Race Flashback: V8s First Race Overseas
By: V8 Supercars
On the eve of V8 Supercars’ biggest overseas adventure yet, we look back at the first Championship race the series undertook on foreign shores.
It was 2001 and Pukekohe Park Raceway staged a round of the series in November. In a Holden Racing Team VX Commodore, Mark Skaife had already secured the Championship and after New Zealand’s round, Sandown was the last stop of the 14 round season.
But while Skaife may have had the points stitched up, the win at Pukekohe eluded him.
Hometown hero Greg Murphy powered through the weekend in his Kmart Commodore and could not be threatened for the top step. ‘Murph’ was quickest after Qualifying and then bagged Pole Position, before winning all three races in spectacular form.
The wet weather was so heavy in the first race, it was declared; but the second and third were battles between Murphy and Skaife – the Kiwi counterpart victorious.
Unfortunately neither of the two will be racing at the Austin 400 in Texas – but Murphy took the time to reminisce with V8Supercars.com.au on the sport’s first ever international Championship event.
“To have a race meeting as part of the Championship outside of Australia for the first time was quite significant,” Murphy – who is contesting the enduros with Holden Racing Team later this year – said.
“We had gone over to New Zealand at the end of 1996 – 12 cars went over as part of a series over there – and it was pretty successful and huge for New Zealand.
“But to go back in 2001 as part of the Championship was very significant.
“For me, heading back there and being in Kmart Racing Team at the time, which was part of TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing) was a huge opportunity. And based on my success in ’96 I was looking to try and emulate that and put on a very good performance, although it was a very tough environment in terms of how tough the Championship was.
“To head back there, and then – in front of a home crowd – have success like that was phenomenal. It was a bit of a dream.
“I’d hoped to be competitive, but I was dominant over the weekend.”
While other drivers have said the Championship has evolved immensely since those earlier years, Murph believes not much has changed.
“It’s changed a little bit, but essentially many parts of the series and the way it’s run and gone is quite similar, in many respects.
“The professionalism in the teams has broadened a bit – 10 or 11 years ago, I suppose there were still not as many outright professional operations.
“The teams were professional, doing a very good job and everything they could to be professional; but the operations were still quite small.”
Murphy said the ‘just turn up on weekends’ type operations were starting to peter out, as the sport went through a period of growth.
“Everyone was starting to lift their game – the competition was fierce and the field had a lot of depth to it.”
The former #51 was clearly disheartened not to have the opportunity to race in Austin this weekend, though he will be at the meeting.
Murphy felt that since the V8s first broadened internationally to race in China, taking the category to the US was in people’s minds.
“I think – obviously – the opportunity to go to the US and race is enormous,” he said.
“Since we went to China in ’05 – which was a significant thing – the thought of V8 Supercars racing in America made a lot of sense, but it didn’t happen (while I was in the category) and I’m disappointed not to be a part of it.”
While he hasn’t been behind the wheel yet at a race meeting, Murph has attended plenty of events, which he describes as “racing without racing”.
“There’s a bit going on – I don’t have a lot of spare time,” he said. “I’ve ended up at the majority of races this year, which wasn’t the plan to start with.”
Fans will get to see Murphy behind the wheel of the Holden Racing Team Car of the Future Holden Commodore at the Sucrogen Townsville 400 in July, the first event with an endurance co-driver session for 2013. The following two events at Queensland Raceway and Winton Raceway will also have sessions during which teams can run co-drivers.
The Austin 400 starts on Friday (Austin time) and runs until Sunday, comprising of four 100km races with pitstops. More details and information on ticketing can be found at the Championship Event page.