V8 Supercars: Kiwi king of the mountain is raring to reclaim his throne

By Eric Thompson

Greg Murphy is confident his team has the goods for another win. Photo / Getty Images
Greg Murphy is confident his team has the goods for another win. Photo / Getty Images

Almost 10 years ago to the day, a New Zealander made every person in pit lane at the annual Bathurst 1000 V8 race down tools, leave the garage and applaud him as he rolled down pit road. They had just witnessed, or heard about, one of the most consummate laps put together around one of the most iconic road courses in the world.

Greg Murphy's feat in 2003, of almost being able to put together the perfect lap, to record an astonishing 2m 06.8594s was the more amazing considering his time was over a second faster than the second best of John Bowe's.

Matty White's first words when Murphy crossed the line were "that is insane", followed by Neil Crompton saying, "Uncharted territory by anyone on the mountain. Nobody has ever gone under the sevens. Take a bow, Greg Murphy, that was something very special in the history of Bathurst. The most incredible lap you're ever going to see."

Murphy's time would stand up to all comers for years until another maestro on the Mountain, Craig Lowndes, managed to sneak in a practice lap at a blistering 2:06.8012 in 2010. Current V8 Supercars points leader Jamie Whincup holds the record for the fastest lap set during the race at the 2:08.4651 he posted in 2007.

As the winner of the Great Race four times, Murphy has many fond memories of his time thundering around the Bathurst track. Seeing his peers on that glorious day pay homage to a feat no one would have thought possible, is right up there with some of his best memories in motorsport.

"I'm really appreciative that people remember the lap but I didn't do it to be remembered," said Murphy. "For one I did it for myself, and the other for the team. It was, however, a special day for me and a special weekend as a whole [he and Rick Kelly won the next day].

"The thing that will stick in my mind forever were the other competitors and teams appreciating the moment and that's what separates it from other things. They were as shocked as I was by the lap and what it meant at the time.

"On that weekend I had an immense amount of confidence in the car and just knew what it was capable of. It just made me want to push harder and harder. On that day in the shootout I left nothing on the table.

"That was basically it. It all came together but it wasn't quite the perfect lap. I only made that one mistake coming out of the dipper [missed a gear], which was a bit costly but other than that it was, I suppose, a near perfect lap.

"At the end of the lap when the time came up I was elated but also pissed with myself for making a mistake. If I hadn't done that the record might still stand today. You can't change that and it was all about that moment in time when it was much, much faster than anyone else had ever achieved."

In the modern era of Australian V8 Supercars racing, Murphy has been the benchmark for Kiwi racers wanting to make it in tin-top racing. In the days when the V8 Supercars came to Pukekohe, Murphy owned the place, winning all but three of the weekends it was held at the South Auckland track.

Just to make sure there was no doubt about his talent, and that he could only perform on home soil, Murphy took it to the Aussies on what they have always regarded as their own personal turf - Mount Panorama and the Bathurst 1000.

It only took the Kiwi two goes (1994 when he finished 23rd and a 1995 DNF) to get his eye in before notching up his first win in 1996.

He went on again to win in 1999, 2003 and 2004 to sit fifth on the all-time winners' list.

More impressive, though, especially if you look at his performance at the Great Race, Murphy has only finished outside the top 10 twice since 1996 - 13th in 2002 and 2012 - if he makes it to the finish line (four DNFs).

This year Murphy is without a full time gig in V8 Supercars, but heading back to the mountain has the Kiwi's dander up and he's raring to go.

He's back in the HRT fold and paired with former V8 Supercars' champion James Courtney - a combination that on paper is making a few other fancied teams look over their shoulder.

"At Sandown we were at the back of the field twice and came through to finish fifth with a damaged car, which was a pretty good recovery. With that in mind James and I will take the positives from the race and are in a pretty good mindset heading into Bathurst.

"The car was fast at Sandown, but there is room for improvement and if we can find it I don't think anyone will be faster.

"The team has made some big improvements recently to the car and we're quite keen to see how it goes at Bathurst.

"In the past few years you have to stay in sight of the leader to be ready to make a move over the last few laps.

"It's become common now for everything to come down to the last stint and you have to be in a good spot.

"We really race around all day preparing for the last 20-25 laps," said Murphy.

- NZ Herald

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