Motorsport: Vital Pither adjusts quickly to Pukekohe's layout

By Dale Budge

Chris Pither during practice for the Bathurst 1000. Photo / Getty Images
Chris Pither during practice for the Bathurst 1000. Photo / Getty Images

Kiwi Supercars driver Chris Pither is in a unique position where he returns to New Zealand for his home race but finds himself with less experience there than his rivals.

Pither, who drives for New Zealand-owned Super Black Racing team, is in his first full season in the Supercars championship. That means he is yet to compete on the new layout at Pukekohe Park Raceway having grown up racing the old original layout through his formative years.

As he prepares for this week's ITM Auckland SuperSprint at the grand old track Pither can see the irony in his lack of experience there but isn't too concerned.

"It has been about six cars since I raced at Pukekohe," the 29-year-old tells herald.co.nz. "Last time I raced here was in the NZ V8 Racing series. It has been a little while - the track has changed but I'm sure the bumps are still in the same place."
Because passing opportunities are limited at Pukekohe the key to succeeding is to qualify well which means Pither needs to catch up quickly to any advantage his rivals might have.

"It is going to be a tough weekend.

"For me the first season in general has been really tough. The competitiveness of the category is ridiculous. We have seen the entire field separated by just.8 of a second at most rounds."

One thing in the Kiwi's favour is that his car should be well-suited to the track with the harder compound tyre being used for this round.

"The car actually suits the hard tyre. Phillip Island and Bathurst and here on the hard tyre - we should be in good shape.

"I was pretty happy with the speed we had at Bathurst - I only just missed out on the shootout there. It felt pretty there on the hard tyre and I think it will probably suit us here at Pukekohe."

Pither admits there is some pressure on him as he arrives at Pukekohe. Being the sole New Zealand team in the championship naturally comes with pressure as does competing in front of fans.

"Coming to Pukekohe all the pressure is what I put on myself and driving for Super Black Racing - the only New Zealand-owned Supercar team with a black car and the Kiwi down the side - I want to get a result for all our supporters and fans.

"I will be heading out there with lots of aggression to try and get that car up the front."
There is also the pressure of securing a drive for 2017 with both the team's future and his own future up in the air. The sad passing of team owner Tony Lentino in the middle of the year has forced the team to change the structure of the operation. The plan is to continue in the sport but how they do that remains to be confirmed.

"I am very grateful of the opportunity that Tony Lentino and Super Black Racing offered me to progress into the championship this year," Pither says. "I would love to continue with Super Black Racing and keep that alive in Tony's name.

"Nothing is locked away. Fingers crossed we can get it worked out in the next two or three weeks.

"The Racing Entitlements Contract was sold - it changes hands at the start of next year. Super Black Racing continues as it is but they don't own the REC itself.

"It opens up the opportunities. The REC is available to use it is just not tied to any particular team."

- NZ Herald

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