Motorsport: Pukekohe will test drivers' mettle

By Eric Thompson

Expect twists and turns on reconfigured track when Supercars circus comes to town.

Like last year, New Zealand's Fabian Coulthard should be a front-runner at the Pukekohe V8s this weekend. Photo / Greg Bowker
Like last year, New Zealand's Fabian Coulthard should be a front-runner at the Pukekohe V8s this weekend. Photo / Greg Bowker

The grand old lady of New Zealand motor racing circuits, Pukekohe Raceway, put on one hell of a display in welcoming back the V8 Supercars circus last year after a five-year hiatus. Not only did the old girl open her arms wide to welcome a long-lost lover, she also had a bit of a twist to keep things interesting.

The now not-so-new chicane midway down the back straight will be a familiar sight to the blokes manhandling the big taxis around the 2.9km circuit, having been introduced for the V8SC Pukekohe comeback in 2013. While the chicane added a bit of spice to the proceedings it was the track's rise up-and-over on to the front straight that kept the drivers honest, as did the dip just before the cars changed attitude and turned into the flat-out turn one.

It's these two places that test the mettle of the drivers and where the brave can gain an advantage.

Some folk bemoaned the fact the dip, which really can unsettle the balance of a car as it begins to change direction, hadn't been repaired when the track was upgraded. However, those who enjoy their motorsport were happy one of the iconic quirks of the circuit remained to keep the drivers on their toes.

V8 racing great Mark Skaife, wearing his track design hat, said last year: "Overall, the character of the older sections of the track won't change very much. The fast flowing and bumpy nature of the track, including heading into turn one, will remain. I like all that. It's a matter of keeping the character but modernising it."

Greg Murphy, the king of Pukekohe back when it was the preferred venue for the Kiwi round of the championship, winning a record four times between 2001 and 2007, remains a fan of the track.

"Pukekohe isn't as technical as a lot of the other circuits and maybe that's what I loved about it," he said. "Some places are so technical - with lots of corners with lots of braking - it meant teams with a lot more resources could get their cars working better than others.

"Puke's not like that, it is more up to the driver than trying to get a perfect car. Don't get me wrong - you've still got to have a good car though."

The best thing about the return of the V8 Supercars to Pukekohe last year was it threw up a new category star in one Scott McLaughlin.

The young Kiwi was in his first year in the main game and arrived at Pukekohe just happy to be a fulltime driver. Fans got to see a glimpse of what was about to happen to the young fella last April when he won his maiden race. This year in Adelaide he went one better by chucking a jandal at his Volvo in Adelaide to power past five-time V8SC champion Jamie Whincup to give Volvo its first podium finish in around 28 years of Aussie V8 racing.

On current form, McLaughlin has a pretty good chance of repeating last year's race win this weekend. He will not only have to watch out for two other in-form Kiwis drivers, Fabian Coulthard and Shane van Gisbergen, but also the rest of the pack who will want to get their name on the Jason Richards Memorial Trophy as the round winner.

V8 Supercars Pukekohe

• Qualifying Race One - 12.15pm
• Race One, 35 laps - 1.37pm

• Qualifying Race Two - 11.30am
• Qualifying Race Three - 11.50am
• Race Two, 35 laps - 2.10pm
• Race Three, 35 laps - 4.05pm

• Qualifying Race Four - 1pm
• Race Four, 70 laps - 3.25pm.

- NZ Herald

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