Auckland fans have turned out in droves to see the V8 Supercars drivers as they prepared for this weekend’s ITM 500 Auckland.
The V8 Supercars Fan Day at Aotea Square kicked off with the drivers’ parade from Queens Wharf, before giving fans the chance to meet the drivers, and grab autographs and photos with the stars of the show.
Sure to be a hot contest, the race is the first at Pukekohe Park Raceway since April last year, leaving New Zealand fans hungry for V8 Supercars action.
For the four ‘local’ drivers in the field, returning to Pukekohe to race is special.
Two of the four have had wins at their home track, Scott McLaughlin taking his first in a V8 Supercar there in 2013, making him the youngest ever race winner in the category.
“It’s pretty good to head back to New Zealand and race at home – we’ve had lots of success there in the past and it’s a pretty cool thing. It’s always a special thing to get on the podium or win there,” McLaughlin said.
“It doesn’t matter if they’re Ford, Holden, Volvo, Mercedes or Nissan, the fans don’t care if a Kiwi’s won, and that’s pretty cool.”
Shane van Gisbergen led the points tally for a time last year and winning the Jason Richards Memorial Trophy would mean a great deal to him.
The prestigious award is given to the driver who earns the most points over the weekend, and is named after the late great driver who succumbed to a rare form of cancer in 2011.
“I remember when I first came into the series JR was pretty helpful and gave me a lot of tips and encouragement, so I was a big fan of his right until the end. It was pretty sad the way he went,” van Gisbergen said.
“To win that trophy would be awesome – I don’t think a Kiwi has won it yet, so hopefully we can keep it at home.”
For Andre Heimgartner, it will be his first time behind the wheel of a V8 Supercar at Pukekohe. The rookie has shown flashes of speed this season and believes there could well and truly be a ‘home ground advantage’ given he won’t be learning the circuit this weekend.
“I know it’s a cliché, but I grew up watching Greg Murphy race around there and all that sort of stuff, so to be racing there in V8s is pretty special,” Heimgartner said.
“It’s my home track, so it’s where I’ve done most of my miles, so for the first time this year I should have a slight advantage over some other people. This year something I’ve lacked has been track experience over everyone else.
“And obviously being in front of the home crowd’s good as well, a bit more support than usual, so hopefully we can get some good results.”
Fabian Coulthard’s teammate Jason Bright has been one of the most successful drivers at Pukekohe in the past two years, but the Freightliner racer hasn’t been able to swing the momentum his way.
“I’ve had a pole here and a podium – one box I need to tick is a race win,” he said.
“We’ve had good cars, Brighty proved that winning the JR trophy a couple of years ago, so I feel like our cars are good and this is the style of circuit that suits our cars.”
This weekend not only marks a home race for Coulthard, but his first opportunity to meet new team boss and motorsport icon Roger Penske as he heads to his first V8 Supercars race since Perth. It will be Penske’s first time at the race track since announcing a second car for next year and naming Coulthard and Scott Pye as the men to take the team forward in 2016.
“It will be nice just to meet him – obviously it’s a big thing for me at the moment establishing a relationship with Roger and things like that,” Coulthard said.
“But I’m always on show – you’re only as good as your last race, so for me it’s all about proving myself at every weekend I go to and I’m looking forward to putting on a show [this weekend].”
The ITM 500 Auckland kicks off tomorrow at Pukekohe Park Raceway, and with pride on the line in the Kiwi versus Aussie battle – as well as in the Championship – it’s one not to be missed.