Motorsport: Super series spreads

By Paul Lewis

V8 SuperTourers MD Mark Petch. Photo / Geoff Ridder
V8 SuperTourers MD Mark Petch. Photo / Geoff Ridder

The V8 SuperTourers series - already making the old New Zealand V8 racing scene a distant memory - could be accelerating into the international scene with a race in South Korea.

As the SuperTourers enter the final day of their inaugural season at Ruapuna today, managing director Mark Petch says there is an agreement in principle for a V8 SuperTourers race to be held next year at the new Autopia race track being built about 130km out of Seoul.

Petch was sketchy with further details but said the deal now hinges on sponsorship: "We have an agreement in principle and we are well down the path on this. It's contingent on a certain level of sponsorship but there is a will on both sides to make this happen."

Korean tyre manufacturers Hankook are a likely source of financial support - they are already suppliers to the V8 Supertourers series here - and the powerful Korean car industry is pushing hard to make motor sport a bigger feature on their sporting calendar.

The country has only two race tracks (Autopia will be the third) for a country of 50 million people and which produces burgeoning car marques like Hyundai, Kia, SsangYong and Daewoo. New Zealand, by comparison, has eight race tracks and a healthy motor sport population which helps garner interest in the commercial business of cars.

If the proposal comes off, it will be a significant feather in the cap of the SuperTourers in their debut season. In a remarkably short space of time, they have overshadowed the old MotorSport New Zealand V8 series (the two camps are still locked in a court action), tweaked the nose of the Australian V8 Supercars and have now signalled their intentions to race internationally.

If they land the Korean deal, it will be a further coup as V8 Supercars wooed the Koreans for some time before announcing instead that their series would race in Texas.

It is understood that V8 Supercars wanted US$10 million to stage one of their meetings in Korea and that the Koreans baulked at the price. The V8 SuperTourers proposal is said to cost significantly less.

The race could yet involve a new element for the V8 SuperTourers - local Korean drivers in a star car or cars to help provoke local interest, a formula which could help the series spread to other countries in the same way that V8 Supercars attempted but never really successfully carried off. Some hold high hopes for the Texan race (which adds to the annual Abu Dhabi race) even though it takes place in the home of Nascar and Indy cars.

The success of the Supertourers series can be seen by the fact that, on TV, it has consistently out-rated all V8 Supercars events except for the now-defunct Hamilton street race, toppled by the weight of a $40 million price tag.

Petch remarked publicly earlier this year that the Auckland Council would have done better to spend their money on the Supertourers series instead of giving $10.6 million to the Australians to race at Pukekohe - the new site of the New Zealand race. That led to V8 Supercars issuing a pronouncement that none of their drivers should drive in the Supertourers' events.

The immediate effect of that was that V8 Supercar drivers like New Zealand's Mark van Gisbergen, had to withdraw from a SuperTourers race.

However, with news that van Gisbergen is quitting V8 Supercars, an offer has gone out from Super Tourers for van Gisbergen to drive, probably for the Koba Batteries Falcon piloted by Colin Corkery and Dutch driver Jeroen Bleekemolen.

Two 175 km races will be held today. New Zealand ace Greg Murphy still has a good chance of taking the overall V8ST title as well as the endurance section of the championship, along with points leader Scott McLaughlin. However another contender, John McIntyre, is out after a crash at Ruapuna yesterday left him with a dislocated shoulder.

The 19-year-old McLaughlin had 2995 points going into today's racing ahead of McIntyre's 2840 and Murphy's 2732.

- Herald on Sunday

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