The gauntlet has been thrown down … in letters too big for anyone to miss.
A State Highway One landmark structure that is passed by many thousands of motorists daily is now a pointer to the April 27-29 V8 SuperTourer race at Manfeild.
The wording “Murph versus the rest” on the billboard plastered on the side of Sanson’s famous rugby grandstand is a tongue-in-cheek reflection of the highly competitive nature of a motorsport star-packed series that brings a new level of professional touring car racing to New Zealand fans.
It also reminds that the Feilding circuit is very much Greg Murphy’s home track.
The international Holden racer got his first break into motorsport 22 years ago through winning the Manfeild-based Shell Scholarship, which provided the then teen a national-level season in Formula Ford.
Murphy has gone a long way since then – becoming a high-profile identity of Australian V8 Supercars - but has always been remembered by his lower North Island fanbase as being a ‘son of Manfeild.’
Of course, the same mantle falls on the shoulder of an arch rival in V8ST also raised in Hawke’s Bay, John McIntyre. Their Ford versus Holden battle is sure to be a highlight of the three Manfeild races, though who could say either is a definite favourite?
In reality the series concept gives every one of the 16 drivers equal chance, reminds Manfeild chief executive Heather Verry.
The cars are powered by identical 428 kiloWatt, 7-litre, all alloy V8 engines. Shock absorbers, brakes, wheels, running and safety gear is also all identical, so the emphasis is placed on driver skill and affordability. Judging by the huge crowd that attended the category’s debut at Hampton Downs in February and the quality of the drivers who have signed up, it is destined to raise New Zealand V8 touring car racing’s stature.
“There’s good reason why this has been immediately tagged a Series of Champions – it’s packed with stars,” Mrs Verry said.
Murphy and Steven Richards between them have six Bathurst 1000 wins, Jonny Reid is a past A1GP star and McIntyre, Kayne Scott, Andy Booth, Craig Baird, Paul Manuell and latest addition Angus Fogg are all NZV8 titleholders.
“The level of talent means it’s all but impossible to predetermine a winner. The first meeting presented three different victors and all three races had fans on the edge of their seats until the very last.
“It’s this level of excitement that will draw a big crowd to Manfeild, which drivers and spectators acknowledge consistently delivers top quality racing.
“Of course, Greg and Johnny both have massive fan bases who have always come out in force for Manfeild. I’m sure their respective ‘armies’ will be here, flying the flag.”
The new hoarding will remind that there are just a few more weeks to go until flagfall.
The grandstand’s location, close to one of the countries busiest highway intersections, the junction of SH1 and SH3, is as high-profile as the race series itself and has provided a brilliant pointer to Manfeild activities, notably the prestigious annual New Zealand Grand Prix that the circuit holds rights to until 2014.
Manfeild Park Trust has funded previous billboards in prime locations such as the entry to Palmerston North airport and another high-visibility sight in Waikanae.
“However, this one in every way, including physical size, is the venue’s biggest yet and, of course, it is literally just minutes from the circuit,” says Mrs Verry.