V8 Supercars: Kiwi Stone steering Erebus team to Pukekohe summit

By Steve Deane

The circuit at Pukekohe hasn't changed much over the years, says Ross Stone. Photo / Greg Bowker
The circuit at Pukekohe hasn't changed much over the years, says Ross Stone. Photo / Greg Bowker

Kiwi motorsport veteran Ross Stone has a win at the iconic Bathurst circuit and a couple of V8 Supercar championships to his name, but the victory he most wants - at his home track in Pukekohe - has so far eluded him.

"I would really like to finally do the job there," said Stone, who returns to Auckland for the ITM 500 over Anzac weekend as part of the Erebus Racing Team. "We've been close [to winning] at Pukekohe, really close, but have never quite finished it off."

Ross and brother Jimmy's Stone Brothers Racing (SBR) team enjoyed regular success on the V8 circuit over the last two decades, recording a memorable win at the Bathurst 1000 with Jason Bright and Steven Richards behind the wheel of the Pirtek Falcon in 1998. In 2003 and 2004, SBR took out the V8 Supercars drivers' championship with Marcos Ambrose, followed by Russel Ingall's championship win with the team in 2005. SBR also took the teams' championship victory in 2004 and 2005.

In 2012, SBR was acquired by Erebus, whose owner, Westgate heir Betty Klimenko, is one of Australia's wealthiest women.

While Jimmy departed the team, Ross remained as general manager.

The staunch Kiwi, who still boasts a New Zealand accent despite having lived in Australia for more than 20 years, says growing up near one of the top race tracks in the country helped to shape his career.

"We come from a little country town [Onewhero], which meant we had to work for everything and find ways to fix problems," Stone said.

"For a start, back then you had to make a lot of things yourself for the cars, whereas these days some guys do what we call 'catalogue racing' where you basically buy a book and get all the bits you need to build a race car sent out to you.

"That's why, even these days in America and right through to the Formula One in Melbourne, you see a lot of Kiwis still in the pit road, working for these teams, just because they've been through that and had to make do with whatever they've had."

A petrol station in Tuakau was the launching pad for a career that would take Stone to the United States and on to Australia.

"There was a BP service station in receivership and it was about to lose its petrol licence because it had been idle for about a year. We decided to buy the service station to build some cars and run the servo, sold some petrol and then I went to America for a couple of seasons of racing. That's how it started."

He returned to New Zealand to continue working with his brother on several racing projects, forming an effective partnership.

"The whole time that we've worked together and run the team and everything, we've never had an argument. Our only business was racing and that's all we've ever worried about. There were no sideshows or anything else going on. Motorsport is our passion."

Success in Auckland, however, has always proved elusive.

Stone believes Erebus Motorsport, with team drivers Will Davison and Lee Holdsworth, could take their maiden Pukekohe win this year.

"These days you really have to have everything going for you, especially at Pukekohe," Stone said.

"The quicker you are at sorting out the car, especially handling over the bumps around the circuit, the better you'll go. Pukekohe hasn't changed too much over the years but it now has more safety features than it's ever had and it has had that progression.

"But most importantly, it's just has a feeling that it's something special. Everyone in the V8 Supercars pit road feels it and there is only a few circuits each year that have it, you know, and Pukekohe is one of them."

V8 Supercars
*At Pukekohe this Anzac weekend.
*Kids can meet V8 Supercars' top drivers at the Pukekohe Pit Stop civic welcome (this Thursday, 4pm-6pm. Pukekohe Town Square, King St).
*Special street entertainment on Saturday and Sunday, 8.30am-11am and 4pm-6pm.
*Racing days are Friday-Sunday.

- NZ Herald

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