In the ninth of a regular series of views from Castrol Perkins V8 Supercar racer Steve Richards, the Kiwi looks back on the latest round of the 2003 Championship, at Pukekohe Park Raceway, New Zealand.

"Good morning everyone.

"If most drivers had to pick their favorite circuit, it would be judged by how tight the crutch strap has to be pulled when you set out on a qualifying lap with 'green' new tyres. The first two choices are quite obvious, Bathurst due to its unique nature, fast undulating and lots of blind corners, Phillip Island, because it is just so fast and smooth, but thirdly on my ratings scale would probably be Pukekohe in NZ. Why?

"Because it offers something else. Some fast corners, long straight with bugger all run off and some good old-fashioned bumps. More critically it is a circuit that definitely rewards a very good car set-up.

"The circuit is located around 50 kms from the CBD, South of Auckland. The Castrol Perkins team were coming off the Bob Jane Tmarts 1000 and Gillette Indy races with some new found car speed in the new VY Commodore and although some good results eluded us at the Indy races, the cars speed was fantastic. The hope for Pukekohe was just a little bit of good fortune go our way, and while it eluded us in qualifying, we did get a good dose of it in race 2.

"After some usual promotional and customer visits for Castrol on the Wednesday and Thursday, Friday dawned with the first of our on track activities. The team had basically arrived with the same car set up from Indy, interested to see how it would compare.

"After the practice sessions, it was encouraging to see that the changes made were having a positive effect on our lap speed. Both Castrol cars ending P2 in 5th and 6th respectively. Qualifying at Pukekohe is always incredibly close and the whole field could be covered by 1.5 secs. As the session went on, the team and I were continually tuning the car for more pace. In the end though we ended up 11th, just missing the top ten shootout.

"Race 1 on Saturday was 100 km in length with a compulsory pitstop for tyres. Around 1 hour before start time the heavens opened, which meant wet tyres would be the starting option. Even from the first out lap before the start of the race, the car felt great. I made a great getaway only to be stopped by a wall of cars, after completing the first lap car 11 had slipped into 8th position. An incident into the first corner sent out the safety car for the first 4 laps. The pit window opened, but we decided to stay out in the hope it may dry significantly to stop later for slicks. The gamble did not work as the track did not dry out significantly enough, but the car did have very good speed in the wet conditions, setting the fastest lap of the race on the way to 22nd position.

"Race 2 was the opposite. Having been at the wrong end of the safety car strategy in race 1, race 2 proved to be a cracker! The start was quite good, but it was apparent there was some kind of problem with the left rear tyre. The Castrol team decided to risk staying out and waiting for a potential safety car period. The safety car did come, two laps before the end of the pit stop window. At this stage of the race I was leading as everyone else had stopped, by luck the safety car pulled out onto the straight, just as I went past and picked up the next car behind, slowing up the rest of the field and allowing car 11 to pit and get back out into 6th position. Just one of those moments of luck that can occasionally go your way! In the end after a couple of good battles, we netted 6th position.

"Race 3, was a little bit of an easy one, started 6th and finished 6th. Not much to report, the team did a great stop, but the car just was not quite fast enough to challenge the guys ahead. The weekend was won by Murph from Kelly and Skaife.

"Let me just say that if the 'harder you work, the more luck you have' adage is true then our team of people down at the Perkins engineering workshop are definitely due for some results.

"To say that the last 6 months have been busy would be a massive understatement and I am sure the guys are looking forward to a well-earned break over Christmas, but we still have one more to run. Eastern Creek on November 29 and 30.

"The VY has shown great speed over the last few race meetings so who knows, Eastern Creek could be a nice way to end the year and it is definitely still possible to finish in the top 5 in the championship.

"See you there!"

Steve Richards.



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