RACES 24 – 27 – ITM AUCKLAND SUPERSPRINT
Pukekohe Park Raceway, Pukekohe, New Zealand
2.91 km (1.81 mi) circuit
Race 24: 35 laps, 101.85 km, start time 2:25 P.M. (9:25 p.m. EDT Friday)
Race 25: 35 laps, 101.85 km, start time 4:45 P.M. (11:45 p.m. EDT Friday)
Race 26: 35 laps, 101.85 km, start time 2:25 P.M. (9:25 p.m. EDT Friday)
Race 27: 35 laps, 101.85 km, start time 4:45 P.M. (11:45 p.m. EDT Friday)
2015 WINNERS: Jamie Whincup (2 of 3 races), David Reynolds (1 race)
The penultimate round of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship sees the series make its annual stop to New Zealand. The site is Pukekohe Park Raceway, just outside of Auckland. This track was recently renovated for the 2013 season, and the new configuration has quickly become a hit with fans and drivers alike. This weekends also serves as a homecoming for one team, Super Black Racing, and four Kiwis: Fabian Coulthard, Scott McLaughlin, Chris Pither, and current points leader Shane van Gisbergen.
Pukekohe Park Raceway was reconfigured in 2013 to make the track wider and racier, and in many cases, it has succeeded immensely at achieving those goals. This track, along with Sandown Raceway, is one of two on the calendar that surrounds a horse racing track. It might not be such a surprise, then, that there are parts of this circuit that are eerily similar to the one in the heart of Melbourne.
The front straight of Pukekohe has a very D-oval-like “bend” to it: it is something akin to the front straightaway in Richmond, just without the banking. Like Richmond, the front straightaway bends into the first corner: in this case, it is a long, sweeping right-hand corner that drivers speed through but must back down in at the end of the corner for the first chicane.
The first chicane set is almost identical to the same complex at Sandown, but mirrored: where Sandown is a right-left-left, this one is a left-right-right that leads drivers through a 90-degree turn and directly onto the back straight.
The back straight is also incredibly similar to the one at Sandown, but mirrored and shorter. It can be blasted down as well before drivers must slow to go through the slight right-hand kink and into another right-hand 90-degree corner.
That corner is followed by a chute straight and a left-hander before drivers make the run down into the tight right-handed hairpin. Exiting the hairpin leads into the most important section of this circuit: the final set of esses that lead back to the start/finish line. This right-left complex is very long and very gradual but leaves little room for error. Drivers must drive on the edge to get a good run through this portion of the track, but if they miss their corner entry at all (especially on the left-hander), it is almost a guarantee that they will smack the outside retaining wall and their day will be over.
DRIVERS TO WATCH:
van Gisbergen is the headline driver of the weekend, without question. He comes home to New Zealand with a 148-point lead in the standings and a mathematical (though not realistic) chance to clinch his first-ever series championship. He has been very good at Pukekohe since the reconfiguration, with one win, four podium finishes, and only one finish outside the top 10 in all 11 starts he has made here.
The problem, however, is that the man chasing him in the championship has the best statistics of anyone in the field this weekend. Jamie Whincup has piloted his Red Bull Racing Australia Holden Commodore to three wins and six podiums in just three seasons of competition at the new Pukekohe. Whincup tends to fare better on the permanent circuits than van Gisbergen does as well. The advantage should lie with Whincup this weekend, if only ever so slightly.
For all of his success at Pukekohe, there is one pitfall that Whincup must avoid from seasons past: DNFs. There are two races that Whincup has not completed here, and another where he ran into trouble early and finished in the back of the field. van Gisbergen, by comparison, has no DNFs here. If Whincup has a similar problem in any race over the weekend (especially if it happens in the first race of the day and the problems are so severe that he cannot race in the second), van Gisbergen’s mathematical chance to clinch the title on home soil may well become a reality.
The list of winners at Pukekohe since the reconfiguration is an interesting mix: both drivers mentioned above are there, as is defending series champion Mark Winterbottom and newly-crowned Bathurst 1000 champion Will Davison. Scott McLaughlin is also there, and should figure to be quick this weekend and one at least one of the podiums. Interestingly, there are two surprises on that list: David Reynolds and Jason Bright, who took the first-ever Jason Richards Memorial Trophy (handed to the driver with the best average finish over the weekend) in emotional fashion three years ago.
Not on that list is the other teammate to Whincup and van Gisbergen, Craig Lowndes. The People’s Champion is winless since 2013 in New Zealand and has been the victim of wrecks and accidents not of his doing since the series returned to Pukekohe. It speaks to the topsy-turvy nature of this circuit that he has yet to win here: if there are two things that seem destined to happen, it is that at least one driver will run into trouble that shouldn’t, and at least one driver that normally doesn’t make his way to the podium will.
For more information on the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, visit http://www.supercars.com.au/.
About the Writer
James Pike is a multi-faceted reporter for Race Chaser Online and an analyst on the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
He is the lead correspondent for Race Chaser Online’s coverage of Australian Supercars and also covers regional touring series events in the Carolinas. He is a graduate of the Motorsports Management program at Belmont Abbey College and currently resides in Winston-Salem, N.C.
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