All eyes will be on Shane van Gisbergen when the Link ECU D1NZ National Drifting Championship returns to Tauranga this weekend.
The 2016 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship winner will make his long-awaited return to the New Zealand drifting scene after an extended hiatus.
He brings with him the MCA Suspension crew who will prepare and run a V8-powered VK56 Nissan 370Z.
Come February 16-16, ASB Baypark Stadium will host the second round of the New Zealand Xtreme Motorsport Series inside the speedway arena where concrete has once again been laid down to build a new circuit.
This week van Gisbergen will go from Supercars to sliding in the space of less than 24 hours.
On Friday he’ll conduct pre-season testing for the Red Bull Holden Racing Team at Sydney Motorsport Park.
Immediately afterwards he’ll hightail it to Sydney International Airport to cross the Tasman where he’ll get a few sessions of practice before qualifying on Saturday morning. Then he’ll get thrown into his first battle.
It’ll be a high speed transition from circuit racing to sideways drifting.
“It’s something that is so different to what I normally do,” says van Gisbergen.
“Drifting and circuit racing don’t really crossover, but you don’t get confused and start driving around straight."
The Kiwi says he’s ready for the challenge ahead of him. When he goes to track days he needn’t worry about purple sectors, but when he comes to D1NZ he’ll have to follow the requirements outlined by the judges.
“It’s very hard to hit a line that someone tells you to hit. In Supercars or any other racing you’re finding the line that works, but in drifting you have to do what the judges want.
“That’s probably the biggest difference in the actual driving. That takes a while to get used to and probably something I still have to improve a lot on, but that comes with time and doing a few more events.”
It’s been several years since van Gisbergen last competed in D1NZ. The last time he contested a round of D1NZ was at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park where he drove Cole Armstrong’s old Nissan Skyline R34.
With the chance to drive a full fledged drift weapon this time around, he’s keen to see how the events have changed since 2014.
“I watch every event on the live stream, and seeing the new style of D1NZ on the speedway ovals it’s pretty impressive.
“I’ve always wanted to come back, but now more so than ever now that the events have gone up another level. I’m pretty excited, but the first one is going to be tough. The last couple of years have been pretty awesome to watch.”
With the exception of Manfeild, van Gisbergen is locked in for the remainder of the season. There’ll be no room for error when he rides the walls at Baypark Stadium.
Despite driving Supercars at 300kph, he’s more concerned about hitting turn one at Pukekohe Park sideways at 200kph.
“As I’ve told Brendon White a few times I wasn’t really interested in Pukekohe, it’s sort of too fast.
“Driving into that corner and going sideways on purpose at 200kph or whatever is going to be a bit of a shock to the system I think. It’ll be pretty awesome, I’m looking forward to that one.”
The Supercar star is a bit of a commodity within the racing world. He drove for McLaren and won the Blancpain GT Endurance Series and the Supercars championship later that year with Red Bull.
While demand is high with offers on the cards from McLaren again and the chance to race in Europe, van Gisbergen said it isn’t too hard to get permission from Holden to go racing elsewhere.
“It’s not too bad, as long as it’s not a Ford or something like that or promoting a manufacturer competing directly against Holden,” he says.
“It is quite tight the restrictions, but when you go drifting it’s such a different discipline and different type of car, it’s not too hard to get permission for. It works out good.”
The New Zealand Xtreme Motorsport Series heads to ASB Baypark Stadium in Tauranga over February 16-17. For more information visit D1NZ.com or NZXMS.co.nz. Tickets are available on the gate or via iTicket.co.nz.