Pukekohe's five biggest Supercars moments
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Over the 11 years that Pukekohe Park has held a spot on the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship calendar, the characterful little circuit has generated a mountain of incredible memories. As we prepare for year 12 this weekend, here are five of the best.
1. The first race
Though the Supercars visited Pukekohe Park in the mid-90s, the inaugural Boost Mobile V8 International in 2001 was considered to be the grand big bang for the series and the circuit. And it kicked off with a race draped in suitable amounts of drama.
A torrential downpour was expected to strike the circuit in the closing minutes. And once the rain hit, it hit hard. Most pitted for wets, including all the race leaders. But a few of the smaller teams stayed out in the hope of snaring a win.
This included Ford stalwart Mark Larkham, who held first with only three laps to go. Then, just as a flying Greg Murphy on wet tyres stole his lead, Larkham spun from second into the wall at Ford Mountain.
With conditions getting dangerous, officials red-flagged the race. Larkham was initially thought to be the winner on countback, until the win was ultimately declared as Murphy’s. Behind him the late Jason Richards finished an impressive fourth for Team Kiwi Racing.
Greg Murphy (left) at race one of the Boost Mobile V8 International in 2001, alongside the late Jason Richards. Photo / Getty Images
2. Mighty Murph
That win in the wet was backed up by a further two wins the following day for Greg Murphy. He won the round two more times in 2002 and 2003, and again in 2005 — making him the undisputed Prince of Pukekohe.
During these times, the circuit’s crowds bordered on mythical proportions. Fans would queue at the front gate from as early as 4am, in the hopes of securing a prime viewing spot at the infield.
The passion present and the amount of spectators (typically standing three or four people deep all the way around the track) made it feel like a mini-Bathurst.
It’s an aura that hasn’t returned since the series left Pukekohe at the end of 2007 to race in Hamilton.
Though he wasn’t the only Kiwi on the grid, a big part of this success was arguably Murphy’s hometown popularity. Perhaps the combined new-age success of Scott McLaughlin, Fabian Coulthard and Shane van Gisbergen might prompt a return to this level of hysteria?
The remains of Craig Baird’s WPS Ford Falcon after his scary crash at Pukekohe Park in 2005. Photo / Getty Images
3. Turn one carnage
By now you should be aware that Pukekohe and rain go hand in hand — wet weather often arriving out of nowhere. And it was a sudden shower that created one of the championship’s most unforgettable crashes in 2005.
The damp conditions resulted in a young Jamie Whincup sliding wide coming on to the front straight.
At about 180km/h, the trailing Craig Baird checked down to avoid Whincup, only to pinch Paul Dumbrell on his inside and set both cars on a course to smash into the Armco.
Baird’s hit was the most extreme; the rear end of his WPS Falcon effectively disappeared (part of the track’s PA system toppling in sympathy). With dirt, dust and debris all over the track Cameron McConville spun too, narrowly avoiding Dumbrell’s stricken car.
Officials and volunteers persevered, repairing the circuit and restarting the race under lights to be won by Murphy. (Who else?)
4. Scott who?
Despite having less budget to play with than the big teams, Garry Rogers Motorsport was one of the quickest squads of 2013 and 2014.
This speed helped give a young (well ... younger) Scott McLaughlin the necessary tools to smash his first two full-time seasons in the sport out of the park. And it was at race one of Pukekohe in 2013 that this was brought to the fore.
It looked like the team was set for a 1-2 finish until teammate Alexandre Premat’s car expired. Nonetheless, McLaughlin’s first victory — met by a standing ovation — made the 19-year-old the youngest race winner in Supercars history. Moreover, it helped set him up for what’s been an incredible career so far.
5. Raging bulls
When Red Bull Racing Australia signed Shane van Gisbergen alongside Jamie Whincup for the 2016 season, many expected the two drivers would generate plenty of political fireworks.
Yet, the reality was much cleaner cut. The pair raced each other “hard but fair” for most of the season.
This included the arguable highlight of last year’s ITM Auckland SuperSprint; a tight tussle between the RBR duo in race two that saw them run side by side for almost a complete lap while fighting for the lead (SVG prevailing in the end).
But perhaps more memorable still was the pair’s moment of contact in the following race; Whincup tipping van Gisbergen into a spin at the hairpin (spinning out himself in the process) before incurring a penalty. SVG recovered to finish third, while an apologetic Whincup finished 25th — two results that shaped the title.
Expect more championship-changing results this weekend ...
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