Kiwi pride on the line for hometown heroes

09 Sep 2022
Local trio all desperate to send off Pukekohe

The three-strong Kiwi line-up is aware of the expectation of this weekend’s Pukekohe round.

The ITM Auckland SuperSprint will be the final Supercars round at the famous circuit.

Pukekoke Park Raceway first hosted Supercars in 2001.

Australian drivers still hold the edge over the locals on race wins at Pukekohe, claiming 25 of the 42 championship races held at the venue.

New Zealand drivers have swept the last two Pukekohe rounds, with Scott McLaughlin and Shane van Gisbergen claiming a race win each in 2018 and 2019.

Van Gisbergen, Andre Heimgartner and Chris Pither will lead the hometown charge this weekend.

Few drivers are under as much pressure as series leader van Gisbergen, who considering his form, is expected to win.

Van Gisbergen, who was fourth in Friday practice, has won 16 races this season and enjoys a 500-point lead.

The 33-year-old will also race this weekend with a number of Kiwi tributes on his #97 Red Bull Ampol car.

“There’s definitely pressure, that’s for sure,” Robert van Gisbergen, Shane’s father, told Supercars.com.

“There’s a lot of attention, everyone wants an autograph, photos, many people wishing him well.

“He’s been a busy boy but it’s all part of it.

“It’s great seeing everyone in all the merch.”

Robert, a motorsport veteran in his own right, took his son to Pukekohe in the early days.

The van Gisbergens hail from Manukau in Auckland’s south.

Van Gisbergen junior, who took his 70th race win at Sandown last month, couldn’t hide his sentiment.

"My interest in Supercars started at Pukekohe. I’d love to go out there with a good result,” the reigning champion said.

"I’m trying not to get too excited, I wanna go there and treat it like any other round.

"I’m trying not to get too caught up in the celebrations. I’m pretty excited to go there.”

Heimgartner’s pressure comes internally considering the weight of Jason Richards’ legacy on Brad Jones Racing.

The late Richards raced for BJR in 2009 and 2010, and is remembered with ‘JR’ stickers on team cars.

The team has come full circle with another Kiwi in Heimgartner driving Richards’ #8.


Team owner Jones oversaw Jason Bright’s emotional victory in 2013, and it determined to do it again with his latest Kiwi ace.

Heimgartner was third quickest on Friday, one position ahead of van Gisbergen.

“Going back to Puke for the last time, it’s really important for us to do well,” Jones said.

“Beating Shane for the JR Trophy will be difficult, but it’ll be awesome if we’re in the fight.

“When we’ve been on point this year, we’ve been very competitive.

“The Kiwis lift when we go to New Zealand, and rightly so. Andre is pumped.

Bright scored a memorable win in 2013

“The JR Trophy means so much to us, and we’d love nothing more than to repeat what we did in ’13.”

For Pither, the event has extra significance considering he has made his first trip home in nearly three years.

In that time, Pither welcomed his first child and has landed at PremiAir Racing.

Like van Gisbergen, Pither reminisced of watching Greg Murphy dominate.

Back in 2001, a 14-year-old Pither raced in New Zealand Formula Ford Championship on the Pukekohe undercard.

It was then that Pither wanted to pursue a career in Supercars.

He previously raced a Formula Vee at the circuit in 2000.

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“I am definitely excited to race at Pukekohe, being my home event,” he said.

"My first Supercars experience was at Pukekohe in 2001, where I raced in the Formula Ford support event.

"There I watched home hero Greg Murphy dominate the round, and that is where my passion and desire to race Supercars grew.

“I raced at Pukekohe regularly in my junior years from Formula First to HQ Holdens.

"The track is certainly a favourite - it is fast, it requires big commitment and always creates exciting racing.

“Given it is the final time Supercars will race at Pukekohe, I feel grateful to take part and I am aiming high.

"I’ve got a lot of support from my fellow kiwis, so I look forward to putting on a good show."

Cars will hit the track on Friday for Practice 1.

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