Van Gisbergen & Tander Conquer Bathurst 1000

Garth Tander (left) and Shane van Gisbergen celebrate their Bathurst 1000 victory Sunday at Mount Panorama Circuit. (Supercars photo)

MOUNT PANORAMA, Australia – In his 14th attempt to win Australia’s Great Race, Shane van Gisbergen finally tasted victory in the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 Sunday at Mount Panorama Circuit.

With Garth Tander as his co-driver in the No. 97 Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodore, the New Zealand veteran and 2016 Virgin Australia Supercars champion dominated the final three stints of the race, but it was his late-race heroics which shined the brightest.

Van Gisbergen mastered a pair of restarts – one with five to go and another with three laps left – to secure the Bathurst 1000 trophy, fending off a hard-charging Cameron Waters down the stretch in doing so.

It marked van Gisbergen’s 40th career Supercars race win, tying him with the legendary Glenn Seton for seventh on the all-time list, and was extremely poetic considering that Sunday marked Holden’s final race as a factory brand in Australian motorsports.

“It’s just awesome,” noted van Gisbergen, after having picked up a Holden flag on his victory lap. “The last few laps were really tough with the safety cars but the team did a faultless job and the car got better all weekend, so thanks to my guys.

“We had a great car and it’s a great way to send out Holden. Thanks to Garth, he did an awesome job. I just wish my Mum and Dad were here.”

Though van Gisbergen and Tander took control of the race just before the midway point, with some rain showers near the lap-60 benchmark giving the No. 97 a lead it would rarely relinquish again, a pair of crashes inside the final 10 laps that nearly flipped the script.

It started with a surprising safety car period with nine to go, when Jack Smith’s car became beached at The Chase and Bryce Fullwood crashed moments later in the esses.

That forced a slowdown of several minutes and led to a lap-157 restart, during which Zane Goddard crashed hard at The Grate, leading to a final three-lap sprint to the checkers.

Waters tried to run down van Gisbergen on that race-deciding restart, but the Kiwi was simply too strong, setting the fastest lap time of the 161-lap race on the penultimate lap en route to a .8663-second margin of victory.

“I knew as long as I got through turn two I would be fine,” said van Gisbergen of the final restart. “Each time he (Waters) got pretty close but got through turn two with good grip, so I knew I would be OK. Those last three stints were just qualifying laps, so just awesome.

“It was a real track position race, super hard to pass, and when that rain came I was a bit slow at the start but then got going. That got us to the front and we never left it.”

For Tander, Sunday marked his fourth Bathurst 1000 victory, following past successes in 2000 with Garry Rogers Motorsports and in 2009 and 2011 with what was then the Holden Racing Team, currently competing as Walkinshaw Andretti United.

It was also his 56th career Supercars win overall, tying him with Scott McLaughlin for fourth on the all-time series win list.

“It’s weird now being in a co-driver role; I would much prefer to be in the car at the end of the race having control over your own destiny, but Shane was so good at the end there,” Tander said. “This one will take a little while to sink in, it’s been such a strange year … but it’s a really special one, so I’ll sit back and enjoy it.”

Waters came home short as the runner-up, but his efforts in the No. 6 Monster Energy Ford Mustang did come with a consolation prize, as he jumped to second in the final point standings – a career-best finish in the championship for the 26-year-old Australian.

“I gave that absolutely everything I had,” said Waters, who had category veteran Will Davison as his co-driver on Sunday. “I was trying to fuel-save and I tried to hang onto the back of Shane but he had a bit better (tire) degradation than me and I just wasn’t quite close enough.

“I’ve never worked so hard in a race car in my life.”

The Walkinshaw Andretti United pairing of Chaz Mostert and Warren Luff completed the podium, with Luff’s third-place result marking his sixth podium in his last nine Bathurst 1000 appearances.

The No. 17 DJR Team Penske Ford Mustang of Scott McLaughlin and Tim Slade finished a disappointing fifth, but it didn’t matter in the bigger picture, as McLaughlin had already locked up his third straight Supercars championship prior to the green flag Sunday.

McLaughlin entered the race with an unassailable lead of more than 300 points, and finished the 27-race campaign with a margin of 451 points over runner-up Waters.

Meanwhile, pre-race favorites Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes saw their day come to an unceremonious end just 33 laps into the race, after an error by Whincup while attempting to pass Erebus Motorsport’s Brodie Kostecki led to a crash at The Cutting.

Whincup and Lowndes finished last in the 25-car field in the sister Red Bull Holden Racing Team entry to the race-winning car of van Gisbergen and Tander.

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