One of the most thrilling circuits in the southern hemisphere, Pukekohe Park Raceway has hosted its fair share of drama.
There’s no such thing as a small crash at the 2.91km circuit, which will host the championship’s final sprint round before the Pirtek Enduro Cup opens at Mount Panorama.
The 11-turn Kiwi circuit is taken at an average speed of 157km/h, but don’t be fooled by Pukekohe’s seemingly simple layout. It can bite, and when it does, it usually bites harder than others.
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Although the title is Scott McLaughlin’s to lose, don’t expect the New Zealander to let up on home soil this weekend as he chases Craig Lowndes’ season wins record.
McLaughlin himself crashed at Pukekohe in practice in 2018, but recovered to take a pole and a win over a hotly-contested weekend with title rival and countryman Shane van Gisbergen.
Regardless, the risk remains at the intimidating circuit, with many walking away with severely bent cars over the years.
2003: Rolling Richards
The legacy of the late Jason Richards has been immortalised with a memorial trophy for the Pukekohe weekend’s highest pointscorer, but during Friday practice in 2003, the Kiwi driver suffered an incident few would forget.
Richards lost control of his Team Dynamik Commodore at the exit of Turn 1 and backed into the tyre bundle at Turn 2.
The contact launched Richards’ car into the air, where it barrel-rolled several times before it came to rest on its roof.
Paul Dumbrell lost control at the same spot, and was joined by David Besnard and Paul Morris in helping extricate Richards from his car.
Richards escaped the accident shaken yet uninjured, but the destroyed car was ruled out for the remainder of the weekend.
2005: The Baird-Dumbrell “madness”
When a young Jamie Whincup bowled a wide in greasy conditions in 2005 at the final corner, few could have envisaged the chaos that followed — and the damage that came with it.
Craig Baird and Paul Dumbrell were lucky to escape injury when their cars were crunched in a 225km/h shocker. When Whincup rejoined following his off, Baird and Dumbrell were jostling for position before they made contact. Dumbrell smacked the inside wall, bouncing his Commodore into Baird’s WPS Falcon, which was sent spinning into the horse racing fence at high speed.
The rear of Baird’s car was wiped away as the fence and PA system were annihilated, while Dumbell’s car fired into the outside wall before sliding into traffic towards in the infield. It was a grisly incident, and once Dumbrell’s car was clipped by Cameron McConville at high speed, the red flag flew immediately. The race was suspended for 30 minutes as marshals cleaned up the mess.
The incident made headlines around the world, and Baird — now the sport’s driving standards observer — counted his lucky stars.
“When you’re in a situation like that, you have to hang on and hope that it’s not going to be too big,” Baird said.
“I guess at the end of the day we were lucky we both walked away from it. I was going well over 200km/h — I was just happy to walk away.”
Baird’s team owner Craig Gore was furious with a “stupid” Dumbrell, which cost the then 22-year-old a $15,000 fine and a points penalty for careless driving.
“Baird was taking evasive action to avoid another incident and Dumbrell tried to sneak down his inside,” Gore said.
“It was opportunistic, and I understand that, but it was a stupid move. I will apply to have his license removed as he seems to be there in all of these high-speed major accidents.”
2006: Carnage mars milestone event for Bowe
In his 200th event start, veteran Bowe escaped injury following a horror crash in 2006 which saw a photographer hospitalised. Bowe had suffered damage at the start of the reverse grid race and pitted for repairs, but as he returned to the race, a piece of carbon fibre airbox lodged in his BJR Falcon’s throttle linkage.
The blockage caused the accelerator to jam open at the fast first corner, with Bowe sent into the barriers at over 200km/h. The race was red flagged for an hour as the wall was repaired, and while Bowe emerged uninjured, photographer Scott Wensley suffered a broken leg when a wooden pole was flung into the photographers’ area.
Bowe later phoned the hospitalised Wensley, but was unhappy with the initial incident that eventually caused the devastating accident.
“That was a pretty big hit really, one of the biggest I’ve had,” Bowe said.
“The throttle jammed wide open and by the time I had realised and dipped the clutch, it was already aiming for the wall.
“The crash at turn one, was a result of the accident on the first lap. At the end of the day, it was basically a case of a few blokes trying to get to the front on the first lap, and you just can’t do that. All we end up with is damaged race cars.”
2007: Morris rolls following Jones contact
The 2007 event had it all, and was the last at Pukekohe before a five-year foray to the streets of Hamilton. Paul Morris and Brad Jones sent the circuit out with a bang following a scary incident coming onto the pit straight, with Morris sent onto his roof.
The veteran duo were door to door before Jones tripped over a kerb and collected Morris. Both lost control at high speed, with Morris’ Commodore tipped onto its roof following heavy contact with the outside guardrail. The guardrail cushioned Morris’ car, but also forced the car to be flicked into the roll.
The damage to both cars was cosmetic, and would have been worse had the incident occurred post-2013 following the installation of concrete barriers. Regardless, it was a spectacular crash, and one that left Morris seeing ground before sky.
“I gave [Jones] heaps of room. Then I was hit in the rear and flipped upside down,” Morris said after the crash.
“It wasn’t real flash hanging upside down with the car running along on its roof. The impact with the wall didn’t seem that big. I was waiting for a big crunch, but it never came. Once everything stopped I knew I was okay.”
2017: Coulthard’s title charge stutters following high-speed flip
Fabian Coulthard led the standings after Bathurst in 2017, but a monster accident during the penultimate round on home soil all but ended his title hopes.
The drama began as Chaz Mostert attempted a redress after sliding into David Reynolds at the hairpin. Mostert checked up the field, and Coulthard saw an opportunity on Reynolds. Coulthard tripped over Reynolds, with cameras following the Erebus entry as it made gentle contact with the tyre wall near pit entry.
The vision then zoomed to Coulthard, whose DJRTP Falcon had gone in backwards and flipped onto its roof. After the race, a pensive Coulthard — who copped another high-speed crash at the same sequence of corners 12 months later — didn’t regret attempting the pass as he eyed off the championship, which later fell the way of Jamie Whincup in Newcastle in high controversy.
“What could I have done? I could have done the half-arsed approach and just followed people, but I’m not about that,” Coulthard said.
“I’m a racer. There were two easy passing opportunities, and the racer in me said ‘look let’s do it, let’s go’.
“With Chaz trying to redress and two cars rolling slowly, that was my opportunity to go. I took the opportunity, and unfortunately Reynolds got me in the right rear and I was a passenger from then on in.
“What can I do? If it was my fault and my situation, I guess I’d evaluate it differently. When it’s not your fault, what could I have done?”