SVG secures Jason Richards Trophy at Pukekohe Park
An emotional Shane van Gisbergen became the first New Zealander to win the Jason Richards Memorial Trophy on Sunday and all but secured a maiden Supercars title at the ITM Auckland SuperSprint at Pukekohe Park on Sunday.
The Kiwi settled for second place in the final race of the weekend while his championship rival Jamie Whincup grabbed the race win, completing a dominant weekend for the Red Bull Racing team.
Van Gisbergen was overcome after lifting the trophy named in honour of the likeable Kiwi racer who passed away in late 2011.
"The emotional stuff doesn't happen with me very often but I choked a few tears back on the in-lap," said the 27-year-old Aucklander.
"It is a pretty special thing. No Kiwi has done it.
"Everyone was his friend - he was such a nice guy. I remember coming into the series he was always so welcoming and encouraging - he never gave me any tips - he was a racer.
"I always had fond memories of him."
But the pivotal moment of the weekend took place earlier in the day as Whincup tagged his Red Bull Racing teammate and championship rival at the hairpin in race one, which incurred a drive-through penalty and gave away a vital haul of points in the process. His rival managed to get the car going in eighth before charging back through the field to grab third place. That will hand van Gisbergen the title at the final round in Sydney barring a complete disaster.
The Kiwi explained that he'd been told by his race engineer over the radio that Whincup was faster and to not hold him up and to allow him to pass if a move was on.
"He had a look the lap before and I didn't think he was close enough," van Gisbergen said.
"I was just taking my normal line and then got spun out. He came out straight away admitted his mistake and apologized and carried on."
The pair have raced each other hard but fair all year, particularly in the latter part of the season where it has essentially been a two-horse race for the title.
Whincup, a six-time series champion, said it was a simple mistake.
"There was no door open. My car was pretty quick and took a lunge down the inside and locked the rears, made a mistake and took out my teammate.
"There was no malice. I apologized and thankfully car #97 kept going and got a good result."
Van Gisbergen will carry a 191-point lead in the championship to Sydney with two 150-point races left to complete.
He has totally dominated the Sydney street circuit in recent years and would need to have either a DNF or finish outside the top 16 in both races while Whincup won to miss out.
"It has got to happen first," he said.
"The gap is quite big but we still have to go there and get a good result - at least on the Saturday.
"We did what we set out to do this weekend - no mistakes, four good races and got some good points. We increased the lead - that is a bonus.
"Unfortunately there is an awkward four-week break now."
When asked what he is looking forward to most if he becomes the first New Zealander since Jim Richards in 1991 to win the championship van Gisbergen was his typical exuberant self.
"A big burn out - I have won that race three years in a row but never been allowed to do a skid so hopefully this year."
Volvo's Scott McLaughlin capped a solid weekend by securing third in the final race to ensure two New Zealanders stood on the podium and kept the pressure on Craig Lowndes in the championship battle.
McLaughlin lies 19 points behind third-placed Lowndes.
A crowd of just over 106,000 Supercars fans packed into Pukekohe Park over the weekend to witness the Kiwi taking home the gold.
- NZ Herald