Motorsport: Big scrap before track overhaul

By Eric Thompson

In-form McLaughlin a threat as trio chase big points in V8 SuperTourers action ahead of Pukekohe closure.

John McIntyre heads the points table going into this weekend's racing at Pukekohe.
John McIntyre heads the points table going into this weekend's racing at Pukekohe.

One of the grand old ladies of race tracks in New Zealand, Pukekohe, is hosting its last race this weekend in the current layout.

The V8 SuperTourers, racing in the Pukekohe International 500, will have the honour of racing for the last time around one of the iconic circuits in New Zealand before it is revamped in readiness for the V8 Supercars in April next year.

With only two rounds to go, including this weekend, there are three drivers in the box-seat who could possibly clinch the championship come tomorrow afternoon. John McIntyre heads the points table from Jonny Reid and Aussie-based Kiwi Scott McLaughlin, and all are keen to bag the lion's share of the points if not the whole lot on offer over the weekend.

No disrespect to Mt Panorama and the Bathurst 1000, but this weekend's event is the New Zealand equivalent in the amount of points available. If any driver in the field can get it right over the entire weekend they will walk away with 1030 valuable championship points.

In another twist to the championship, each driver has to drop his worst round from the series and this opens the door for McLaughlin who did not race at Manfeild.

He has been on fire ever since winning the three races at the last sprint round at Hampton Downs, followed by a first and a second at the opening enduro round at Taupo.

"I'm having a good year so far and Bathurst was a bonus having finished sixth there," said McLaughlin.

"It's been a lot of hard work to get where I am now and being able to drop zero [from the round he missed] is great for our championship hopes.

"If you work it out that John [McIntyre] has to drop points I'm only about 80 points behind him so it's on for young and old over the next two rounds. It's good for the championship because it'll come right down to the wire.

"This will be a big weekend at Pukekohe and we'll just keep doing what we've been doing and keep it simple. I'm sure at the end we'll somewhere [at the front]."

Former NZV8 champion McIntyre has been Mr Steady, picking up points every time he wheels the car out on to the grid, and he did win the sprint title as part of the overall series.

Because of his consistency, McIntyre is going to have to drop 415 points so he will need be on a charge over the weekend to ensure he is at the pointy end of the field while hoping his nearest challengers do not gain a march on him.

"McLaughlin will be the one to watch because he doesn't have to drop any points," said McIntyre.

"He's been very quick and very dominant in the last two rounds but there has been a massive change in the technical regulations since the last race.

"It was announced that the rear suspension is going to be measured differently that will suit every car and not just some. It'll make a massive difference to our car and I'll think you'll find the whole field will be closer this time.

"Hopefully the change will enable us to close the speed deficit we've experienced at every round so far. Pukekohe always produces good racing and I really like the place. Last time I raced there [NZV8] I got pole and set the lap record and it's a place that's been good to me."

Reid won a sprint round at Manfeild back in April and has been quick every time he has raced. He has, though, suffered a few mechanical woes in the past that have no doubt hurt his championship. He and the team are sure things have been sorted out and is looking forward to having a prosperous weekend.

"I've had some good form lately especially at the Gold Coast where I won the round," said Reid.

"I've had the measure of McIntyre most of the season but we haven't managed to put it all together yet because of a few issues but I'm sure we can claw some points back.

"This weekend, if all the stars are aligned, I'm sure we can claw our way back up [the points table]."

Keep a watchful eye out for Greg Murphy, though. He is fit, getting back to his best and is on a track that has fond memories for him.

When the V8 Supercars raced there, 2001-2007, Murphy won four of the seven rounds and was the winner of the inaugural meeting at Hampton Downs in February. With so many points available, if one of the leaders has a DNF, it will open the championship right up.

"Nothing much has changed here [Pukekohe] I can tell you that. All the bumps are in the same place," said Murphy. "It should be great to race these new cars around the old girl as it's big field with good drivers so it should be close and exciting."

There is a 53-lap race today, another one of the same length tomorrow morning and the big 70-lapper in the afternoon.

The organisers have changed the qualifying system to simplify things and have introduced a new top-10 shot out.

- NZ Herald

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