Marcos Ambrose heads to this weekend's penultimate Australian V8 Supercar Championship round in New Zealand still at the head of the point standings, but knowing that he still has to be on top of his game if he is to walk away with the title.

Pukekohe Park Raceway is a rare 'flyaway' event for the V8 Supercar circus, but is a popular venue with drivers and teams alike, providing a tough test of ability for the former and an interesting engineering challenge for the latter.

"This is a track where you will spend the best 57-odd seconds of your life," Ambrose reckons, "Unfortunately, the track is so short, but great to drive on nevertheless. The bump coming on to the front straight really grabs your attention. It is critical to get over it smoothly for a good lap time. The grandstand and the amount of fans make the place similar to Brands Hatch.

"As you cross the start-finish line, you only have eyes for the first turn. This area in front of the main grandstand is not really a straight, but a sweeping right-hander into turn one which has a very, very fast entry and really is blind because of all the armco around you. It is made a little extra difficult because of the bumps - this corner really reminds you of Paddock Hill Bend at Brands Hatch, but once you get through it you realise you are somewhere else.

"Turn one is so long it really turns into turn two, and you need to make sure you are on the right line for the quick left-right chicane at the end of it. This part of the track really flows well and you can make up a lot of time if you can get a good run out of turn three and stay away from the 'star pickets'. Those were the devices that were used to hold tyre markers in place last year, but ended up ripping up a heap of race tyres - including mine.

"You are in second gear as you aim up the back straight - there is a bit of camber in the road here and you can get a bit of wheel spin as you move into third. Once you are on the back straight, it is a long ride down to the hairpin. You can watch the trains go by on the left or check out the horse racing track on the right!

"It is then hard on to the brakes for the first-gear hairpin. You really need to be committed to brake as late as possible here. The middle of the corner is not that important, but the exit is and you need to be slow enough to get a good run out.

"You then go up through the gears as you race into the flowing left hander. This part of the circuit is extremely bumpy and you are doing some serious speeds by the time you hit third gear. At the end of the left-hander, there is a big bump which has become quite famous at the track. If you get this right it will set you up for a solid run down the front straight - get it wrong and you will be into the wall.

"There is actually quite a rise in the track as you head into the right-hander back on to the straight with armco on both sides of you. It is great on Sunday afternoon with a massive crowd cheering for you on the outside of the track. There is no curbing at this part of the circuit, so again you need to be careful that you don't touch the grass and get spat into the wall.

"It is then back over the start-finish line for another lap. All in all, this is a pretty short, but terrifically exciting lap if you get it right. The track is flowing and you tend to get into a rhythm here and you can find yourself doing eight or ten solid laps in a row during qualifying if you get into the 'zone'."

Somewhat bizarrely, the memory that sticks best in the Tasmanian's mind is not of success at Pukekohe, but of the problems that he and several others hit in last year's championship encounter there.

"No doubt my tyre blowing while I was in the lead last year was something I would rather forget," he admits, "The track was like a war zone, with oil and bits of car all over the place. I managed to limp it home on three wheels and we picked up third place. Now I really want to win this race for Ross and Jimmy Stone, who only grew up 15km from the track. Maybe this year is the year."

Stone Brothers team-mate Russell Ingall also admits that it would be nice to give the team a win this weekend.

"I guess this place will mean a little more now that I am driving for Ross and Jimmy Stone, but I will have to refrain from the sheep jokes," he grins, "I loved the people and place when I first went there in 2001, but I hated the circuit. However, last year, after they tided up a few of the corners and I had a bit better car, I actually really enjoyed the race.

"It is a circuit I am looking forward to returning to with a new Ford under my feet and it will suit the car right down to the ground. It would be great to give the Stone Brothers their first V8 Supercar win on their old home track."

Again, the patriotic Aussie's favourite memory of Pukekohe is not one of success on the track, but an altogether more personal moment.

"We are sure this is where my daughter Sasha was conceived," he reveals, "But that does not mean that she is a Kiwi!"

 

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