PUKEKOHE Park Raceway’s maiden appearance on a Supercars Championship calendar is an occasion Chris Pither remembers well.
Aged 14, Pither was racing in the New Zealand Formula Ford Championship which featured on the 2001 support card, as Greg Murphy led the Kiwi charge in Supercars land.
It was his first brush with Supercars; one that would heighten his hunger to chase the dream.
“To see all my heroes racing in the Supercars Championship, obviously with aspirations of progressing to there, was pretty awesome,” Pither reflected to V8 Sleuth.
“At that point I hadn’t been to Australia to watch any events, so that was sort of my first taste of what Supercar racing was all about and probably started the bug for me.”
It was not Pither’s first time racing at the venue though, with fond memories of competing in Formula Vee in 2000 down the long back straight before the installation of the Turn 5/6/7 chicane.
“Formula Vee racing as we all know, there’s definitely a bit of an art to slipstreaming and racecraft,” he recalled.
“The racing in Formula Vee or now Formula First was extremely intense and had some awesome battles. You could come from fourth or fifth on the last lap and end up winning the race if you planned it right and you got a good run.”
Pither has gone on to grind out a professional motorsport career, currently in the midst of his third full Repco Supercars Championship campaign.
It’ll afford him a second and final Supercars appearance at Pukekohe before the track shuts next April.
“It was obviously disappointing news to hear that it was going to be closed,” said the PremiAir Racing driver.
“There’s a lot of history in general but for me it goes back to my early days in car racing, when I first got out of karting.
“I spent a lot of time racing at Pukekohe in my junior years through a number of different categories including Formula Vee, Formula Ford, Toyota Racing Series, HQs, Utes, lots of different categories.
“I’m disappointed that it’s closing down but I feel fortunate that I am racing Supercars this year and am able to take part in the final Supercars round at Pukekohe next weekend.
“I’ve only raced a Supercar there once before in 2016 so I’m excited to chalk up my second round there.
“I’m going out there aiming to get a good result for the Kiwis and obviously we have got Shane (van Gisbergen) and Andre (Heimgartner) too, so hopefully one of us can fly the flag well at the front of the field and go out on a high note.”
Pither made the trek across the ditch on Wednesday – his first time back in his homeland since early 2020.
“You’d think it’s just another round, another track, but there’s something about racing at home and having that extra support – it does make a difference,” he added.
“I think you do somehow find something extra when you know you have got everyone barracking for you as well so I’m really excited to get back there.
“We’re obviously well into the back half of the championship now and I’m pushing hard to get some strong results.”
Running across September 9-11, the ITM Auckland SuperSprint forms Round 10 of the 2022 season.