The rumour mill is cranking up again and is awash with speculation about where the new home of the New Zealand round of the Australian V8 Supercars might be.
The ITM400 round in Hamilton, April 20-22, will be the last time the Waikato city will host the Kiwi round of the series, and as yet another venue has not been confirmed.
There has been much chatter over the airwaves that Hampton Downs is going to get it, that the Royal New Zealand Air Force base at Whenuapai, west of Auckland, will be converted into a glorified street circuit, or even that Pukekohe could be back in the frame.
Last week on the V8 Supercars website, an audio clip ran with V8 Supercars CEO Tony Cochrane talking about the Kiwi round of the championship and how Pukekohe may feature in the scheme of things.
It has been reported in a number of outlets that Pukekohe is in fact the go. Over the weekend, Driven was in Adelaide for the opening race of the 2012 V8 Supercars championship. Driven took the opportunity to go straight to the source and had an exclusive interview with CEO Tony Cochrane to get to the bottom of things.
Driven: Do you have any particular preference of New Zealand track to host the V8 Supercars after they leave Hamilton and what about Hampton Downs?
Cochrane: I don't have any objections to any track in the world. However, the issue with Hampton Downs, for example, from our point of view are several. On the current ownership structure they have a lot of debt and they can't afford to do any of the improvements to the circuit that would be required to enable us to run there.
Secondly, Hampton Downs has a horrible thing called resource consent hanging over its head, which I think limits them to a crowd of 20,000-22,000 people each day. For all the people who said Hamilton wasn't a success, in the pouring rain last year we had 103,000 fans turn up.
With the huge cost of getting the series to New Zealand, and being limited to 22,000 a day, the ticket prices would be outrageous.
Driven: Listening to the audio on the V8 website, it sounds like Pukekohe might be the way to go?
Cochrane: First of all I'd like to mention that the New Zealand Prime Minister is a fantastic operator and he has made it clear to us he wants to see the championship remain in New Zealand. He knows New Zealand motorsport punches way above its weight so he's been very encouraging trying to get people together to try and find a solution.
Driven: Would Pukekohe be a preferred option if everyone could get it to work?
Cochrane: It's an option we think can work but we're not at that point yet. There's a lot of work to be done if it's going to happen.
Driven: It appears to Driven that V8 Supercars want to be part of the New Zealand motor racing landscape, and you guys are trying as much as possible to keep coming back.
Cochrane: Let's get this into perspective. All the people throwing darts at us don't realise that under our previous contract we could have just walked away. We could have said, "Well that's the way it goes, bad luck Hamilton see ya later."
We didn't. We hung in there and under wrote the losses for the last two years and we're doing it again this year because we wanted to be seen in New Zealand as something more than fine weather friends.
Driven: It's almost like you're not looking at New Zealand as a cash cow but rather a place you want to race.
Cochrane: We've been the group who's spent the money on the engineering and having a look at what can be achieved in New Zealand at various sites. I've been over there four or five times in past six months trying to meet with people saying the door's wide open. I think I've met with just about everyone in New Zealand who has an idea.
We've been really focused with trying to find a solution. And just as you've rightly said, just because of a few comments of mine everyone thinks it's fixed, it's not, it's still very much work in progress.
Driven: Have to ask, where is the line in the sand date-wise for someone in New Zealand to come to the table and sign up?
Cochrane: We can push it right up to the line, which is early July because that's when we're committed to the calendar. People can say you can leave NZ as a TBA but we can't as you're an overseas event. Things get very complicated with freight, schedules and television. It's way too complicated to say on a wing and a prayer just to leave it there and we'll work it out later.
Look, we've got some good support in New Zealand and we're working really hard with it and see what we can generate.
- NZ HERALD STAFF