Before the first round of the 2006/07 Toyota Racing Series at Pukekohe last weekend local motor racing pundits were predicting that fast-rising young Auckland racing driver Shane Van Gisbergen would be the one to watch.
And so he was.
In the smooth, calm and understated style that is fast becoming his trademark, the tall, quietly spoken teen from Auckland's Manukau City quietly went about producing the 'Rookie' performance of the weekend.
Second quickest behind two-season Toyota veteran Ben Harford in the first test session on Friday was the first sign that the 17-year-old was getting to grips with his International Motorsport-run car, then after qualifying fifth and finishing the first race fifth, he finished third (later adjusted to 12th after a 20 second time penalty for jumping the start was added) in the second race and a stylish and assured second behind recently crowned Australian Formula 3 champion Ben Clucas in the third.
It 's also worth noting that on his way to third at the line in the second race he set the second quickest race lap time, earning him a front row starting position beside International Motorsport teammate Daniel Gaunt for the final.
Not bad for a first-timer, and good enough to place him second in the overall series points standings behind teammate, defending Toyota Racing Series champion Daniel Gaunt after the first of eight rounds.
Reflecting on the weekend, SpeedSport Scholarship winner and 2005/06 New Zealand Formula Ford champion Van Gisbergen is disarmingly matter-of-fact.
There were times, he admits, when he was 'pretty nervous,' including one as the lights were about to go out to start the final race and his car's engine stalled, but once he was out on the track his competitive spirit took over.
"Every time I went out on the track I went faster," he says with some pride. "I got a bit out of shape at one stage in the first race," he admits, "but I saved it so it was OK."
Those who remember the same young man at the same meeting a year ago - when he made his National Championship Formula Ford debut - will remember a similar incident at the very same corner, the high speed sweeper at the end of the start/finish straight, when the then 16-year-old wasn't so lucky, though after a harmless spin he recovered and - incredibly - won the race.
With slick tyres and a full wind tunnel-honed wing package, his carbon fibre-tub Tatuus Toyota Racing Series car is a very different animal to the simple tubular steel spaceframe Stealth Van Dieman Formula Ford with no aerodynamic aids he raced last season, and the now 17-year-old does admit that it took him a while to get his head around the corner entry speeds a full aero car can accommodate.
"The biggest difference for me, coming from the Ford, was Turn 1," says the Team 97 driver of the high-speed right-hand sweeper, which International Motorsport teammate Daniel Gaunt takes absolutely flat out.
"It's just so fast in the Toyota. In every other car I've driven at Pukekohe I've pretty much been able to take it flat and I know because Daniel says he does it, that it can be done, but when I tried it in the Toyota I always ended up sort of backing off a bit then getting back on the power. When I did get out of shape there it was because I was trying to stick with Daniel and I tried to take it flat....."
With his relaxed, easy-going manner, and a twinkle never far from his eye, Van Gisbergen is easy company at a meeting, and he and teammate Gaunt worked well together.
For his part, Gaunt - an accomplished international who has now raced here, in Australia and in the USA - was happy to help, and was always ready and willing to share set-up information.
"It's good to have a quick teammate," he said. "Good for both of us."
The Toyota Racing Series now moves to Christchurch's Powerbuilt International Racing for two rounds, the first at the end of the month, the next in the first week of January.
There, where 18 months ago Van Gisbergen won the New Zealand Formula Ford Festival, the Toyota Racing Series' latest rookie find is keen to build on the platform he laid at Pukekohe.
Shane Van Gisbergen's 2006/07 Toyota Racing Series campaign is being run by International Motorsport with the support of Giltrap City Toyota, The Metalman, Baron and Buxton Leathergoods, Pro Floors Ltd, Trade Parts Ltd, Sierra Motor Company, IUA International Underwriting Agencies Ltd and Halls Refrigerated Transport
You can follow Shane's career by logging onto his website www.shanevangisbergen.com
2006/07 Toyota Racing Series Rnd 1 Pukekohe Park Raceway Fri/Sat/Sun Nov 3/4/5 2006
1. Daniel Gaunt (Auckland) 54.382
2. Nic Jordan (Cambridge) 54.805
3. Andy Knight (Christchurch) 54.813
4. Ben Harford (Wellington) 54.832
5. Shane Van Gisbergen (Auckland) 54.896
6. Christina Orr (Whakatane) 54.916
1. Daniel Gaunt 11.04.374
2. Ben Harford +4.217
3. Andy Knight +54.877
4. Ben Clucas +7.814
5. Shane Van Gisbergen +11.631
6. Daynom Templeman +12.442
1. Gaunt 13.08.788
2. Harford +1.464
3. Doran +2.153
4. Orr +2.851
5. Jordan +3.163
6. Clucas +3.638
12. Van Gisbergen +21.058
1. Clucas 29.32.666
2. Van Gisbergen +1.086
3. Templeman +1.314
4. Knight +2.513
5. Gaunt +3.231
6. Singh +3.722
Points after Rnd 1 of 8
1. Daniel Gaunt 204 points
2. Shane Van Gisbergen 136
3. Ben Harford 134
4. Marc Doran 129
5. Jayant Singh 120
6. Earl Bamber 114
2006/07 Toyota Racing Series
Rnd 1 November 3-5 2006 Pukekohe Park Raceway Pukekohe
Rnd 2 November 24-26 2006 Powerbuilt Int Raceway Christchurch
Rnd 3 January 05-07 2007 Powerbuilt Int Raceway Christchurch
Rnd 4 January 19-21 2007 Taupo Motorsport Park Taupo
Rnd 5 February 16-18 2007 Manfeild Autocourse Feilding
Rnd 6 March 02-04 2007 Timaru Int Motor Raceway Timaru
Rnd 7 March 09-11 2007 Teretonga Park Raceway Invercargill
Rnd 8 April 20-22 2007 Pukekohe Park Raceway Pukekohe