Motorsport: Pukekohe needs to up her game
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Although we, the fans, have the right to have the series racing in New Zealand, Supercars Australia is looking to expand its horizons with races in Asia, writes Bob McMurray.
Last weekend’s penultimate round of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship at Pukekohe was a great event.
A Kiwi winner in race 1. A Kiwi driver fighting for the lead in race 2. And, as the series goes into the last round of the season, three Kiwi drivers have a mathematical chance of winning the championship.
Pukekohe proved it is the ideal circuit for the Supercars series, with great atmosphere and viewing. But, perhaps most important, the drivers love this track that provides fast, exciting, old-school racing.
But it must be said that the place is tired and needs some major investment to bring it up to a standard worthy of this huge sporting event.
Money has been spent, almost $4 million apparently, on the grand old lady in the past few years to upgrade the facilities, with varying success, and the recently appointed management are doing all they can, on a limited budget. The new pit garages are an improvement but the partial track resurfacing was met with much less enthusiasm by the V8 drivers.
Sandown 500 winner Cam Waters whistles around Pukekohe yesterday.Picture / Matthew Hansen
As the track ages further, enhancements have been like superficial sticking plasters when serious surgery is the solution.
This weekend also sees the season’s penultimate Formula 1 race at the Autodromo Joe Carlos Pace, known as Interlagos, part of the huge city, population over 12 million, of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Brendon Hartley is taking another step towards a full-time position with the Toro Rosso team.
In many ways Pukekohe and Interlagos are like distant cousins.
Pukekohe has been a racing circuit of huge character since 1963, but as advancing years take their toll with facilities, it is in desperate need of upgrade. The situation is mirrored at Interlagos, opened in 1940, this most challenging of all the South American circuits.
Now surrounded by housing, this characterful track makes Pukekohe look relatively pristine.
The paddock area behind the garages is no more than 4m wide in some parts and the garages are riddled with leaky roofs and smelly drains.
In the past three years $110 million has been spent upgrading the Interlagos facilities but that may still not be enough to keep Formula 1 there after the contract expires in 2020.
The likelihood of no Brazilian driver after Felipe Massa retires from Formula 1 will mean no Brazilian crowd.
The Supercars event and the racing circuit in general is what keeps Pukekohe Park in business.
There was a deluge at Pukekohe on the Saturday, forcing the Supercars management to scrap qualifying. That deluge resulted in the spectator car parks becoming stranded in a sea of mud.
The weather forecast indicated more rain to come overnight and that surely would prompt the organisers, or those responsible, to do something about the mud. Surely a couple of truck loads of bark chip would have helped.
But no. On Sunday morning those arriving at the track — teams, drivers, corporate guests and fans — were forced to walk through the mire .
The Penske organisation is now heavily involved in the Supercars series and that most famous name in American racing, the Andretti Autosport organisation is soon to join.
Rumour has it that Chip Ganassi Racing is also thinking of getting involved.
These teams will bring a professionalism to the series that has not yet been witnessed.
As quaint as Pukekohe is, as the love affair between drivers and the track continues to blossom and although we, the fans, have a right to have the series racing in New Zealand, Supercars Australia is looking to expand its horizons with races in Asia.
Singapore is tipped to be on the radar. Other venues are “in discussions”. And then, perhaps, with these new American teams bringing in more worldwide sponsors, racing at the grand old lady will not hold the attraction it once did.
Only a continued investment will ensure that the “Grand Old Lady” reverses her deterioration and holds fast as the finest track in the country.