Proud and relieved
- By V8 Supercars
- Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
Relief and pride were the two dominant emotions for Scott Pye after he broke through for his and DJR Team Penske's first V8 Supercars podium this afternoon at ITM 500 Auckland.
The 25-year old South Australian capped off a weekend of strong pace with third place in the MAN Ford Falcon FG X by qualifying third for the 200km race and then driving cleanly to finish third behind the Red Bull racing duo of Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes.
Pye, who is still recovering from a rib fractured in a heavy crash at the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 a month ago, achieved the feat in front of team owner Roger Penske.
Just two days after that crash, the protg of Red Bull team owner Roland Dane was re-signed to continue with the Penske team in an expanded two car effort in 2016 alongside Fabian Coulthard.
Pye stepped in to the Falcon after just two races this year to replace Marcos Ambrose, who felt he was not in position to develop the car properly within the testing limits of the V8 Supercars category.
Pye and the team have since raced the car forward from the back of the grid to the point where a top three result had become almost overdue.
"There's a big part of me that is saying that it was great that he (Roger Penske) was here to see that," Pye said post-race.
"Obviously it is a relief. Bathurst was fantastic for us. The car speed was there. It has been there the last few rounds but we have just struggled to convert.
"Bathurst was good, this was even better. We ticked all the boxes in this race."
Pye admitted he had hardly talked to Penske, who was in New Zealand not only to view his third V8 Supercars race of the season, but also to open a new national HQ for his massive automotive and transport business.
"I did see Roger - he has shot off to a flight to Japan. He doesn't stop and I barely got to chat with him all weekend. The longest I spoke to him was when he said 'well done'," said Pye.
"It is fantastic for him. It wasn't a win and he is used to winning but for now I don't mind being beaten by these two (Whincup and Lowndes).
"They are the best in the game and I am proud to be sitting alongside them for my first time on the podium and I hope it is the first of many to come.
"He (Penske) was extremely happy. He was at Perth and that was a tough round for us, the weekend felt like it went for a year. I am glad that is in the past now. He had a big smile on and the rest of his crew were there and seemed really happy too."
An important element of Pye's result was clean pit stops and a smart tactical race, something DJR Team Penske has not always got right this year.
"I am really proud of all the guys," the South Australian said. "When I got in at Tasmania the car was not in a great place. Even as a bunch of guys as a unit we are working much better together. The mechanics and engineers are communicating really well and the stops in that race were ready good.
"To get the champagne I hope the boys really appreciate it because we can reflect on where we have come from this year and it is a big turnaround.
"Marcos handed it over to me which was a great opportunity and one I grabbed with both hands. I am excited about the future and looking forward to seeing what we can do next year."
After finishing second in the 2012 Dunlop development series, racing against Scott McLaughlin, Chaz Mostert and Nick Percat, Pye entered the main game in 2013 with Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport. It was a difficult season marred by two serious crashes, with sixth place at Bathurst with Paul Morris the highlight.
In 2014 he moved to Dick Johnson Racing, where he showed flashes of great race pace in a low budget team.
In 2015, after the Penske take-over of DJR he found himself with only a co-driver role. However, Ambrose's abdication put him back into a full-time drive, which he will maintain in 2016.
"It is a relief for me knowing what I am doing next year as well," he said.
Pye wasn't so happy on Saturday when he was relegated from fourth to fifth on the opening race after going straight on at the back straight chicane. He finished eighth in the second 60km sprint. He sits 19th in the championship despite this weekend's strong results.
Dane, who backed Pye's early career in Europe and his 2012 DVS campaign, has continued in a role as mentor. He watched on proudly as Pye joined his team's drivers on the Pukekohe podium.
"I'm very happy, it was the perfect podium for us today to see him up there. A one-two for us and him in third place," he said.