Skaife On The Verge Of Having Fun
Wednesday 7 November
There's a strong chance that this weekend's first Shell Series round run in New Zealand will see the crowning of the 2001 champion in Mark Skaife, and if he can manage it, the man himself promises to have some fun.
After last month's Bathurst triumph, Skaife holds a 455 point lead over fellow Holden racer, Russell Ingall, and he is hoping to seal his second consecutive title, and the fourth of his career, by the end of the first of three races scheduled for the Boost Mobile V8 International at Pukekohe this weekend.
If he can etch out the fractional increase in his points advantage he requires in Saturday morning's top ten shootout and the first of three 100km races that afternoon, he will be able to contest Sunday's two races free from the weight of the title battle.
"For now, I am concentrating on doing a good job on the Saturday. If we can take an extra 13 points over Russell by the end of the first race, it will seal the title and I can have some fun on Sunday," he said.
"This is such a fiercely competitive category and it is such a tough title to win that I am not taking anything for granted just yet. There are any number of potential variables that could go wrong, but if it was to work out the way we want, it would be great to face the last few races of the year without that pressure, and just go out there to enjoy the challenge of each individual race."
If he manages it, it will mark the fifth title in six years to the Holden Racing Team and could relegate Ingall to his third runner-up placing in his Shell Series career.
"Second again, what can you do?" said Ingall. "I really thought I could do it this year. I think my Castrol Holden is the only car to have taken it right up to the HRT boys consistently throughout the year, but it looks like I am going to be bridesmaid again. I am getting a bit sick of it."
Ingall realises there is still the slightest chance of that elusive title heading his way.
"I didn't even bother doing the maths, it's too depressing. I am just going flat out for the race win and I hope Skaife gets in a fight with a big Maori and can't drive!"
Outside of the title fight, but certain to be a favourite amongst the patriotic sell out crowd, are the Kiwi drivers, most notably Paul Radisich and Greg Murphy.
Radisich started the year as one of the hot favourites for the title but was left behind after mishaps ruined his chances in the points rich street races at the start of the season. His tenacious style makes him certain to be a factor in the results on his home turf behind the wheel of his powerful Shell Helix Falcon.
"The place is just going to be jammed with 40,000 plus and that is fantastic for motorsport in NZ. They only get those sorts of crowds for All Black games there," he said. "The rounds are really hard to win in the Shell Series so it would be doubly satisfying if I could clinch this one at home."
Murphy is one the only driver in the field to boast a winning record at the 2.82km circuit which lies 40km south of Auckland. He scored pole and won all three races on his V8 Supercar debut for HRT back in 1996 when a dozen competitors crossed the Tasman for exhibition races. Returning this time in his Kmart Holden, he is hopeful of matching that result.
"You couldn't have felt any better than what I did back at Pukekohe in '96 and I'm just hoping everything works out the same way again next weekend," he said. "The level of competition in the Shell Series has stepped up considerably since then and there's at least 20-25 cars out there that are capable of winning every time we go out onto the track. I'd love to close the season with a win at home. I'm coming home to win."
There will also be two cars among the field proudly displaying the favourite emblem of the Kiwi sports fans, the Silver Fern. Team Kiwi will run two Holdens this weekend, with lead driver, Jason Richards, joined by Angus Fogg who was granted a wildcard for the event.
The new team has ridden some tough bumps in their debut year in the toughest touring car category in the world, and the progress they have made allows them to be confident of acquitting themselves well in front of their home crowd.
"For me, this will definitely be the biggest race of my career," says Richards. "I do not believe we will have ever have had as many supporters for Angus or myself as we will have at Pukekohe."
The Kiwi crowd can be more confident of celebrating success over their Aussie rivals at Pukekohe this weekend than their cricketing brethren in the First Test in Brisbane at the same time according to Radisich.
"At least we drivers are a genuine chance," he quipped.
Shell Series Points Overall after 11 rounds: 1)Skaife - 3050, 2)Ingall - 2595, 3)Bright - 2504, 4)Johnson - 2276, 5)Murphy - 2274, 6)Kelly - 2076, 7)Radisich - 1895, 8)Tander - 1835, 9)Ellery - 1810, 10)S.Richards - 1758, 11)T.Longhurst - 1646, 12)Ambrose - 1641, 13)Lowndes - 1624, 14)Perkins - 1621, 15)Seton - 1604
Pukekohe V8 Supercar action at a glance: (NB: NZ +2hrs AEST) Friday: Provisional Qualifying 3.25-4.20pm Saturday: Top 10 Shootout 11.05-11.35am / Race 1 (36 laps) 4pm Sunday: Race 2 (36 laps) 12.45pm / Race 3 (36 laps) 4.50pm Compulsory Pit Stops: 1 stop for tyres between laps 2-26 in each race