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Pither talks breakthrough, 2023 plans

CHRIS Pither’s run to a season-best result at the Gold Coast 500 reinforced that a strong Adelaide send-off is possible – as long as qualifying goes somewhat to plan.

Pither and PremiAir Racing will part ways at season’s end, the Kiwi veteran being replaced by Tim Slade for the 2023 Repco Supercars Championship.

That prospect had appeared on the cards since July’s Townsville 500; after which point Pither has enjoyed a better run.

He grabbed a 12th at The Bend, made up a stack of positions across the Pukekohe weekend, was on for a top 12 at the Repco Bathurst 1000 before a power steering failure intervened, and was top 10 as far as Gold Coast round points go.

“I’ve been happy with the progress we’ve been making,” Pither told V8 Sleuth, having fended off Slade and Anton De Pasquale to finish ninth in the Sunday Surfers Paradise race.

“It was sort of always our aim from the start – we were a new team at the start of the year which is probably easy to forget now – we were targeting top 10s by the end of the year and we’re starting to achieve that now.

Pither is tipped to score a plum co-drive for 2023. Pic: PremiAir Racing

“It doesn’t come overnight, we’re just gradually improving every time we hit the track.

“Once we were in the 10 (at Gold Coast), I actually felt relatively comfortable running there with some quick cars around me.

“The race pace is good but obviously qualifying is super critical too and we haven’t managed to get a good understanding of what we need to execute that well.

“At the Gold Coast, my teammate and a number of other cars did their qualifying lap on their third lap. We only got two laps in on the final qualifying and that probably hurt us a little bit.

“The thing is, qualifying is so tight, there’s a real science to it and you have got to get every little aspect perfect to be able to extract that last couple of tenths out of it.

“So we are improving but hopefully we can get the recipe right at the final round at Adelaide and convert a strong result to finish.”

Speaking for the first time about his future since his end-of-season exit was confirmed, Pither was philosophical, albeit disappointed to again miss out on a second successive season with a team.

With rookie Cameron Hill snapping up what appears to be the last full-time seat available, Pither is set to be a key player in the 2023 co-driver market.

“From the start the intention was always to build this year with the team and we talked about it early on: this year was really about putting the foundations in place so that come the end of the year we could hit the ground running with Gen3,” he said.

Pither (left). Pic: PremiAir Racing

“The team is chalk and cheese today than what it was at the start of the year and that’s definitely progressed throughout the year.

“My intentions were obviously to try to capitalise on the new era of car with Gen3 next year and I saw that as a real opportunity, a bit of a leveller.

“Obviously I won’t be there next year. It’s disappointing but that’s what it is so I can’t dwell on that now, I have just got to focus forward and finish the year on a high note and look to next year.

“Next year there aren’t any full-time seats available so co-driving is the natural progression and I look forward to what that brings.

“I feel like I’m in a good position given that I’m sort of the only full-time driver this year that will be moving into a co-driving role that’s not already committed so there’s some good options and I’m looking forward to what next year brings.”

The Adelaide 500 early next month will be Pither’s final event with PremiAir.

As it stands, the Coca-Cola-backed driver has outscored the other side of the garage this season (six rounds completed by Garry Jacobson and six by James Golding).

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