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A late call-up as an injury replacement co-driver with Brad Jones Racing in 2017 saw Heimgartner return to Supercars after being sidelined following stalled full-time campaigns. The New Zealander grabbed the opportunity with impressive wet-weather drives at Bathurst and the Gold Coast, including a maiden podium at the latter.
“After that round and the podium we got there was a bit of interest, and having a good event like that you need to take advantage of it,” he says.
“I thought we’d just look to see what opportunities were out there for co-drives. We talked to a few teams and had a few deals pop up here and there and when we got speaking to Nissan it was initially about a co-drive.
“Then there was a small window of opportunity to sign up and be main driver and that’s sort of how it happened. We met with Todd and away we went.”
Speculation had floated around the paddock over the last couple of seasons as to when stalwart Todd Kelly would consider hanging up his full-time helmet to concentrate on running the Nissan Motorsport operation. When it was announced that 2017 would be the year, the Kellys had a very important decision to make about which driver they believed could keep pushing them forward into the 2018 season. They arrived at Heimgartner, who is genuinely grateful for the opportunity.
“He [Todd Kelly] said publicly that anyone who was to replace him needed to be as fast or faster than him,” Heimgartner reflects.
“For him to pick me and leave me with that sort of responsibility, run his car, his number [#7], the number he has run forever... for him to hand all that over to me it’s pretty special when you think about it like that. Hopefully I’ll have a good year and do him proud. But, yeah, it’s cool and he’s a pretty trusting sort of person and we get on well so it should be a good time.”
The 2017/18 New Zealand BNT V8 championship winner is ready to show his worth in Supercars.
“It’s been good to know that I’ve got a drive before Christmas, which made me relaxed,” he says.
“But, in a way, it gave me itchy feet because you’re waiting that whole Christmas period thinking that you can’t wait to drive the car and then the test day just arrived after what seemed like months of waiting.
“It’s been good, I’ve been able to prepare properly and get everything sorted, which has been nice. I like to go in with everything under control... whereas in the past it has always been rushed.”
So what does the Altima driver hope to achieve in 2018?
“Being back full-time is the main thing and to be back with such a good team as well is a pretty cool opportunity. And to work with Dilan Talabani again from Super Black Racing is awesome. He knows what coffee I like, so it’s all go... if we can be around that top-10 mark most of the year that would be a good achievement for us.
“I’ve been out of the category for a year, which sort of affects you a little bit, but in saying that the Altimas are good cars and they are working their hardest to make them faster. I think we should be able to get some good results throughout the year.”
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