Bidding farewell to a Kiwi motorsport kingdom

September 2022. Fabled New Zealand race monitor Pukekohe was internet hosting Australia’s Supercars sequence not just for the primary time since 2019, attributable to COVID-19, but in addition for the final time ever, due to the approaching, and considerably surprising, closure of the circuit.

Lower than eight weeks earlier, venue proprietor Auckland Thoroughbred Racing had introduced an growth of the horse coaching and racing services at Pukekohe Park. The flip aspect was that it could come on the expense of the motor racing monitor. This month, a wealthy, six-decade chapter of motorsport historical past formally got here to an finish.

For that complete closing Supercars weekend there was magic within the air. The sell-out crowd was bouncing. Merchandise vans had been mainly out of inventory by Friday night. And Shane van Gisbergen put in one of many all-time nice Supercars drives to win Sunday afternoon’s finale. The hometown hero, who grew up simply across the nook, charged from eighth on the grid to steal the win within the closing laps after an exciting battle with Cam Waters.

The roar from the gang was unimaginable as he executed the profitable go, because it was when he lifted the Jason Richards Trophy, a nod to the late, nice ‘JR’, who handed away attributable to sickness in 2011. It’s one of the vital treasured prizes in Supercars, due to how universally well-liked JR was with everybody within the paddock, together with his rival drivers. Orchestrating the emotional victory was van Gisbergen’s new engineer Andrew Edwards, an important pal of Richards from their time collectively at Brad Jones Racing.

It was essentially the most becoming of ends to an period.

Murphy describes van Gisbergen's win in final Pukekohe Supercars race as

Murphy describes van Gisbergen’s win in closing Pukekohe Supercars race as “loopy”

Picture by: Edge Photographics

Watching in amazement because it all unfolded was two-time sequence runner-up Greg Murphy, the undisputed King of Pukekohe (even when he struggles to confess it himself). Supercars TV pit reporter Chad Neylon would later put up footage on social media of a deeply invested Murphy reacting to the race-winning go.

“I suppose it was a kind of issues that you could dream of taking place. However the likelihood of it taking place? Nah, simply ridiculous,” says four-time Bathurst 1000 winner Murphy of that closing race in 2022. “Then once more, I’ve been extremely lucky to have had just a few of these storylines there previously myself. So I in all probability shouldn’t be shocked. However, significantly, that was only a loopy, loopy scenario. I’m not a believer within the universe stuff, but it surely was like… JR was up there pulling strings, man.

“I’d been informed all these items about what you wanted to look out for, and that it’s harmful right here and also you want numerous dedication there and have to indicate respect right here and so forth” Greg Murphy

“I spoke to Andrew Edwards afterward, after they had been packing up at the hours of darkness on Sunday night time, and he couldn’t imagine it. He was so emotional about the entire thing. It was wonderful, it was unimaginable to see somebody who had so many contact factors to the journey, to have it culminate in that afternoon. His story is much more outstanding and fantastic than anyone else’s.

“There was one thing spooky happening. It sends a shiver down the backbone simply speaking about it. I’m not a believer in all that stuff, however man, typically issues are simply alleged to be.”

It was the ultimate second of magic at Pukekohe, but it surely was removed from the primary. The racing gods have lengthy smiled down on the place, and the best beneficiary of that was Murphy.

The likes of Amon (l) and Rindt starred at Pukekohe in the 1960s

The likes of Amon (l) and Rindt starred at Pukekohe within the Sixties

Picture by: Motorsport Pictures

After all, the circuit’s historical past is a lot greater than Supercars. After opening in 1963, it turned a staple of the Tasman Sequence, which meant internet hosting a few of the greatest single-seater drivers on the earth. It was additionally an everyday host of the New Zealand Grand Prix, with John Surtees, Bruce McLaren, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Chris Amon and Keke Rosberg amongst these to have gained NZGP crowns on the venue.

However there can solely be one king, and that’s Murphy. One among, if not the, hottest Kiwi drivers of all time, Murphy was an unstoppable drive within the early days of championship Supercars racing at Pukekohe. In 2001, he gained the primary ever factors paying spherical there with a clear sweep of all three races. A yr later, he gained the spherical once more. And once more in 2003. It wasn’t till 2004 that he was lastly overwhelmed to a spherical win on NZ soil, when Jason Brilliant triumphed. He then bounced again in 2005 with one other clear sweep to reclaim his crown.

The outstanding run of success meant folks pinned ‘Murph’ as a Pukekohe specialist who should clearly have grown up on the place. The truth, nevertheless, is that he’d solely raced on the quick, daunting structure a handful of occasions earlier than 2001.

“I feel the primary time I raced there was as a help to the 1990 Nissan Mobil sequence, which was mindblowing,” Murphy remembers. “I used to be in Components Ford; I gained the Shell Extremely Scholarship, which received me into vehicles. We did Wellington after which Pukekohe was added to the schedule late. It wasn’t within the unique price range.

“I used to be terrified the primary time. The warnings I had from folks – ‘You’ll need to be bloody cautious, it’s a bloody severe race monitor’ – so I turned up there and I used to be shitting myself. I’d been informed all these items about what you wanted to look out for, and that it’s harmful right here and also you want numerous dedication there and have to indicate respect right here and so forth. I used to be ill-prepared, actually, given it was my second race in a automotive and I’d by no means been there earlier than.

