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NZ drivers seek ray of light in Pukekohe

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 1/11/2016
Fabian Coulthard in action at Bathurst. © Robert Cianflone/Getty Images Fabian Coulthard in action at Bathurst.

Fabian Coulthard admits he's fortunate to be competing in Pukekohe this week after a spectacular V8 Supercars crash on the Gold Coast.

Now he's among the troupe of New Zealand drivers wanting to add some joy to forgettable championship campaigns.

While Holden speed merchant Shane van Gisbergen is on the cusp of historic championship success and Scott McLaughlin is on course for a career-best finish in a Volvo, three other Kiwis have fallen below expectations in 2016.

Coulthard has slipped to 12th in his first campaign with DJR Team Penske, his cause not helped by the previous round in Surfer's Paradise when he crashed into a wall at 265km/h in race one.

He somehow walked away uninjured and it was equally remarkable that the 34-year-old's car was repaired in time to race the next day.

He was relieved at the success of a leg protection system installed in his Falcon.

"It worked wonders so it means I've got the ability to be here and race again this weekend," he said.

"But that's happened 8-9 days ago so we need to move forward and concentrate on this one."

The Gold Coast incident followed some consistent results, including a sixth-placing at Bathurst but Coulthard wants considerably better next year.

"It's not easy, it's a very competitive championship. There's some fast cars, fast teams, fast drivers."

Eighteenth-placed Chris Pither lines up at Pukekohe Park Raceway for the first time in seven years, having previously raced there in a multitude of other classes.

The 29-year-old's maiden campaign with New Zealand-owned Super Black Racing has been a steep learning curve.

"I probably underestimated the step up from the (second tier) Dunlop Series into the main championship," he said.

"But it's pretty special coming back to Pukekohe.

"Turn one, it doesn't matter what sort of car you're in, it's just an exciting corner."

Pither's high and low point both came in round eight in Ipswich, when he qualified on pole postion only days before the death of founder and owner Tony Lentino.

"Looking back on the Monday after learning of Tony's passing, it made it even more special to get his car on the front row.

"I'm grateful we were able to achieve that for him."

Former Super Black Racing driver Andre Heimgartner has struggled for traction in his Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport Holden, residing in 25th heading into the penultimate round, with a top-10 finish to his name.

The superior form of Australian teammate Nick Percat has been both a blessing and a curse.

Percat won a race in round one in Adelaide and avoided carnage to place a lofty third at Bathurst.

"Those results do add on the pressure a little bit," Heimgartner said.

"But it's good for the team because it's been a pretty thin year."

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