NO-ONE should be surprised that Shane van Gisbergen is making a comeback to V8 Supercars just six weeks after ‘quitting’ the sport in dramatic fashion. At just 23 years of age and recognised as one of the stars of the sport, it was always going to be a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’, SVG would return.
But this story is shrouded in mystery and I feel we may never know the whole story. Back in May last year, SVG signed a new three-year deal with Stone Brothers Racing that would see him race for the team through to the end of the 2015 season. But sometime between May and November last year, something changed his mind.
There are plenty of theories, chief among them that he didn’t want to drive anything but a Ford. Well, van Gisbergen blew that theory out of the water last week after confirming he will race a Holden Commodore with Tekno Autosports this year. Interestingly, we first heard rumblings that SVG was unhappy back in October, that he’d gone so far as to sound out an unnamed Holden team about a possible seat in the near future. Speculation was rife about a switch to another Ford team, about a switch to a Holden team, about SVG taking a 12-month sabbatical while he waited for an appropriate seat to open up. All valid now, in hindsight.
Another theory doing the rounds was that SVG was contracted to SBR and once the brothers Stone sold out to Betty Klimenko and her Erebus Motorsport outfit, his contract became null and void via a ‘get-out’ clause.
We don’t know the intricacies of SVG’s contract with SBR. Like most contracts, the terms and conditions are confidential. And like most contracts that are broken, the parties involved sign a non-disclosure agreement meaning that neither party can talk about the details of said break-up.
Whatever his reasons – and I’m sure they are valid to him – it will be interesting to gauge the fans’ reaction when he hits the track for the first time in Adelaide next month. If social media is anything to go by, SVG is new ‘public enemy number one’ in the eyes of V8 Supercars fans, or at least those whose glasses are tinted blue.
And while I don’t agree with the notion that a driver must stay loyal to whatever brand he is first associated with, I do understand the frustration of Ford fans everywhere. This year, just six Falcons will grace the V8 Supercar grid (and at the time of writing this, two of those were looking decidedly shaky). Compare that with Holden (15 cars), Nissan (four cars) and Mercedes-Benz AMG (three cars), and it’s easy to understand why the Blue Oval brigade is up in arms.
In the last few years, the Blue Oval has lost a championship-winning team (Triple Eight) and champion driver (James Courtney) to Holden. The ‘People’s Champion’, Craig Lowndes, long adopted by the Ford faithful as its poster boy, returned to Holden. Jamie Whincup, a two-time champion in a Ford, back to Holden. And there are more: Russell Ingall, Brad Jones Racing, Tekno Autosports… the list goes on.
But one shining light that the Ford faithful thought would never burn out was van Gisbergen and his oft-stated love for the Blue Oval. That a driver who once said “My dad would kill me!” if he ever switched from Ford, could cross the great blue-red divide seemed unthinkable. That a driver who – as many fans speculated, rightly or wrongly – would rather not drive at all than drive anything but a Ford, could then turn up in a Holden… well, that’s just blasphemy.
So I understand their frustrations. But I also think it’s misplaced. The days of staying loyal to one brand are over. It’s a quaint throwback to another time, when people had jobs for life and worked 40 years for one employer. Today, research conducted in America has found that the average person will have seven to 10 different jobs over the course of their lives. The average length of time a person spends in one job is just 4.1 years. So why are V8 Supercar drivers expected to uphold a different standard? Interestingly, van Gisbergen, having spent five years with Stone Brothers Racing, is already ahead of the curve.
Good luck in the new job, Shane.
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