This weekend sees the V8 Supercars Championship field head ‘across the ditch’ to New Zealand for the running of the ITM 500 Auckland at Pukekohe Park Raceway.

After a troubled weekend at the Gold Coast 600 a fortnight ago, championship leader Mark Winterbottom will be hoping that one of his favourite circuits will see him return to winning as the season winds down to its final chapter.

The Circuit

Pukekohe Raceway

2015 V8 Supercars Championship – ITM 500 Auckland
Date 06-08 November 2015 Lap Length 2.910km
Free Practice Session 1 Fri 10:25-11:25 Free Practice Session 2 Fri 13:10-13:40
Free Practice Session 3 Sat 11:05-11:20 Race 28 Qualifying Sat 12:05-12:15
Race 29 Qualifying Sat 12:30-12:40 Race 28 (21 laps) Sat 15:00-15:35
Race 29 (21 laps) Sat 17:00-17:35 Free Practice Session 4 Sun 10:50-11:05
Race 30 Qualifying Sun 13:20-13:40 Race 30 (69 laps) Sun 16:00-17:25

Session times quoted in New Zealand Daylight Time (GMT +13:00)

Located 40 kilometres south of New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, Pukekohe Park Raceway has been in operation for over 50 years.

Laid out around a horse-racing track, the circuit served a spell as a non-championship Grand Prix venue where is hosted the likes of Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart, as well as local stars Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon..

The clockwise circuit was lauded as one of the fastest and most fearsome circuits in the southern hemisphere, however a recent upgrade – where a chicane was inserted down the back straight – has taken some away some of its bite.

Rewind to 2014

Last year’s ITM 500 Auckland was staged as the fourth round on the calendar, held over the ANZAC Day long weekend which marked one-hundred years since the Gallipoli landings. In lieu of the occasion, a race was run on the Friday public holiday.

Mark Winterbottom took home the weekend’s main prize, the Jason Richards Trophy, by scoring the most points across the round’s four races to exit the round with a 107-point lead over Craig Lowndes.

The previous year’s Trophy winner, Jason Bright, started strongly by claiming pole position for Friday’s race and claiming victory after early race leader Jamie Whincup was hit with steering problems. Shane van Gisbergen and Craig Lowndes made it an all-Holden podium, while David Wall crashed with fellow Ford driver Chaz Mostert and was out for the rest of the weekend, such was the heavy damage to his car.

Winterbottom won the first of Saturday’s two races ahead of pole-winner James Courtney and Mostert. Van Gisbergen won the second Saturday race, chased hard by Winterbottom, while New Zealand young gun Scott McLuughlin finished in third place after qualifying his Volvo in pole position.

McLaughlin repeated his qualifying performance for Sunday’s 200-kilometre feature race, and started the race with the front row all to himself after the second-fastest qualifier, Tim Slade, suffered a clutch problem as the warm-up lap got underway. McLaughlin was once again unable to convert pole into victory, with Winterbottom again claiming the honours from the Kiwi. Mostert finished in third place for the second time over the weekend.

Mark Winterbottom, Prodrive Racing Australia Ford

Mark Winterbottomwill be out to prove that his poor Gold Coast weekend is not a portent of things to come in Auckland…

The Form Guide

Mark Winterbottom has got to be feeling the pressure as his goal of claiming a maiden V8 Supercars Championship title draws nearer. ‘Frosty’ has been in a similar position before and failed on each occasion thanks to a disastrous drop in form.

This time it’s different: the Prodrive Racing driver is the one out in front, but he’s not home and hosed yet as a poor weekend at the preceding Surfers Paradise round clearly showed where his 399-point lead was slashed to just 258.

Winterbottom’s chief rival, Craig Lowndes, was the major beneficiary. The series veteran is still well in contention to claim a fourth Drivers’ Championship title and will know that almost all of the pressure is being heaped upon Winterbottom. With a maximum of 900 championship points still up for grabs, the battle is far from over.

That being said, this is one of the few circuits where Lowndes does not enjoy the best record. In the nine years he’s raced here, he’s never won one of the 29 races he’s contested – the closest was a second-placed finish in 2006, one of two podium visits he’s ever had at this circuit.

It’s a statistic which Winterbottom will be keen to exploit, and despite suggestions that he is suffering from another dose of the ‘wobbles’ that have cost him a shot at previous titles, ‘Frosty’ is adamant that the pressure will be all on Lowndes.

“He hasn’t won a championship since 1999. Effectively in the modern era he’s won Bathurst but he hasn’t won the championship,” Winterbottom told the official V8 Supercars website.

“I love this place and if I could pick a round I could come to, to try and give myself a confidence boost I’d pick this as my number one track in terms of how I feel at it. We’ll find out Friday if it’s still good to me or if it’s changed.”

The action is typically intense at Pukekohe, where the barriers placed close to the track edge have an almost magnetic attraction for cars. The local drivers – Scott McLaughlin, Fabian Coulthard, Shane van Gisbergen and Andre Heimgartner – traditionally seem to go well here and they could well play something of a spoiling role in this year’s championship tussle.

Images via V8 Supercars Championship

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Geoff Burke

Journalist at MotorsportM8
Site co-founder. Social Media guru. All-round trouble-maker.