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For a country with a population of less than five million people, New Zealand has made a remarkable contribution to motorsport with competitive entrants across the globe.
This is also evident in Australia, where Scott McLaughlin and Shane van Gisbergen are competing for the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, Fabian Coulthard, Richie Stanaway and Andre Heimgartner have competitive full-time drives and Earl Bamber and Chris Pither joined the grid for the endurance events.
Their current success in Supercars can be traced to the inclusion of a championship round at Pukekohe Park Raceway in New Zealand from 2001.
The likes of McLaughlin and van Gisbergen grew up watching and idolising Greg Murphy winning on home soil and at Bathurst, inspiring them to race in Australia.
“You’ve got to have the right people and the right support around you to make sure all your skills are tuned and that you’re able to extract them to the absolute maximum,” says Murphy.
“That’s what we’ve got at the moment, which for all the Kiwis fans back in New Zealand watching and for the likes of me it’s great and is fantastic for our motorsport culture.”
New Zealand’s motorsport culture is strong thanks to a large number of circuits, strong domestic categories that run over the southern hemisphere summer, with European drivers racing in them, and, as Murphy states, benefactors willing to back young drivers.
“I think it sort of comes back to the fact that we are a small nation and there is a strong desire to succeed here,” says MotorSport New Zealand CEO Brian Budd.
“I guess we like to beat Aussies but that’s beside the point. We definitely punch above our weight internationally in a whole range of sports and activities and motorsport is one of those.
“A lot of young guys, particularly ones that are on farms, are driving vehicles at a young age.
“We’ve got a very strong karting scene and most major towns and cities have a kart club and a kart track.
“We’ve got a lot of circuits for the size of the population, eight permanent-licence circuits for four and a half million people.
“If you look at Sydney you’ve got one or two. There’s a chance that a lot of young guys will do a heck of a lot more racing because it’s not a big thing to travel the length and breadth of the country to do events.”
It took a New Zealander 25 years to win the Australian Touring Car Championship courtesy of Jim Richards in 1985. He set the path for New Zealanders to follow in Australian touring cars.
Now, with the current level of talent coming out of New Zealand and the likes of McLaughlin and van Gisbergen at their peak, we could be in a spell of Kiwi domination in Supercars.
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