Local expert Shane Van Gisbergen fears a newly resurfaced Pukekohe Park track and the threat of rain creates a cocktail of unknowns for this weekend’s Supercars event in New Zealand.
The Red Bull Holden Racing Team star finished second-fastest behind Ford’s Lee Holdsworth in Friday’s practice at his hometown track.
Auckland’s famously fickle weather made for a dicey opening practice session as showers crossed over the 2.91km circuit but Holdsworth made the most of clear weather in the second session to clock a one minute and 01.6281 second fastest lap.
That time highlighted the pace of the resurfaced track, which got a tick of approval from Van Gisbergen for not compromising on the bumpy nature of the circuit.
But forecast rain for Saturday’s 200km race is making the four-time winner at Pukekohe wary.
“It’s a completely different track. It’s all unknown now. Every part of the track is different from when I grew up here racing,” Van Gisbergen said.
“The way the surface is now it’s going to be interesting. When the back straight was done two years ago we couldn’t even drive on it.
“It’ll be interesting to see, hopefully it’s not too wet because it’ll be pretty slippery for everyone. We’ve got to try and adapt to it and make the best of it.”
Holdsworth made the most of a rare off day by championship leader Scott McLaughlin to top the session with Tickford Racing teammate Will Davison third-fastest.
McLaughlin, who missed the start of the session due to an ignition issue, could only manage seven laps and had to settle for seventh on the timesheets.
DJR Team Penske teammate Fabian Coulthard was eighth-fastest while McLaughlin’s nearest championship challenger Chaz Mostert could only post the 12th-quickest lap of the day.
McLaughlin is chasing history in his homeland this weekend, with a victory in either race enough to move past Craig Lowndes’ 1996 record of 16 race wins in a single season.
The Ford star holds a whopping 573-point championship lead heading into the weekend but Holdsworth said the new surface and changes to Holden’s aerodynamic package would make racing hard-fought in Pukekohe.
“The new surface was just mega to drive on and just kept on pushing and harder and harder,” Holdsworth said.
“Look at the times, they’re just blitzing last year’s times. Obviously the Holdens have got what they wanted with the aero, they’re quick.
“It’s going to be super tight this weekend.”
Saturday’s action begins with a final practice run in the morning before qualifying and a 70-lap, 200km race in the afternoon.
Author: Ed Jackson
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