Absolute Scenes: Theatre in Pukekohe
Exploring the culture of our premier annual motorsport meeting
Shane van Gisbergen a chance at the title — Scott McLaughlin looking to spoil Red Bull Racing 1, 2, 3 — Rain a factor for Sunday?
Pick whatever headline you want — there were plenty of reasons to roll up or tune into the action last weekend at the ITM Auckland SuperSprint from Pukekohe Park Raceway; the penultimate round of the Virgin Australia Supercar Championship.
Not only were there major championship implications, the only opportunity to see the Supercars on local shores, and the first round of our national Premier Motorsport Series to play out; but also the atmosphere of one of New Zealand’s biggest annual sporting events to proudly bask in.
2016 is my tenth time attending this event, my fourth as a photographer and journo, and it still excites the five year old inside me. Bob McMurray’s comments in his Driven article last week were spot on.
“The racing alone is worth the money but the scene, the event itself, the venue, the "total" involvement is peculiar to that track and […] that inexplicable "feel" or that boisterous, festival atmosphere,” said McMurray.
What’s so good about the V8s? Well if you haven’t experienced a Supercars event at Pukekohe it’s difficult to sum up in words ...
The 106,753 people who attended the event last weekend will all have different answers. Common themes may include the noise, star drivers, a fast circuit, competitive racing, and tradition – all of which would be valid.
My answer would be the theatre Supercars create every year they arrive. Let me elaborate.
When you approach the historic track from the north, the final turn you take is a left onto Manukau Road. Typically it's just another smorgasbord of retail stores, but come Supercar weekend it's filled with stalls, displays, promo girls, businesses offering parking, and even the odd band performing on a pop-up stand or truck trailer unit.
Cresting the hill upon entering the circuit, your eyes are either met by the rising sun or ice cold rain — Pukekohe does both at the flip of a coin. Race fans are making their way to the best viewing spot; knowing that all the good ones will be gone by 9am. Reserved by fold out chairs and chilly bins — a custom of race-day culture.
Dress code is strictly motorsport/casual, anything motorsport will do — whether the team or make is competing on the day, or two decades ago, you wear those colours with pride.
Much to the dissatisfaction of security, there are ‘creative individuals’ that attend every year — cheeky freeloaders who spectate from over the track's boundary lines without having paid a dime towards a ticket. The outside of turn four is another spot where you can sit on the fence without jumping it to view the action. This is nothing new, and has been going on for at least as long as my 24 years on this planet.
Supercars leave pit lane 20 minutes before race start. This is effectively an alarm clock for everyone to get into position for the on-track action. Grandstands begin to fill up at the top of the proverbial mountain; home for the most hard-core fan. The hill starts to resemble a water-colour painting from afar, patches of red and blue the dominant tones.
The point in all this is that a Supercars event, specifically at Pukekohe, is multi-faceted beast. It’s much more than a bunch of races; it’s an event that's eagerly anticipated, loved, and respected by drivers and fans alike. A mixture of old school race track and modern race car, rowdy VIPs and even louder GAs. An occasion of individual self-expression, intertwined between the cultural norms of a larger tribe.
The traditions and people that come through the front gate during this annual motorsport migration are so rich, that in some respects, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to call this a cultural event.
I cannot pretend it's all smiles and rose’s when it comes to Supercar racing at Pukekohe. There are glaring issues that arise every year. Changes to how and where the crowed can move, facilities in in need of TLC and questionable race formats spring to mind immediately. Yesterday Dale Budge discussed the impact these issues have on the events future.
But like all sporting codes, major events inspire up-and-coming athletes, and perhaps more importantly sponsors, to get involved in our sport - the value stretches further than mere economics or tourism advertising.
The Supercars Championship will return to this location the same time next year. However, beyond that point it’s anyone’s guess if Pukekohe will host further rounds.
Though I’m confident the series will visit New Zealand in 2018, a multitude of political, financial, infrastructural, and logistical hurdles could see the event moved (maybe just down the road ...) — issues that always seem to follow the Pukekohe facility each year.
But regardless of the outcome, I’d recommend reserving the 2017 November 3–5 dates now. The diverse nature of this event is like nothing else you can experience in Auckland, and everyone deserves to have that opportunity to see and feel it before the chequered flag waves.
It makes me proud, both as a Kiwi and a motorsport fan, to see the theater of Auckland's ITM 400 SuperSprint every year.
Long may it continue.