Pukekohe became V8 City during the ITM 500 meeting over the long Anzac Weekend. Australia’s V8 Supercars topped the bill, of course, and the Kiwi support acts comprised the BNT V8 SuperTourers, New Zealand V8 Touring Cars, UDC V8 Utes and plenty of V8s among the Central Muscle Cars and the GTRNZ machinery.
The Anzac timing played up the long-standing sporting rivalry between New Zealand and Australia, which was particularly apt, because the three Kiwis who are full-time Supercar drivers – Shane Van Gisbergen, Fabian Coulthard and Scott McLaughlin – had all made great starts to the 2014 championship.
Indeed, all three had won races. McLaughlin’s victory had come in the non-championship races at the Australian Grand Prix, but the young Kiwi grabbed the limelight by winning in a Volvo and talking about “giving it some jandal”, which became an instant catchphrase eagerly adopted by his team, Garry Rodgers Motorsport.
The Supercar drivers were competing not only for championship points, but also for the Jason Richards Memorial Trophy, awarded to the driver gaining the most points over the weekend’s four races.
Last year, the first time the trophy was offered, it was fittingly won by Jason Bright, who had been Richards’ team-mate at Brad Jones Racing, and a friend of the Kiwi driver, who died of cancer in 2011.
Unusually, the first Supercar race was on the Friday afternoon, which was Anzac Day. Bright qualified his Holden on pole, but reigning champion Jamie Whincup grabbed the early lead and pulled away until a mechanical problem forced him into the pits.
Bright took over the lead and won, while Van Gisbergen got the better of a battle with former champion Craig Lowndes to take second. Coulthard was seventh and McLaughlin, who had made a poor start, eighth. All these except McLaughlin drove Holdens.
Saturday brought two more relatively short races. Holden Racing Team driver James Courtney claimed pole for the first Saturday race, but Mark “Frosty” Winterbottom won the start and zoomed away for a clear-cut victory from Courtney and fellow Ford Performance Racing driver racer Chaz Mostert.
Whincup came in fourth, hotly pursued by Van Gisbergen, who had passed McLaughlin. Coulthard was 10th and Lowndes only 16th as the Triple Eight team’s Red Bull Commodores were having a tough weekend.
The big crowd’s wish for a Kiwi victory was satisfied in the next race as Van Gisbergen pulled off some nice overtaking moves on his way to the front. Whincup jumped pole-winner McLaughlin at the start, but the Kiwi struck back immediately by shooting up the inside at the hairpin.
Bright’s hopes of retaining the trophy disappeared as he crashed at the railway corner leading on to the back straight, bringing out the safety car. On the resumption Van Gisbergen passed Whincup and then, on lap eight, McLaughlin, to seize the lead, which he retained until the end of the race. Winterbottom later passed McLaughlin, but could not quite catch Van Gisbergen. Coulthard was 11th this time.
Sunday’s finale was a much longer race, 70 laps or 200km. McLaughlin started from his second pole position of the weekend, and he kept the blue Volvo in front for most of the way, although Winterbottom caught up and applied great pressure.
They pitted together for their final stop, nose-to-tail with McLaughlin still in front. But the Ford crew got their driver out ahead of the Kiwi; perhaps they did not need to put in as much fuel. Winterbottom then pulled away to win the race and the trophy – and to establish a useful 107-point lead in the championship.
“That’s amazing,” Winterbottom said. “The Jason Richards Trophy in particular is very special. He was an amazing guy. I was rapt to win this, and very honoured to win it.”
McLaughlin very narrowly missed winning the trophy; victory in that final race would have made all the difference. He admitted to being “shattered” at missing out, but really it was another fine performance by the young Kiwi, second overall for the weekend with two poles.
“Our car was set up for a first stint,” McLaughlin said, explaining why he had been faster early in the race than towards the end. “We didn’t really compensate for the track.”