Murphy enjoyed impressive Supercars record at Pukekohe, despite limited previous experience

Murphy loved spectacular Supercars document at Pukekohe, regardless of restricted earlier expertise

Picture by: Motorsport Pictures

“We went again there a few times after that, through the season, and I received fairly used to it. I feel I had a few good outcomes there in 1991. After which we rolled into the 1991/1992 season and I used to be in a Components Atlantic automotive. Man, it was mega in an Atlantic automotive. Completely mega. After which, on the finish of 1992, I used to be again there within the Sierra. I feel once I received there within the Sierra I’d solely pushed there 4 or 5 occasions. 5 max.”

The Sierra Murphy is speaking about is the Whittakers Peanut Slab Group A Ford that he and Kayne Scott shared for the Nissan Mobil 500 sequence in December 1992. The pair completed fourth in Wellington and fourth at Pukekohe. They had been necessary outcomes for Murphy that helped him break into the Australian Touring Automobile Championship scene.

“Three years into Pukekohe it was like, ‘Can he be overwhelmed?’ After which Jason went and did it in 2004 it was nearly like a little bit of a aid, in a method. And I used to be nonetheless on the rostrum so it was OK, it was nonetheless wonderful” Greg Murphy

Quick-forward to late 1996, by which period Murphy had gained the 1994 NZGP, run in that period for Components Brabham (Holden) vehicles, at Pukekohe. He had simply taken a sensational Bathurst 1000 win with Craig Lowndes for the Holden Racing Workforce. He was then added to HRT’s squad for the revived Mobil New Zealand sequence, a pair of non-championship dash occasions at Pukekohe and Wellington. Murphy gained the sequence due to a clear sweep at Pukekohe in entrance of an enormous crowd.

“Once we came to visit in 1996, the gang was big, as a result of folks had been starved of [Aussie touring cars] and simply liked it,” says Murphy. “So over we got here and the gang was phenomenal. However I used to be simply… bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I used to be a deer within the headlights. Bathurst had occurred and I used to be making a reputation for myself, but it surely was all a blur.”

Murphy's wins started when Pukekohe first joined the schedule in 2001

Murphy’s wins began when Pukekohe first joined the schedule in 2001

Picture by: Motorsport Pictures

The subsequent time the ATCC/Supercars raced in New Zealand was that first correct championship spherical in 2001 – the beginning of Murphy’s four-from-five profitable streak. For a lot of that interval, Murphy was with the extremely aggressive Ok-Mart Racing Workforce, his Pukekohe outcomes all a part of top-four championship campaigns. His 2005 win, nevertheless, was rather less anticipated given he’d moved to the less-consistent Paul Weel Racing. Both method, given the overall aggressive nature of the sequence, Murphy is at a loss to clarify how and why he was so exhausting to beat on the circuit every year.

“I used to be at all times turned up there for the primary 5 years – as a result of it did finish finally – however for these years I used to be in good equipment that I used to be comfy would work there,” says Murphy. “We couldn’t make it work in every single place however it could work there and that gave me confidence. And hey, just a few issues went our method via these 5 years, for positive, the place others had misfortune and that put me in an excellent place, as a result of I wasn’t at all times the quickest. However once more, why? Why did these issues occur to permit me to have that success? It’s weird. I used to be shocked it stored taking place over these years.”

As nice because the highs had been for Murphy, the success got here at a worth. With every win, the stress multiplied the next yr. Within the lead-up to Pukekohe there can be a barrage of questions on whether or not he could possibly be overwhelmed. As Murphy explains, it was an analogous grind to his long-standing Bathurst lap document from 2003.

“Yeah, completely,” he says when requested if he felt the stress to carry out on residence soil. “In all probability not a lot the primary time as a lot because the second time, and third time, and fourth time. Yr after yr. It’s a bit like once I was hounded by folks saying, ‘Is your Lap of the Gods [Bathurst] going to be overwhelmed this yr?’ Ultimately it’s like, ‘For God’s sake, please somebody simply beat it’. Three years into Pukekohe it was like, ‘Can he be overwhelmed?’ After which Jason went and did it in 2004 and it was nearly like a little bit of a aid, in a method. And I used to be nonetheless on the rostrum so it was OK, it was nonetheless wonderful. So long as you’re a part of one thing the place there’s some success and also you’re nonetheless being seen, reasonably than being twenty third, you’re fairly blissful.”

The wins for Murphy continued in 2005

The wins for Murphy continued in 2005

Picture by: Motorsport Pictures

Understandably, Murphy is reluctant to personally overplay his place, and that of his profitable streak, in Pukekohe historical past. However even at his most modest, he can’t disguise what being the King of Pukekohe means to him.

“I feel it was already an iconic circuit,” he says. “You concentrate on the generations of followers, and passing the baton from individuals who had been there within the Sixties and thru that period. You have a look at the crowds of people that turned as much as watch these unimaginable males and their machines, and the Kiwi names on the time that had been beginning out. After which the Brabhams and Hills and the Clarks, all these folks. The Kenny Smiths of the world.

“That began it. There are different tracks like Levin, which isn’t round anymore, or South Island tracks like Wigram and Teretonga. They’d a little bit of that magic too. However Pukekohe simply stands out. And it’s continued to create tales.

“So sure, I assume I’ve been a part of that by producing moments that individuals keep in mind. Moments that sit with them endlessly. I completely recognise that and the way lucky I’ve been to be a part of that. And now Shane is a part of that. And Andre [Heimgartner] is a part of that. And [three-time Supercars champion] Scott McLaughlin too.

“We’re not simply speaking about these issues to make chat. They’re cemented inside us, and so many different folks on the market as effectively. That’s an honour.”

Murphy modestly acknowledges the impact of his Pukekohe success

Murphy modestly acknowledges the affect of his Pukekohe success

Picture by: Motorsport Pictures

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