On the eve of V8 Supercars’ biggestoverseas adventure yet, we look back at the first Championship race the seriesundertook on foreign shores.
It was 2001 and Pukekohe Park Racewaystaged a round of the series in November. In a Holden Racing Team VX Commodore,Mark Skaife had already secured the Championship and after New Zealand’s round,Sandown was the last stop of the 14 round season.
But while Skaife may have had the pointsstitched up, the win at Pukekohe eluded him.
Hometown hero Greg Murphy powered throughthe weekend in his Kmart Commodore and could not be threatened for the topstep. ‘Murph’ was quickest after Qualifying and then bagged Pole Position,before winning all three races in spectacular form.
The wet weather was so heavy in the firstrace, it was declared; but the second and third were battles between Murphy andSkaife – the Kiwi counterpart victorious.
Unfortunately neither of the two will beracing at the Austin 400 in Texas – but Murphy took the time to reminiscewith V8Supercars.com.au on the sport’s first ever international Championshipevent.
“To have a race meeting as part of theChampionship outside of Australia for the first time was quite significant,”Murphy – who is contesting the enduros with Holden Racing Team later thisyear – said.
“We had gone over to New Zealand at the endof 1996 – 12 cars went over as part of a series over there – and it waspretty successful and huge for New Zealand.
“But to go back in 2001 as part of theChampionship was very significant.
“For me, heading back there and being inKmart Racing Team at the time, which was part of TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing)was a huge opportunity. And based on my success in ’96 I was looking to try andemulate that and put on a very good performance, although it was a very toughenvironment in terms of how tough the Championship was.
“To head back there, and then – in front ofa home crowd – have success like that was phenomenal. It was a bit of adream.
“I’d hoped to be competitive, but I wasdominant over the weekend.”
While other drivers have said theChampionship has evolved immensely since those earlier years, Murph believesnot much has changed.
“It’s changed a little bit, but essentiallymany parts of the series and the way it’s run and gone is quite similar, inmany respects.
“The professionalism in the teams has broadeneda bit – 10 or 11 years ago, I suppose there were still not as many outrightprofessional operations.
“The teams were professional, doing a verygood job and everything they could to be professional; but the operations werestill quite small.”
Murphy said the ‘just turn up on weekends’type operations were starting to peter out, as the sport went through a periodof growth.
“Everyone was starting to lift their game– the competition was fierce and the field had a lot of depth to it.”
The former #51 was clearly disheartened notto have the opportunity to race in Austin this weekend, though he will be atthe meeting.
Murphy felt that since the V8s firstbroadened internationally to race in China, taking the category to the US wasin people’s minds.
“I think – obviously – the opportunityto go to the US and race is enormous,” he said.
“Since we went to China in ’05 – whichwas a significant thing – the thought of V8 Supercars racing in America made alot of sense, but it didn’t happen (while I was in the category) and I’mdisappointed not to be a part of it.”
While he hasn’t been behind the wheel yetat a race meeting, Murph has attended plenty of events, which he describes as“racing without racing”.
“There’s a bit going on – I don’t havea lot of spare time,” he said. “I’ve ended up at the majority of races thisyear, which wasn’t the plan to start with.”
Fans will get to see Murphy behind thewheel of the Holden Racing Team Car of the Future Holden Commodore at theSucrogen Townsville 400 in July, the first event with an endurance co-driversession for 2013. The following two events at Queensland Raceway and WintonRaceway will also have sessions during which teams can run co-drivers.
The Austin 400 starts on Friday (Austintime) and runs until Sunday, comprising of four 100km races with pitstops. Moredetails and information on ticketing can be found at the Championship Eventpage.