Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen has lauded “crazy right-foot braker” Shane van Gisbergen’s shock NASCAR Cup victory in Chicago last weekend, and called his technique “quite insane”.
Three-time Australian Supercars champion Van Gisbergen won on his NASCAR debut at the new Chicago street track, where he eclipsed the series regulars as well as fellow guest driver and 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button.
Though the bulk of Van Gisbergen’s CV is built on his success in Australia, he has also starred in occasional GT racing programmes – most notably winning the 2016 Blancpain Endurance Series alongside his first Supercars title – and finished ninth on a maiden World Rally Championship outing in his native New Zealand last year.
Verstappen, who knows Van Gisbergen well and is his Team Redline stablemate in simracing, said the Chicago win underlined the 34-year-old’s quality and adaptability having stayed awake to watch the race live to support his friend.
“I’ve never felt so nervous in my life watching someone else race and trying to win it,” said Verstappen.
“I was literally screaming in front of my monitor for him to win that.
“That’s really, really impressive to jump in the car you don’t know, a very hard car drive. And he just goes in there and absolutely dominates the race.
“I know he’s a great driver, I know what he’s capable of. And I know how good he is at different kinds of disciplines.
“He’s great of course in the V8s [Supercars], that’s what he knows. But he’s great in the rally car as well. And clearly he’s great in a NASCAR as well.
“That’s Shane. He is a crazy right-foot braker still!”
That reference is to Van Gisbergen’s braking technique, where he uses his left foot to engage the clutch and brakes with the top of his right foot while blipping the throttle with his heel.
It follows significant attention from his NASCAR competitors and online commenters, as Van Gisbergen transferred his usual heel-and-toe driving style to the new-generation Chevrolet Camaro in Chicago, even though the sequential gearbox and automated throttle blipping on downshifts means it is not necessary.
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Verstappen, who made his F1 debut in 2015 before he had even learned to drive on the road, has spent his entire career not needing or using a third pedal and admitted that skill is not one he has learned.
“I see it all the time on the simulator as well,” he said of Van Gisbergen.
“He’s also part of Team Redline. And sometimes we race together.
“It’s quite insane that he’s that fast with that technique. But he’s also very good on fuel, for example, the way he drives.
“It’s interesting. I mean, I can’t do it! But he grew up like that.”
The implication from someone unfamiliar with heel-and-toe braking and downshifting, like Verstappen, is that it is surprising Van Gisbergen can be quick despite that technique rather than because of it.
Van Gisbergen also downplayed the impact that it had on his performance, having driven this way in the NASCAR out of habit.
Regardless of the influence his technique had, Van Gisbergen’s performance unsurprisingly earned him plenty of plaudits among NASCAR’s established elite.
Chase Elliott, the 2020 champion, finished third in the race and said Van Gisbergen was “in a league of his own and put on a really big-time clinic”.
“I don’t want to speak for everybody else, but he made me look bad, and I kind of think the rest of us, too,” said Elliott.
“Looking forward to going to work and trying to be better.”
That sentiment was also echoed by fifth-place finisher Kyle Busch. The two-time NASCAR Cup champion said: “He put on a show and it was cool to see, and I think when a guy like that can come in and kick your ass at your own game, it shows that we all have room to improve.
“I’m curious what he thinks about us. He obviously passed a lot of us, so I’m curious if he thinks we all suck or if we could actually compete, if we weren’t really that bad.”
Despite being a fan of Van Gisbergen’s exploits, and enjoying driving other cars like GT machinery, Verstappen has no plan to emulate his sim racing partner’s extracurricular activity in NASCAR.
“No! No, it’s not my style,” Verstappen said. “I mean, I like watching it. I think it’s really cool. And I was really happy for Shane.
“But I’m happy to maybe go there and just have a beer myself and enjoy the show.”