How Lowndes remembers the Murphy hype in NZ

15 Apr
'They were the drivers that the fans wanted to see and to win races. So, you were up against it a little bit'
3 mins by James Pavey
  • Taupō set for inaugural Supercars round this weekend

  • Craig Lowndes started 51 races in New Zealand

  • Greg Murphy won nine of first 15 races at Pukekohe

Craig Lowndes has hailed the support of New Zealand race fans, recalling how Aussie drivers felt they were “up against it” when Kiwi stars raced at home.

This weekend, the roar of V8s will return to New Zealand for the highly-anticipated ITM Taupō Super400, which will be the first Supercars event in Aotearoa since September 2022.

Supercars’ popularity in New Zealand soared in the early 2000s, largely in part to the exploits of Greg Murphy, won who nine of 15 races at Pukekohe between 2001 and 2005.

Come this weekend, 19 years after Murphy's last Pukekohe win, only Jamie Whincup (10) has won Supercars Championship races in New Zealand than the 'King of Pukekohe', who was Lowndes’ Bathurst-winning co-driver in 1996.

murphy pukekohe 2005 fans

Lowndes, voted by fans as Supercars’ Most Popular Driver four times in a row between 2013 and 2016, drew major attention and crowds during his career.

However, Lowndes knew where he stood when Supercars came to New Zealand, which gets behind its stars.

"That was pretty cool, racing over there against the King of Pukekohe,” the Supercars Hall of Famer told Supercars.com.

“It’s almost the reverse of what they have here in Australia. The support that we Aussie drivers get here is incredible.

"And when we go back to New Zealand, it's the same — the fans really get behind their drivers. And to race someone like Murph, and later Shane [van Gisbergen] and Scotty McLaughlin in New Zealand, it was always an experience.

murphy pukekohe fans 2002

"They were the favourite drivers, they were the drivers that the fans wanted to see and to win races. So, you were up against it a little bit.

“But I think the rivalry between New Zealand and Australia is really strong, and we we always embraced that.”

There will be five Kiwis on the Taupō grid — Matt Payne, Richie Stanaway, Andre Heimgartner, Ryan Wood and Jaxon Evans — and each will be desperate to continue Kiwi driver dominance on home soil.

There’s no doubt the local support — which was in such high demand, that Saturday and Sunday of the event have sold out — will be right behind their local heroes.

It's something Murphy enjoyed for over a decade, before van Gisbergen and McLaughlin carried the local hopes during the 2010s and early 2020s.

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“The hype that started to come at such an early time when [the first Pukekohe round in 2001] was announced… it was literally insane,” Murphy told Supercars.com before the final Pukekohe round in 2022.

"I was blown away by the enthusiasm. I should reference back to ’96, but it had built to another level at that stage.

“The sport was on a growth, it was an incredible period to be part of it. Then we turn up here... it was just nuts, absolutely nuts.

“To follow it up with success, it’s the stuff dreams are made of… when I came here to Pukekohe, there were so many people wishing you well. You definitely felt the support."

The inaugural Taupō event will be held on April 19-21. Fans are encouraged to secure their ticket options, with Saturday and Sunday general admission and grandstand allocations exhausted.

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