Motorsport: Murphy wows but settles for second

By Kris Shannon

Race one startline negotiations between the top V8 SuperTourers qualifiers as they head into the esses at Pukekohe Park Raceway. Photo / Supplied
Race one startline negotiations between the top V8 SuperTourers qualifiers as they head into the esses at Pukekohe Park Raceway. Photo / Supplied

The King of Pukekohe completed yet another spectacular drive around his favourite circuit, but Greg Murphy had to settle for second in race one of the V8 SuperTourers today.

A flawless performance from Scott McLaughlin and Jono Webb saw the pair claim the chequered flag by 7.24 seconds in a race that doubled as the beginning of the end for the existing Pukekohe circuit.

The International 500 - the sixth of seven rounds in the SuperTourer series - is the last major event to be held at Pukekohe Park before the track is given a $6.6 million upgrade in readiness for the return of the V8 Supercars next April.

Given Murphy's success in the previous incarnation of the V8 Supercars in Pukekohe, it would be entirely appropriate for the veteran driver to give the circuit a fitting farewell in the three races this weekend.

That narrative appeared to be in play earlier in the day, when Murphy recorded the quickest time in the top-10 shootout and secured pole position for himself and teammate Jack Perkins.

But a mishap from Perkins on lap 21 of the 52-lap race dropped the M3 Racing Mike Pero Mortgages car from second to 13th, leaving Murphy with much to do when he assumed the wheel. After a rapid-fire driver change Murphy went to work and, by the end of the race, Pukekohe's favourite son was again hearing the cheers rain down from the grandstand.

"How good is it to be back at Puke," said Murphy, who won four of seven Supercars rounds in the early 2000s. "This has been a great day and it's been an awesome weekend so far. This track is pretty cool and I think [the SuperTourers] are pretty ballistic around here."

That was no more evident than during Murphy's run back through the field. He quickly made up nine places to sit fourth with 10 laps remaining and, with Webb was well in control of the race, Murphy closed in on Kayne Scott and Richard Moore.

A blanket could have been thrown over the three cars with six laps to go before Murphy made his move, out-braking Scott at the hairpin before repeating the dose the very next lap to sneak past Moore and back into second.

Murphy paid credit to Perkins for the quick switch in drivers that enabled the Kiwi to creep back into contention, and said the decision to make the change earlier than anticipated was wise.

"Jack was probably not feeling too good about it, so I think it was the right move to get him out of the car and carry on."

For his part, Perkins was disappointed with the spin which saw him lose so much ground, but also pointed to the change in drivers as pivotal.

"Someone said to me today, if I stuffed up they wouldn't let me out of the track because it's Murph's home town," the Australian said. "I let the guys down today but Murph did a brilliant job.

"We worked pretty hard on our driver changes all weekend. We know that's what won us the race in Taupo. It was a great job by everyone.

"We definitely had the fastest car, so tomorrow's pay day."

McLaughlin and Webb may have something to say about that, though. The MPC Trade Direct duo were the fastest in a qualifying session that saw 19 cars separated by just 1.1 second and, after Murphy's shootout performance earned his car pole position, McLaughlin quickly showed that speed to sneak inside Perkins at the first turn.

McLaughlin, sitting third in the SuperTourers championship, had eked out a handy buffer before Perkins lost control and, from there, it was just a matter of avoiding mistakes - something he and Webb managed with ease.

"The car's been good all weekend," Webb said. "Scottie made my job easy and came in with a seven-second lead. I just had to keep it there and we came way with the win."

Series leader John McIntyre had a nightmare race, with technical problems eventually forcing his retirement. He will be keen to recover any lost ground in tomorrow's two races, but he will have to overcome Murphy's desire to send off the old Pukekohe circuit in style.

- APNZ

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