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When the V8s hit Wellington for the last time

Having drawn superstar fields during its Group A era, the Wellington 500 had become a marquee event during the summer and even hosted the World Touring Car Championship in 1987, but by 1996 there was no long distance race as the circuit was shortened itself leading to the end.

The final event at Wellington proved the first for Australia’s now three year old V8 formula in New Zealand as 12 entries were invited across to contest the Mobil NZ Series split across two weekends at Pukekohe and on reconfigured street circuit situated in the capital city.

Dick Johnson Racing’s John Bowe referred to the the tight layout as a go-kart track, but at the end of the weekend won the round on points from series winner, New Zealander Greg Murphy effectively auditioning to replace Craig Lowndes at the Holden Racing Team.

Bowe was joined by team boss Johnson, Alan Jones was another partnered by super touring ace Paul Radisich, Murphy joined Peter Brock at HRT, as Wayne Gardner Racing was represented by the team boss and Neil Crompton. Larry Perkins entered a Castrol VP for himself, with Russell Ingall in the latest VR, while making sure each manufacturer had equal numbers Glenn Seton and Tony Longhurst completed the field in their single entries.

Arriving at Wellington, Murphy had swept all before him at Pukekohe by sealing pole and three race wins. However, there was a lot of space at Pukekohe compared to the tight confines of Wellington.

Carnage had been a major news story at Pukekohe after Bowe, Crompton and Perkins tangled, while a tyre failure sent Gardner into the wall at the fast final sweeper.

A practice crash for Murphy proved an early setback, but the local hero still managed to win the finale to clincgh the Mobil NZ Series narrowly from Bowe, who had defied expectations to score pole and win the first two heats.

Further panel damage was added when a stuck throttle for Longhurst led to a heavy collision with Brock.

Despite a four-year deal agreed in principle between AVESCO and Mobil of NZ, the event was never repeated as instead there was a five-year wait until Pukekohe was part of the calendar where Murphy dominated.