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Talking points from Supercars’ Auckland SuperSprint

There was plenty of emotion during the Auckland SuperSprint weekend, given the fact that this was the final time that the Supercars championship would race at the iconic Pukekohe Raceway before it’s decommissioned as a motorsport venue.

With heated battles on the track and off, to the Jason Richards Memorial Trophy once again being up for grabs for the round winner, here are the talking points from the last ever Supercars weekend at Pukekohe.

SVG wins the Jason Richards Trophy 

It was a stunning conclusion to the Auckland SuperSprint in Race 29, with Shane van Gisbergen locked in an epic battle with Cameron Waters for the victory and the Jason Richards Trophy.

The pair wrestled for the lead through the final sequence of corners, toward the end of the race and even went as far as nearing race-ending contact. Though the Kiwi wisely lifted the throttle to give a brief reprieve to Waters.

An unforced error too far, Waters was displaced for the lead by van Gisbergen who with his eighteenth win of the year went on to equal Scott McLaughlin’s all-time record for most wins in a single season – as well as his third Jason Richards Trophy.

The 33-year old hadn’t the easiest of runs at Pukekohe, having lacked the car speed on Saturday and finished only fifth. Victory from pole in Race 28 put van Gisbergen back into contention for the round, though starting eighth for the finale was going to be a tough ask.

It wasn’t until pole sitter and race leader, Will Davison suffered through a fumbled pit-stop where the left-rear wasn’t secured properly, did van Gisbergen emerge amongst Waters and fellow Kiwi Andre Heimgartner.

Emotionally driven, there could’ve been no other outcome than the imperious van Gisbergen stamping his authority on home soil and at the legendary circuit for the last time.

Heimgartner’s first home soil podium

While Davison romped away to Saturday’s Race 27 victory, there was plenty of cheer from the home fans for Heimgartner in securing a maiden podium in New Zealand.

Already a race winner in 2021 and with two podiums this season in Perth and at Winton, the 27-year old capitalised on a great car setup and excellent pit-stop at Pukekohe to come up three places to finish behind Davison.

The Kiwi took his compulsory pit-stop on Lap 19, jumping pole-sitter Cameron Waters and Chaz Mostert who pitted on the lap before. Davison, who lost no ground to his rivals during his stop, saw the margin to Heimgartner balloon to almost 2-seconds.

That was all before a Safety Car was deployed with ten laps to go, with Brad Jones teammate Macauley Jones stricken to the side of Turn 4 with steering damage. Davison’s gap was erased and Heimgartner was in with a chance of victory, while Waters was breathing down his neck also.

With five laps to go, the race restarted and Davison got away from the R&J Batteries Commodore without error. While Waters kept pressure on the Kiwi for the runner’s up position.

Heimgartner backed up this feat in Race 29, where another speedy pit-stop from the BJR crew saw him bolster into victory contention and even in with a sniff of the Jason Richards Trophy. However the Kiwi would finish still an impressive third behind van Gisbergen and Waters.

Opening lap red flag in Race 28

The first of Sunday’s two 41-lappers was marred by a string of opening lap incidents, which included both Erebus Motorsport cars in separate instances and thus triggering an early red flag.

Anton De Pasquale’s poor getaway from fourth was punished severely, when Brodie Kostecki made contact with the Shell V-Power Mustang and sent his former teammate into the barriers. De Pasquale ricocheted off the barrier and ended up back in the middle of the circuit with a wrecked Mustang.

While at Turn 10, there was heavy contact between Will Brown and Mark Winterbottom, which sent the Boost Mobile Commodore into the barriers at the pit-exit – with a mammoth 56g impact. Thankfully Brown was unharmed, though the chassis was declared a write off.

The incident may have implications for Erebus ahead of the next round at the Bathurst 1000, as they may be forced to use the spare chassis
for Brown – while it was intended to be used for the all-Kiwi wildcard of Richie Stanaway and Greg Murphy.

There was an intense exchange in the Erebus garage following the race, where Winterbottom – who just announced a fresh multi-year deal with Team 18 – went to apologise to Brown. Frosty instead was met with a furious response and a physically aggressive team boss in Barry Ryan.

Winterbottom was penalised with a drive-through, despite maintaining the hit was not intentional. In fact his response was triggered by a hit from Brown earlier in the lap, though without as serious a consequence.

Lee Holdsworth announces retirement

The 39-year old veteran made the announcement during the break between the Sandown and Auckland rounds, ending a full-time Supercars career that dated back to 2006 when he debuted for Garry Rogers Motorsport.

With a career in real estate on the horizon and further time with family desired, Holdsworth will hang the helmet up on a 500+ race career, only to continue on as co-driver in 2023 as he did last year when he won the Bathurst 1000 with Chaz Mostert at Walkinshaw Andretti United.

There is expectation that Holdsworth may end up back at Walkinshaw, though that is yet to be confirmed. While it was no secret that Grove Racing, for whom Holdsworth scored a podium at the Melbourne 400 earlier in the season, has been wanting to promote their young driver in Matthew Payne from Super2.

A much-loved driver, Holdsworth has endured a tough career which often hadn’t yielded the results that he and his respective teams had been hoping for. There were long dry spells between wins for the Victorian, notably since leaving GRM for whom he’d won twice.

Shifting to Stone Brothers Racing in 2012, which then became Erebus Motorsport the following year proved to be difficult. The maligned Mercedes-Benz project saw a testing time for the committed Holdsworth, though they did enjoy one win at Winton in 2014.

After that, it wasn’t until the Bathurst win with Mostert in 2021 that Holdsworth stood atop a podium with only one podium between 2015 and 2020 across Team 18 and then later Tickford, before ending up on the sidelines in 2021.

Farewell Pukekohe

It’s quite a sobering thought to know that there won’t be anymore Supercars racing at Pukekohe now, as well as any motorsport activity with the venue having announced earlier this year that it would cease in 2023.

Such an iconic venue through the history of motorsport and significant in terms of New Zealand’s status in the racing world. Pukekohe will be a track that’s going to be dearly missed by all.

Given that Pukekohe wasn’t on the Supercars schedule between 2008 and 2012, when they raced at a street circuit in Hamilton, my first proper exposure to the Auckland based raceway wasn’t until its return to the championship in 2013.

That was the year that Supercars introduced the Jason Richards Memorial Trophy, in remembrance to the late Kiwi who passed in 2011 after a battle with cancer. The round winner would be awarded the trophy and there were plenty of names with an emotional claim to the prize named in honour of their late mate.

Following a sensational four sprint races, amongst which a rookie McLaughlin claimed his maiden Supercars victory – on home soil too – it was Jason Bright in the same BOC livery that the late Richards raced in for Brad Jones Racing that claimed the inaugural trophy.

While none of the current crop of Kiwis were able to emulate the success on home soil of the King of Pukekohe in nine-time winner at home Greg Murphy, the contests since 2013 between the likes of van Gisbergen, McLaughlin and even Fabian Coulthard has ensured it’ll remain a part of Supercars folklore.

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