New Zealand: Race Preview

If the Hawthorn Hawks are victims of the Kennett Curse and the St George Dragons’ the Canberra Curse, then you could say Triple Eight Race Engineering suffers from the Pukekohe Jinx.

In all five previous race weekends at the New Zealand circuit, Triple Eight has yet to win a race. In fact, of all Craig Lowndes’ 90 race wins and Jamie Whincup’s 64 wins, not one of them has come in Pukekohe.

But it’s not all bad news, trend-setters – especially not in 2013.

Not only has the circuit undergone a massive redevelopment to include three all-new turns, the round signals a return to the hard compound tyre – the very same tyre that saw Red Bull Racing Australia finish atop the podium in Adelaide.

It’s no secret both VF Commodores struggled to come to grips – quite literally – with the new soft compound tyre in Tasmania but Adelaide race-winner Lowndes says it’s a different story completely on the more robust hard compound.

“Switching back to the hard tyre is always a good thing for me,” says Crackers, who will have four opportunities this weekend to break the record he currently shares with Mark Skaife of most ever wins.

“It’s a tyre that I’ve had some great success from. It works well with the way I drive and I’m looking forward to producing with it like we did in Adelaide.

“Obviously Tasmania was really a disaster for our car but it wasn’t through a lack of reliability or power and we made some real set-up improvements in the final race. So we’ve come to Pukekohe with a lot more confidence. The guys have done a lot more work in the week that we’ve had and we come here with a better understanding of set-ups and hopefully that’s what we’ll be displaying in the practice sessions.

“The cars have been great for straight out of the box. It’s just a matter of those little refinements to get them exactly where they need to be.

“So far as the track goes, we’ve had some mixed success at Pukekohe but it’s a great, challenging track and it’s a track I’ve enjoyed in the past.”

And while team-mate and reigning champion Whincup leads the championship, the 30-year-old is still searching for his first win of 2013. In fact, he’s searching for his first win since Winton 2012 – eight races ago.

He’s kind of, just a little, maybe a tad touchy about it…

“Yeah… we haven’t had a win this year which is annoying us slightly,” J-Dub says with a grin.

“It’s been a long time between drinks. But I’ve always said it would take time with the new car and we made some real set-up improvements in Tassie. And back on the hard tyre, which seems to suit us better at the moment, we’re hoping to get that first win of the year in New Zealand. We’re not far off. I’m excited.

“The new track is awesome. It’s still got all the character and challenges like it used to have but the safety has been massively improved which means we can race even harder.”

All drivers will be vying for the inaugural Jason Richards Trophy in honour of their late comrade who tragically succumbed to a rare form of cancer last year.

“The first person to pick up the Jason Richards Trophy would feel unbelievably honoured,” says J-Dub, a former team-mate of the Kiwi’s.

“He was a great bloke, a good friend of mine and that’s a huge incentive this weekend for all of us.”

Another incentive will be racking up the team’s 100th race win, Triple Eight needing just two wins to hit the century at the same track where Lowndes scored their first ever pole position in 2005.

There will be four 35-lap races over Saturday and Sunday, with the first qualifying to take place Saturday morning.

Check out the full televised race guide below and go Red Bull Racing Australia!