Cherie Howie

Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

V8s back at Pukekohe

Upgrade fails to meet safety standards but backers not worried as the muscle cars return after six years.

A $6.6 million upgrade of Pukekohe Raceway has failed to meet the international safety standard promised by V8 Supercars' bosses.

The upgrade allowed the raceway to host this weekend's V8 Supercars for the first time since 2007, after a five-year sojourn in Hamilton cost that city's ratepayers $40m.

Decent crowds, estimated by police and organisers to be about 50,000, have attended the event in the first two days.

Kiwi teen Scott McLaughlin became the youngest V8 Supercars winner when his Holden Commodore VF won the opening race yesterday.

It was a less celebrated start for two people hurt when a bus and car crashed in Pukekohe town before racing started.

Racing was approved after an inspector from motorsport's international governing body, FIA, gave Pukekohe a "category three" status - the same rating it had before the upgrade.

When V8's bosses sought public funding last year, they told Auckland Council's events arm Ateed and the Government they wanted the higher, "category two" status. All three agreed to pay $2.2 million towards the cost. Ateed's funding was part of a $10.6m package over five years.

Ateed events manager Jennah Wootten said she learned on Tuesday the track did not get category two status.

She said the status was "irrelevant" because it did not affect how much exposure Auckland got, the number of visitors or how much they spent.

Ateed had not been duped and the failure to get category two did not cost the public, Wootten said.

She said New Zealand motorsport officials would talk with the international body after the V8s to find out what needed to be done "if we were to look at getting [category two] granted".

Motorsport New Zealand general manager Brian Budd confirmed they would talk to the FIA about a circuit upgrade.

But a professional circuit designer told the Herald on Sunday he doubted that was possible.

United Kingdom-based Clive Bowen has designed 84 new or upgraded tracks since 1997, including Dubai Autodrome, Sydney Motorsport Park and Hampton Downs Race Track.

He said Pukekohe's central horseracing circuit and adjacent railway line meant there was not enough room to make changes to allow drivers to safely go faster.

"With Pukekohe, it was probably going to be a tall order to achieve a category-two licence. The difference between grade two and three is substantial."

It was possible to add more turns, but slower races risked leaving spectators feeling shortchanged.

He estimated it would cost about $15 million to properly upgrade an existing circuit to category two.

"You would be completely re-profiling all your run-off areas, putting in new impact barriers everywhere, putting in new track electronics and a medical centre and you would almost certainly need to upgrade your pit facilities."

Bowen was surprised V8 organisers did not know what status they would receive before they applied for funding. The usual practice was to submit a detailed engineering design to the FIA for approval beforehand.

- Herald on Sunday

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