A driver once touted for the heights of Formula 1 who fell to the depths of despair now finds himself on the brink of a career-defining comeback.
Richie Stanaway was once thought to be New Zealand's next hope of having a driver in Formula 1.
A prolific teenager, the Tauranga-born driver was aligned with Renault and its Formula 1 team.
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However, in 2012 when he broke his back in a terrifying airborne crash, his hopes were dashed.
Despite a comeback and a return to the heights of the now-known Formula 2 scene, Stanaway eventually faded from the view of Formula 1.
After several years of endurance racing, his childhood dream of competing in the Bathurst 1000 came in 2016.
A storming Sandown 500 win in 2017 secured Stanaway a full-time Supercars drive for 2018, but the reality of competing in an uncompetitive car killed his enthusiasm.
By the end of 2019, Stanaway called it quits. He retired from all forms of motorsport and returned home where he began working with his family's business.
A turbulent two years between Tickford Racing and Garry Rogers Motorsport had polarised public opinion.
However, throughout it all, he had one key supporter who always believed in his ability – Boost Mobile owner Peter Adderton.
In 2021, the telco boss convinced Stanaway to come out of retirement for a one-off appearance in the Bathurst 1000 with four-time Great Race winner Greg Murphy.
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The coronavirus pandemic scuppered those plans, but the desire to make it happen remained and in 2022 the long-awaited cameo came to fruition.
For Adderton, a return to the Supercars scene had two potential outcomes — either Stanaway signs off from motorsport on his own terms, or it reinvigorates his passion for the sport he fell out of love with and a return to full-time competition comes to pass.
So far, it's been a dream return. Stanaway has shown speed up there with the best, and beat his Erebus Motorsport teammates Brodie Kostecki and Will Brown in a wet qualifying.
"That's what this was all about," said Stanaway's co-driver Murphy.
"This is what Peter Adderton from Boost Mobile wanted to do was just give an opportunity back to Richie to get back in a car. If this is the last race that he does then it's been a great way to step away.
"The enthusiasm he's got for going back racing again, we know. And you guys have talked about it a lot, he should be driving a race car and he's proven again he's deserving of that because he's got the skill and the talent.
"It's just about finding the right opportunity I there is one and deciding if that's what he wants to do."
Stanaway's performance in the lead-up to the 161-lapper drew the praise of Supercars commentators Neil Crompton and Mark Skaife.
The Kiwi led the Erebus Motorsport trio, qualifying fifth ahead of Brodie Kostecki in ninth and Will Brown in 10th.
Stanway and Murphy will start fourth, courtesy of a penalty to Shane van Gisbergen for a qualifying clash with Macauley Jones.
"Unbelievable. To come from nowhere and be out of the cars and to be starting on the second row of the grid, incredible performance," said five-time champion Skaife.
"All the very best for the day, because that would be a fairytale finish.
"When we came into the weekend – great performance for all three Erebus cars to be in the top 10 – but I never would have said Murphy and Stanaway would be the fastest of the Erebus competitors."
For Murphy, who hasn't competed in the Bathurst 1000 since 2014, it's been an enjoyable comeback.
The 50-year-old is the older driver on this year's grid and had plenty of apprehension coming into the 2022 event.
"It's been a lot of fun," he admitted.
"I've been surprised how much I've enjoyed it. I've been pretty apprehensive and a little bit anxious, but this place is just amazing.
"The first time I drove out here on Thursday, drove out onto the track, it was like 'wow!' It was pretty awesome and pretty humbling and I feel honoured to have the opportunity, to be honest."
The Bathurst 1000 gets underway on Sunday at 11:15am.
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