Kiwi hero pitted against tough field at Hampton Downs
As the war of words between various racing factions continues unchecked, the second season of the V8 SuperTourers series kicks off at Hampton Downs this weekend. Most of the cars' teething problems were ironed out last season and crews have had a chance to further fettle the cars over the break.
Fans making the drive to the North Waikato circuit will be in for a treat, with SuperTourer drivers who do double duty in V8 Supercars hammering around the tarmac with the local lads.
Chief among them will be Greg Murphy, back in the country to compete in a domestic championship for the first time in 17 years. He told Driven: "Just look at the names in there - Shane Van Gisbergen, Scott McLaughlin, Craig Baird, John McIntyre, Andy Booth, Daniel Gaunt, Richard Moore, Paul Manuell. All of those guys are easily capable of bagging a race win at some stage and if they can find consistency, could easily mount a title challenge.
"Even the smaller teams with the younger drivers are getting to grips with the cars and showing real pace - just look at Tim Edgell and Simon McLennan's speed at Ruapuna.
"No question, this is going to be a hugely competitive season with 20 or more cars on the grid. The fans know where to come to watch the best touring car action in New Zealand, and I can't wait to be a part of it again."
Murphy was punted off at Ruapuna in the last round of the series in 2012, by fellow Kiwi Scott McLaughlin, and the team are raring to go.
"We were super-competitive at nearly every round last year so there's no reason why we shouldn't be right on the pace at Hampton Downs.
"We proved last year the team had a solid understanding of the car very early on and we did not have any reliability issues, like some of the other teams.
"This season it's all about putting that speed and consistency into a full campaign and showing these young guns there's life in the old dog yet. It should be a bit of fun."
Defending V8ST champion McLaughlin has been promoted into the main game across the ditch after cleaning up in the Development Series and is seriously looking forward to getting back into action.
"We've just finished testing my new V8 Supercar, and I leave Australia tonight and arrive at the track Sunday morning for qualifying," said McLaughlin.
"This year they've changed the qualifying for the SuperTourers which means Shane [Van Gisbergen] and I can make it for qualifying. Makes for a busy day, that's for sure.
"The two cars [V8ST and V8SC] are still different, but much more similar than they used to be and I reckon racing in the SuperTourers will really help me with the V8 Supercar."
By the time Driven hits the streets McLaughlin will have probably found out that Shane Van Gisbergen, while testing his own new V8 Supercar, managed to get back to New Zealand. McLaughlin has had a full season in the V8ST, while Van Gisbergen has only seen pictures.
"Actually, don't tell Scott, but I managed to get back on Friday to have a bit of a test," said a laughing Van Gisbergen.
"He doesn't need the practice - he won the series last year.
"The cars aren't probably too dissimilar, but the tyres make a big difference between a V8 Supercar and a SuperTourer. On the V8ST the tyre doesn't have as much grip, but is more durable, so you can do consistent lap times.
"There are some really good guys in the field and I'm just interested to see how the cars are when we go racing. I can't wait to get into the action and see how we all go together. It's not going to be easy."
We asked Van Gisbergen about his first hit-out in the Techno Autosports' new Car Of The Future.
"They're quite different to the old cars and different to what I'm used to too, but pretty cool. The big difference is how the independent ear works going into a corner and how it loads up the tyres.
"It was pretty impressive. They have all this new stuff, and it was about as fast as my old car, but I'm sure with more time in it and getting to know how the car works better - I've only spent a day in it - it'll get quicker," said Van Gisbergen.
International Motorsport is looking after the Driven car piloted by Ant Peterson.
Team principal Lyall Williamson is sure the pair will go well. "The car's all ready to go and we can't wait to get into action," he said.
"Over the break we've done a few changes to the car and have learned a lot from the first season."
V8 SuperTourers Calendar
(Sprint part of championship)
16-17 February, Hampton Downs,
9-10 March, Ruapuna Raceway,
25-26 May, Pukekohe Raceway
1 September, Father's Day 400,
Taupo Motorsport Park
(Endurance part of championship)
19-20 October, Ice Breaker,
9-10 November, South Island
Spring Festival, TBA
6, 7, 8 December, Pukekohe 500,