Upgrades coming to tired Pukekohe Park Raceway

The drivers love Pukekohe Park, but the track does need resurfacing.
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The drivers love Pukekohe Park, but the track does need resurfacing.

Pukekohe Park Raceway may remain the spiritual home of New Zealand motor racing, but even the man running the place admits it's in need of a facelift.

It will soon be announced that Supercars and Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development (Ateed) have agreed a new three-year deal to keep the New Zealand round of the series at the circuit.

But with each year that passes, Pukekohe Park Raceway falls further behind what's expected from a major sporting venue.

Peter Hunt wants to modernise Pukekohe Park Raceway.
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Peter Hunt wants to modernise Pukekohe Park Raceway.

Peter Hunt, who took over from Lance Bickford in May, admits he has challenges ahead of him, not only to improve facilities and get more use out of the place from non motor or horse racing events, but also that the track is in desperate need of resurfacing.

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"Pukekohe Park is the country's most famous and iconic racetrack and it's a huge asset," Hunt said.

"But let's be honest, we've got to invest more into it and it's where we've got the challenges.

"If it's an asset that everyone's going to benefit from, then everyone's got to play a part."

The circuit, which opened in 1963, was reconfigured in 2013 with a hairpin introduced along the back straight, which adds another dynamic to racing at the circuit.

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It holds an FIA Grade three licence, the same as most other circuits which Supercars race on and expires in August 2019.  

The first priority for Hunt is the resurfacing and he says he doesn't want to wait until the licence has to be renewed to get that done. But he also needs to find the money to improve other facilities.

"We've got to invest in it," he said.

"It is looking tired, hand on heart on that one.

"The track surface needs looking at, it has character, but even so it's still got to be a quality surface.

"That's our No 1 thing that the moment. "It's just a matter of pride," he added.

"We don't want it (the surface) to be a distraction to the drivers, we want the racing to be the winner.

"So it's a priority to get that done and we're in the midst of trying to solve that, but it's a bit challenge."

There are 12 horse racing meetings a year, which take place on the grass inside the motor racing circuit and throughout the year horses train at the venue.

But the income from this isn't huge, or certainly not big enough for Hunt to casually write out cheques to pay for the upgrades.

Without going into details, it appears that money is tight.

"Where there's a will there's a way, but it's not as simple as that to be brutally honest," he said.

"We're looking at a number of different options, but it is important that we get that right."

Pukekohe Park is in a similar position to the ASB Tennis Arena, in that there's one huge event each year where the facilities and infrastructure are expected to be first rate, but the rest of the year it's an operation run on a much smaller scale.

"It's a balancing act on how we do this," Hunt said.

"We see Pukekohe Park being for grassroots motorsport too.

"We want to see the next Fabian Coulthard going around there as a 12-year-old.

"Pukekohe has the pedigree of the Jim Richards, Possum Bournes and Shane van Gisbergens.

"That brand is something we've got to cherish and protect. So it's providing a good opportunity for our motorsport community to use it, as well as International events and we'd like to get more international events."

At this year's ITM Auckland Supersprint on November 3-5, there has been an upgrade to the pits, with the building of new permanent pit garages, which are lockable front and back, rather than the tents which were there before.

"We've tidied up the gates, certain approaches to the park and we've tidied up the grounds," Hunt said of other work done.

"From last year there's not a huge difference apart from the pit garages, but there's more to be done. A lot more to be done."

 - Sunday News

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