Monday, August 8

“Tough to think’: Kiwi drivers reflect on Pukekohe closure

The chequered flag is getting set to wave for the final time at a beloved New Zealand motor racing circuit.

Over the past six decades, Pukekohe Raceway had hosted many of the sport’s greatest moments on Kiwi soil.

But that would all come to an end in April next year when the circuit closed to allow the venue to be exclusively used for horse racing.

It will mean the end to an era for New Zealand motorsport, and former Supercars star Greg Murphy said the sad news was still sinking in.

“It’s tough to think it’s not going to be there anymore.

“We’ve got a huge population of motorsport enthusiasts and petrolheads in this country and Pukekohe is synonymous with the sport.

“A lot of people are going to be really sad they’re not going to be able to go there, sit on the hill and watch motorsport.”

Sentiments echoed by veteran New Zealand driver Kenny Smith.

The 80-year-old, who was still racing, contested the very first meet held at Pukekohe in 1963 – and won two of his three New Zealand Grand Prix titles there.

Smith said the track hosted some of the world’s greatest drivers in those early years.

“Jim Clarke, Graham Hill, Stirling Moss, Jack Brabham … there was Bruce McLaren, [Chris] Amon, [John] Surtees. I mean you could just keep going on with these names.

“They were all nice people and all very friendly … they’d mix and talk with you and it was just great fun.”

History also not lost on long-time motorsport commentator and analyst Bob McMurray.

McMurray said the Pukekohe circuit was unique and exciting.

“It is a fascinating track to race on and to watch cars on, as well.

“Almost every corner has got some incident or memory that people will attach to it. Simply having the train line run along the back straight.”

As much as he loved it, though, McMurray said the track’s time was probably up several years ago.

“It has been pretty average for many years. The facilities are not good for motor racing.

“It’s just a shame been left to go to rack and ruin but it’s been exactly same pretty much since it was built.

“A shame for motor racing anyway because it is an iconic track.”

And an iconic track that had produced plenty of iconic moments.

From those star-studded New Zealand Grand Prix days, to more recent times and the thrills of the Australian Supercars series.

Thrills which Greg Murphy had been at the centre of more times than most.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have had quite a few significant moments there that I will never forget.

“Racing Supercars in front of huge Kiwi crowds, very supportive of me and other Kiwi drivers. Incredibly memorable and a significant part of my career as a racing car driver.

“We have a rich tapestry in the sport and Pukekohe has played an enormous part in that.”

In a statement, Supercars said they were intent on continuing to race in New Zealand.

Murphy said the Hampton Downs track – less than 50km down State Highway One – loomed as Pukekohe’s natural successor.

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