Motorsport: Bathurst 1000 victory ushers forgotten Kiwi Richie Stanaway back among Supercars contenders

If another Bathurst 1000 victory constitutes the 'perfect goodbye' for Kiwi supremo Shane van Gisbergen, the result stands as an even better 'hello again' for co-driver Richie Stanaway.

On Sunday, the pair became only the second NZ pairing to win the iconic Supercars event, behind Steve Richards and Greg Murphy in 1999. 

While van Gisbergen now joins race legend Dick Johnson with three victories - still far behind the nine of Peter Brock - Stanway becomes the sixth Kiwi to have his name on the trophy, playing the perfect foil to his illustrious runningmate through opening half of 161-lap classic around Mount Panorama.

Richie Stanaway at Bathurst 1000.
Richie Stanaway at Bathurst 1000. Photo credit: Getty Images

Pitted against many fulltime Supercars drivers on the starting grid, the Aucklander handed the wheel over to SVG ahead of championship leader Brodie Kostecki, who was never able to mount a serious challenge. 

"It's a childhood dream of mine to win this race," admitted Stanaway. "I can't believe it.  

"Teaming up with Shane, I knew we had a good shot, but you never know with this place. The last 60 laps were probably the longest two hours of my life."

Four years ago, Stanaway, 31, 'retired' from Supercars, after four difficult seasons. He combined with Aussie Cam Waters to win the Sandown 500 in 2017, but in his final season, he aggravated a neck injury that cost him seven starts, then was stood down for missing an autograph session. 

A career that showed so much promise over a range of disciplines suddenly looked over, but his peers weren't about to let him go so easily. With support from Murphy and van Gisbergen, among others, he will return to the circuit next year for Grove Racing.

"It was a pretty rough time, to be honest, when I stopped racing," he said. "If you had asked me a couple of years ago if I'd be here on the top step at Bathurst, it would have felt like a million miles away. 

"It's pretty surreal to be back here and I was very fortunate to get the opportunity to do that wildcard last year. That led me to the drive here with Red Bull Ampol Racing and that's led me back to racing fulltime.

"It's very satisfying to get things back on track and I can't wait to go racing fulltime again." 

Stanaway's first step back came, when he and now-retired Murphy were sponsored into a car for 2022 Bathurst, where they finished 11th.  

"It wasn't my idea," Murphy told Fox Sports' Trackside. "When we were rung separately to suggest this, both of us said, 'You've got to be joking'.

"It was a crazy, crazy idea for both of us for very different reasons, but after some bribery and corruption, we're back racing at Bathurst and it's a reinvigorated Richie Stanaway. 

"He fell into that darkness and has come out the other side better in every single way. He just oozes talent, one of the best drivers you will ever see."

"This is more than just about motorsport, it's his whole life. It's turned him around, because he was in a pretty sad state of affairs.  

"The sport had pushed him aside and here he was struggling."

Richie Stanaway & Shane van Gisbergen celebrate their Bathurst victory.
Richie Stanaway & Shane van Gisbergen celebrate their Bathurst victory. Photo credit: Getty Images

Stanaway credits the influence of Murphy and van Gisbergen for his rebirth. 

"They're two of the most iconic drivers from New Zealand, so to drive with Greg last year, I needed that inspiration. Same again this year, driving with Shane... it's inspired me to get the most out of myself and do things properly."

Van Gisbergen will leave Supercars next year and head to the United States, where he has already shown his ability on the NASCAR circuit. Red Bull Ampol Racing have recruited promising Will Brown to fill the void, but that's left the reigning champion grumpy. 

"To get him back in the sport and see how he is this year, his mentality, his drive and focus on and off the track, it's been really cool to work with him," said van Gisbergen.

"In some ways, I wish he was replacing me in that car. I know they've got a capable driver replacing, but I was secretly hoping Richie would get the drive. 

"He's in a good team, Grove's got some great people and I'm sure he'll do well next year, if that environment is what it looks like.

"Pretty special moment for Kiwis on the top step."