Mark Skaife busy putting Pukekohe back on track

I'm getting really excited to see how it's all starting to progress.Mark Skaife (pictured) Work is well underway at Pukekohe for the track upgrades required for the return of the V8 Supercars to their original New Zealand base for next year's championship - and behind the revamp there is someone will plenty of driving experience.

Mark Skaife has five championship trophies - two Australian Touring Cars and three V8 Supercars - plus a host of other motorsport honours.

Regarded as one the foremost exponents behind the wheel of a big banger, Skaife has only recently hung up his competitive gloves. But he hasn't walked away from the sport.

Among Skaife's jobs are helping to develop the Car Of The Future and being chairman of the V8 Supercars commission and chairman of the Australian national track safety advisory committee.

Skaife has been involved in track design and redesign as part of the integrated engineering delivery management group, which has been responsible for the design of tracks that include Townsville, Sydney, Gold Coast, and Perth.

Skaife, as chairman of the V8 Supercars commission, has to be involved with track design or modification.

"I've been over to Pukekohe two or three times in the past four or five months to do site visits," said Skaife from the South Auckland track.

"With the work and the redevelopment of the track I'm getting really excited to see how it's all starting to progress ... we've had some pretty unbelievable races here at this track in the past."

One the reasons Pukekohe was chosen is the character of the track.

Some of the best races in the championship have happened around Pukekohe - especially for Kiwi V8 racer Greg Murphy.

"Some of those races I had with Murphy here were great and something to always remember," Skaife said. "We're excited to be coming back to Pukekohe.

"We don't want to lose that great Pukekohe character, but at the same time we need to configure the circuit thinking about the future and the safety factor of course.

"I'm very happy with what we are doing with the back straight and the new couple of corners - we're making it as good as we can."

The main reason for the addition of the new section is safety as there is not enough runoff at the end of the back straight at the hairpin to satisfy safety requirements.

"We had three or four different simulations but we went with the best from a racing standpoint. What I wanted to do was create a couple of good corners that would enhance the racing quality and provide more passing opportunities."

The cars will be approaching 255km/h heading into the new turn five with 200m of braking allowing for passing. Between turn five and turn six the track is 14m wide with an offset of 80m between the corners.

"The way the corners have been configured will allow a driver to dive down the inside, but will hurt your run out of turn six and through the kink down to the hairpin," Skaife said.

The cars will still get 185km/h before they have to pull on the anchors and hauling the cars sharp right for the 65km/h corner allowing for another passing opportunity.

In effect the new layout provides three places to pass now, meaning more entertainment for the fans.

"We are very focused on fan engagement and getting them to move around the track and experience more," Skaife said. "That area at turns five through eight will be a new area for fans to watch the cars from.

"We'll put spectator mounds down there like we have at Townsville so people can go down there and enjoy the entertainment."

The category is pretty much happy with the rest of the circuit layout. They will however, be replacing all the curbs to modernise them, resurface some parts of the track that are not up to standard, widen the section at turn one where you rejoin the track after exiting the pits, and re-configure barrier alignments to make them more energy-absorbent in the faster sections.

"Overall, the character of the older sections of the track won't change very much," Skaife said. "The fast-flowing and bumpy (yes the bumps are staying) nature of the track will remain. I like all that. It's a mater of keeping the character but modernising it."

The track is being upgraded to meet FIA category two standards, and as the improvements are directly in line with what Skaife and his crew have done in Australia, to all intents and purposes New Zealand will soon have an international race circuit.

"From a configuration point of view, Pukekohe has given us incredible racing quality over a period of time. If you were going to assess what was going to suit our cars best, especially with the upgrade we're making, I think V8 Supercars made the right decision to head to Pukekohe."