Home turf advantage for Coulthard

By Eric Thompson

The New Zealand round of the V8 Supercars series at the revamped Pukekohe Park Raceway this weekend will be the fourth time everyone's had a hit-out.

The outfits who are on their respective games may just make a move to jump ahead of the rest of the pack.

Defending champion Jamie Whincup may lead the race for the title at the moment but he hasn't had it all his own way. His Red Bull Racing Australia team aren't the dominant force of old and already there have been as many race winners this year as in the entire season last year.

Of the Kiwi drivers it's Fabian Coulthard who will arrive in New Zealand with his tail feathers the highest. Winning two races last weekend in Tasmania is the perfect preparation for heading home, says the Lockwood Racing driver.

Coulthard qualified on the front row for both of Sunday's 42-lap races, finishing third in the first and winning the second after passing Mark Winterbottom in the closing stages.

That moved him up to seventh overall in V8 Supercar points.

Coulthard hopes to back up his good form this weekend when the inaugural Jason Richards trophy will be presented to the winner.

"I'm pretty ecstatic. It may not look it but it's been a very emotional weekend," said Coulthard. "It's awesome to get two race wins and then go to my home event full of confidence. It would mean a great deal for me to win there. I don't think you can put words on it, especially with the JR trophy now. The guys in Albury have given us a car we can fight with. It's been a great effort from the boys.

"I didn't think I would be finishing seventh in the points when I got here this weekend but our expectations changed very quickly. To be leaving seventh is pretty awesome. Hopefully, it's a lucky seven."

Find of the year is another Kiwi, Scott McLaughlin. Consistency wins championships and the 19-year-old is one of the more consistent finishers in the series, picking up points in every race. He's nicely poised in fifth in the championship as he heads to Pukekohe for his home event.

"I had a great battle with Frosty [Mark Winterbottom] and pulled that pass out of nowhere," said McLaughlin. "I screwed the start up in the next race and that put us back and it's very hard to pass around here. We're now fifth in championship and I'm so excited to head home and race in front of my home crowd.

"It's been a dream of mine since watching Murph win at Pukekohe."

Shane van Gisbergen already has a win under his belt and is also inside the top 10 after two points-scoring rounds. He already has a win at his home event and will be keen to notch up another trophy.

"It's been a good start to the season so far but we're looking to get back on the podium this weekend at Pukekohe," said Van Gisbergen.

"This round is pretty important to get some more points early in the season so we don't have to keep playing catch-up later in the season.

"BJR cars seem to be the ones to beat and Scott's doing really well, too. It's good that there are three of us who could go well at our home event so that should be good for the fans."

While all eyes will be on how the New Zealanders go, don't rule out some of the Aussies. Craig Lowndes (who dropped to fourth) will want to get the championship lead back and his teammate Whincup will want to keep it.

Will Davison (second) and the resurgent James Courtney (third) are both sitting neatly tucked in behind Whincup ready to pounce if he makes the slightest mistake. With the new race format it's shaping up to be a great weekend.

- NZ Herald

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