Mostert was third again, with Van Gisbergen fourth and Coulthard ninth. Winterbottom then led the championship from Lowndes, Coulthard, Courtney, Van Gisbergen, Whincup and McLaughlin.
Pukekohe was the final round of the championships for both the BNT V8 SuperTourers and the NZ V8 Touring Cars (formerly known as NZV8s).
For their first two seasons the SuperTourers series ran with seven rounds (four sprint rounds, three endurance rounds) over the calendar year, but now they decided to finish the 2014 championship after the four sprint rounds and stage the following championships over the more traditional summer season.
Reigning SuperTourers champion Greg Murphy arrived with a big points lead and indeed clinched the title on the Saturday after winning the first two races of the weekend.
But he did not have things all his own way, as young Aucklander Simon Evans seized the lead in race one by passing Ant Pedersen’s Ford and then Murphy’s Holden in separate moves at the hairpin. Evans looked set to take his first SuperTourers victory, and a well-deserved one at that, only to be knocked off the track by Pedersen. Pedersen lost plenty of championship points as he received a drive-through penalty for the collision.
Murphy won again on Sunday morning, but the final race of the championship was one of the best as he became embroiled in a fierce battle with his M3 teammate Richard Moore. Moore squeezed inside Murphy going into turn five, the start of the new chicane, but a little later the young Aucklander overshot the same corner and dropped to third.
Then just before the end of the 16-lap race Moore forced his Holden inside Murphy’s car at the railway corner and held on for a narrow victory – his first as a solo driver, although last year he won an endurance race with Australian V8 Supercar driver Tim Slade.
After the race Murphy clapped his team-mate on the back, and said he was not upset to suffer only his second defeat of the season. “It’s about racing and entertaining, that’s what people love to see,” he said.
Another young Aucklander, Andre Heimgartner, had been well up in the championship, but dropped back when a mechanical failure put his Holden out of the last two races. Final championship points: 1 Murphy 1,155, 2 Evans 836, 3 Moore 821, 4 Pedersen 817, 5 Heimgartner 732, 6 Tim Edgell (Auckland, Holden) 564.
In the NZ V8 Touring Cars, Australian veteran Jason Bargwanna arrived with a useful points lead, and looked set to become the first driver to win an official V8 touring car championship in Australasia driving a Toyota or, indeed, anything other than a Ford or Holden.
But engine failures put him out of both races on the Saturday. That left Cambridge driver Nick Ross, in his 12th season in this category, and his Holden, in the box seat, and he wrapped up the title on the Sunday.
These two competed in the TLX class for the faster new-generation cars. The TL sub-category for the original-spec cars went to series chairman Ian Booth from Hamilton in his Holden, after challengers James McLaughlin (Lower Hutt, Holden) and Brad Lauder (Coromandel, Ford) both struck bad luck at Pukekohe. Booth praised his crew and with reason, as his car had finished every race in the championship.
Final championship points – TLX: Ross 1228, Bargwanna 1176, Lance Hughes (Hamilton, Holden) 1014, Shaun Varney (Auckland, Ford) 923, AJ Lauder (Coromandel, Toyota) 487. TL: Ian Booth 1043, James McLaughlin 944, Brad Lauder 874, Brock Cooley (Wellington, Ford) 789, Matthew Booth (Hamilton, Holden) 706.
Australian visitor Kris “Killa” Walton dominated the Ute racing, with three wins and a fourth in his Falcon.
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Greg Murphy on his way to winning his second BNT V8 SuperTourers championship.
Kiwis to the fore: Volvo’s Scott McLaughlin leads Shane Van Gisbergen early in one of the V8 Supercar races at Pukekohe.
NIck Ross has won the NZ V8 Touring Car championship in his 12th season in the category. Photo: Euan Cameron.
Shane Van Gisbergen enjoys winning a V8 Supercar race in front of his home crowd.
Kiwi Scott McLaughlin, now racing for Volvo, has become a new crowd favourite.