After six full-time seasons in Supercars, Andre Heimgartner has been able to grab his first win in the series following a near faultless performance at the opening race of the OTR SuperSprint at Tailem Bend.
“It was awesome, the Ned Whiskey car was amazing. I just put my head down … there was a bit of action at the start, and we managed to get in front,” he said.
“I knew that the car was good, but I had to keep pushing. I’m just really over the moon.”
The win appeared to come easy for the most part; the Kiwi dominating the opening phase of the race then leading the closing phase with next to no on-track pressure.
But, the win almost didn’t come following a five-second penalty that he inherited during his pit-stop for brief but sustained contact with Jamie Whincup while the former tried to get to the ‘fast lane’ and the latter tried to get into his box.
The contact led to questions of how the team would have informed Heimgartner of the penalty; whether they would refrain from telling him to not upset his rhythm or whether they told him to ensure he had a full picture of what he needed to do to win. The answer was, in fact, neither.
“They never told me, I knew. When we had contact, I thought ‘oh jeez, that just made it a lot harder for myself’, and I knew I had to get five seconds,” he said.
For the 25-year-old, the win removes a monkey off his back following six winless years in the series.
The Kiwi got thrown into the deep end, debuting in the series at the 2014 Bathurst 1000 with Super Black Racing and Ant Pedersen; the duo denied a shock top five by a late unscheduled pit-stop.
After a mixed debut season with Super Black, Heimgartner had a tough season with Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport in 2016. He was sidelined for 2017, and wasn’t even drafted as a co-driver for that year’s endurance campaign until Brad Jones Racing’s Ash Walsh became injured.
Replacing Walsh at a moment’s notice for Bathurst, Heimgartner put in a solid drive. He then almost won the following race at the Gold Coast, after carving through the field in his first stint – the win only denied by an error in pit-lane.
The drive was enough to put him on the radar of team owner Todd Kelly. Heimgartner was brought into the Kelly Racing fold the following year, triggering back-to-back seasons as often the fastest runner in the team’s Nissan Altimas.
“It’s been way, way too long, I think it’s been six years. Finally got it off my back,” Heimgartner reflected.
“I guess just [feel] relieved. It’s been a long time in the category. Thankfully Todd [Kelly] gave me the chance to come back and race for his team, and it’s been really good so far.
“I’ve worked so hard out of the track on my fitness and in so many other areas. It’s been a real knife in the side of me to not have a win and to be competitive like that. To get that out of the way is really good.
“And for Dilan [Talibani] my engineer it’s been good, he’s been working extremely hard as have all our engineers, to produce a good car.”