’s PROJECT91 programme intended to bring international racing stars into NASCAR. Formula One star Kimi Räikkönen was the first to race the #91 under the banner at Watkins Glen in 2022 followed by COTA in March.

“We have been very pleased with the fan reaction to Kimi’s participation the last two seasons,” Marks added. “I’ll concede the American racing fan might not be as familiar with Shane as they are with Kimi but if you talk with anyone in Australia, New Zealand, and that part of the world, they will tell you he is one of the most talented drivers on the planet. He’s used to street racing in heavy cars and I think everyone will be very impressed with his performance.”

Van Gisbergen will not be the only other Supercars face in the NASCAR garage in 2023 as rival team Erebus Motorsport will send personnel to the Gateway round in June to study the Cup Series in partnership with Richard Childress Racing. The collaboration came via Andrew Dickinson, who worked for Erebus as an engineer before joining Kyle Busch’s squad.