Fans attending this weekend’s ITM 500 event at Pukekohe Park Raceway are likely to witness a New Zealander strike success at the unforgiving event.
Shane van Gisbergen (Holden), Scott McLaughlin (Volvo), Fabian Coulthard (Holden), and Andre Heimgartner (Ford) make up New Zealand’s driver representation in the field, and all four are capable of pulling in a significant result as the weekend unfolds.
Van Gisbergen and McLaughlin are former winners on Pukekohe soil. After claiming his first win on the streets of Hamilton in 2011, it took Van Gisbergen three years to taste victory at home again — winning race three of last year’s ITM 500. McLaughlin also claimed his first V8 Supercar race win at Pukekohe, after holding out the experienced combo of Jason Bright and Craig Lowndes to secure an emotional win in 2013.
While arguably neither driver approaches the ITM 500 while sitting in a championship-threatening position, both come with form on their side. Both were strong at the Gold Coast 600, where Van Gisbergen was able to take his first win of the 2015 season, and McLaughlin showed incredible pace all weekend in a car that’s been indifferent all year — especially when compared with the strength of the Prodrive Racing Australia Ford Falcons that have dominated the season so far.
Supercars driver Scott McLaughlin in the Volvo at Melbourne, March 2015. Photo/ Edge Photographic
Freightliner Racing’s Fabian Coulthard comes off the most assured Bathurst 1000 performance of his career, where he was able to finish in fourth position behind the Holden Racing Team’s Garth Tander. He remains the best-placed Kiwi in the championship order — sitting in fifth position.
Rounding out the local competitors is Heimgartner. While the 20-year-old has had a mixed debut year in the competitive series, he could potentially shine at Pukekohe, where he tasted success earlier in the year in the NZ SuperTourers. Heimgartner is one of several drivers whose future remains unresolved.
Numerous New Zealanders are rumoured to have put their hand up for his seat, including Development Series drivers Chris Pither and Ant Pedersen.
“It’s been well publicised there are a few people Super Black are looking at — and I’m talking with them, along with a few other teams. We’ll have to wait and see what happens,” said Heimgartner in a recent interview with v8supercars.com.au.
“It’s a difficult game at the moment and I’m just concentrating on trying to secure a seat next year — whether it’s with Super Black [Racing] or someone else.”
Heimgartner isn’t the only driver still unresolved for 2016, with Walkinshaw Performance’s Tim Slade, Tim Blanchard, Dale Wood, and David Wall all yet to formalise a drive. Rumours have suggested that Slade could join Brad Jones Racing to replace the outgoing Coulthard — who will drive for Penske Racing next year in a Ford — while Wood could shift to Nissan to replace James Moffat.
Moffat confirmed a deal to race in the second Polestar Volvo S60, alongside McLaughlin — subsequently replacing David Wall. The move was one of several driver swaps confirmed over the last two weeks, with David Reynolds departing from Prodrive Racing Australia.
Despite sitting in third position in the championship, his team were unable to “confirm if [they] will have a place for him”, before allowing him to “explore the possibility of driving for another team in 2016”, according to Rod Nash Racing Team Principal, Rod Nash. Cameron Waters is predicted to take Reynolds’ place.
Reynolds has since signed a deal with Erebus Motorsport to drive its lead AMG Mercedes, replacing Will Davison — who in turn replaces a Shane van Gisbergen at Tekno Autosports.
As previously reported, Van Gisbergen will join the Triple 8 Racing juggernaut alongside reigning series champion Jamie Whincup. Today the V8 Supercars have back-to-back qualifying sessions at 12.05pm and 12.30pm. The first of the two corresponding races is at 3pm, with the second race at 5pm.
The third and final race of their weekend takes place on Sunday at 4pm.