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From Europeans to Supercars stars – A brief history of Pukekohe

Regarded as the ‘spiritual home of New Zealand motor racing’, Pukekohe Park by the time it closes will have enjoyed an illustrious 60 year history as a venue hosting great names of the sport.

Pukekohe shares many similarities to the historic Australian circuit Sandown – a venue also in danger of closing in the near-future – in terms of it also being situated around a horse racing track, the similar categories each have hosted and the short nature of a lap.

Opened in 1963, Pukekohe was flagged as a replacement for the Ardmore airfield circuit to host the New Zealand Grand Prix.

Characterised by its fast corners and tight hairpin, Pukekohe was the domain of the Europeans during the halcyon days of the Tasman Series as the likes of Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark and Phil Hill thrilled the local fans.

It was also an era of success for drivers from Australia and New Zealand including Jack Brabham, Denny Hulme, Bruce McLaren, Frank Gardner, Chris Amon, and many more.

Using the original layout, which at Turn 1 made a sharp left and looped back to re-join the circuit at what is currently Turn 4 for the first three years as John Surtees took the first victory in front of 40,000 spectators.

The loop was ditched for 1967 ahead of the introduction of Formula 5000 as touring cars just like in Australia came to the fore as the Benson and Hedges 500 event for production cars emerged as the venue’s leading event.

New Zealand legends Rod Coppins, Leo Leonard and Jim Richards are just some of the names written on the honour board to have won the race, as Group A took over in 1985 forming half of the inaugural Nissan Sport 500, which became a traditional opener for the Europeans.

Drivers the likes of Tom Walkinshaw, Win Percy, Michel Delcourt, Andy Rouse, Gianfranco Brancatelli, Steve Soper, Emanuele Pirro and Joachim Winkelhock were some of the leading touring car drivers of the time to taste success.

Running a variety of distances, it formed a great partnership with the Wellington street race to bring New Zealand onto the global stage.

Further work was done to the circuit through the construction of pit buildings and general improvement of facilities, which in 1996 enticed the leading Australian touring car teams to race at the venue alongside Wellington.

Five years later, history was made when the first V8 Supercar Championship round was held at Pukekohe and Greg Murphy completed a second sweep replicating the one he achieved in 1996 for his first solo start for the Holden Racing Team.

Pukekohe witnessed plenty of action as Murphy continued to win, but V8 Supercars left the historic venue for a street event at Hamilton for 2008, but returned four years later with the track modified to include a chicane on the back sweeper before the hairpin.

Kiwi’s enjoyed Scott McLaughlin’s maiden win in 2013 in addition to Shane van Gisbergen’s victories in recent years.

McLaughlin’s famous for climbing the catch fencing after his victories.

Pukekohe has been a mainstay of local racing by playing an integral part in the development of current rising stars such as Liam Lawson, Mitch Evans, Marcus Armstrong and many more, in what is a renaissance of New Zealand motorsport.

Closing next year, it’s a fond farewell to Pukekohe Park and it’s rather a celebration of the history created there.