THE purchase of Mallala Motorsport Park by the Peregrine Corporation, already developers of a brand-new $100m circuit South of Adelaide at Tailem Bend, ensures the long history of the former wartime airfield will continue into the future.
The stability afforded by its new owners, who come armed with a passion for the sport and an impressive resource and financial war chest with which to support it, will see Mallala and The Bend work in cooperation to grow the sport in a state with a remarkable racing culture.
But the big question is simple: now they own the circuit, what will they actually do with it?
The new owners are in a fortunate position in that they have inherited a circuit that is still operational, rather than a derelict wreck that needs enormous investment. That will allow for a more gradual evolution into a facility the state can be proud of.
Here’s what would be at the top of our Mallala Motorsport Park wish-list.
DON’T CHANGE THE TRACK!
As a racing circuit, Mallala works a treat.
At 2.6km it’s long enough, with most cars of a high performance level (think Porsche Cup Car) lapping in the 1m08-1m10-second range.
What’s more, the combination of hairpin-straight-hairpin-straight-hairpin between turns three and seven generally create great racing and allow for drivers to set up an overtake at turn three and finally execute it at turn seven, all going to plan.
Turn one is quick and challenging but offers plenty of runoff while turn two (and for that matter, three) is extremely technical with several ways of negotiating it.
All in all, it’s a fun layout that produces great racing and makes for outstanding spectating.
Put some new bitumen on top, perhaps make it wider in places – but otherwise, don’t change a thing. The world needs short tracks in the same way it needs the longer ‘epics’ like The Bend will be.
Mallala is unique in that it is one of only two circuits operating in Australia (Barbagello Raceway is the other) that has permanent lighting installed.
This gives the new owners the potential to be at the forefront of the kind of ‘Big Bash’ style motor sport that we’ve been writing about here on The Race Torque recently.
The complex between turns seven and two is already used for drifting under lights, and until recently the first SA State Championship round of the yea finished in the dark. It wouldn’t take much to upgrade the lighting all the way around the circuit to again make it extremely effective.
That would put the circuit at the forefront to approach someone like Supercars to finally get a night-time round happening.
Who knows – for what Peregrine must spend on electricity in South Australia there must be a contra sponsorship deal in the offering to have someone pay for the upgrade? Or perhaps use the persistent Mallala sunshine in summer to charge batteries, via a circuit solar farm? Or even better, channel the ever-abundant breeze into a wind farm to spin some turbines.
That’d be cost-effective and would probably win over the greenies over as well.
A pair of link roads between turns two and five would enable the circuit to be split in half: with two configurations operating at the same time on what would become shorter tracks.
We’ve used Photoshop (very poorly) and Google Maps to show what that could look like here.
This would be perfect for driver training events, who don’t often use the whole circuit, or make the rental fees more affordable for a club looking to do a sprint or regularity on a shorter track.
The obvious revenue benefits of having two circuits to hire at the same time obviously will have appeal and is the model being used, if at a larger scale, at The Bend, too.
The biggest issue at Mallala is it’s infrastructure – or the fact that most of it was built in the ’80s and hasn’t changed since.
Coupled with the opportunity to run two circuits at once, as above, a new pit and paddock area for major events should probably be high on the priority list.
Our suggestion would be to move the main pits, along with the grid, start-finish line and race control facilities, across the circuit to the outside of the back straight between the Northern Hairpin and the turn 7 hairpin.
We’ve used Google Maps and photoshop to knock up a quick, to-scale concept of what this could look like, using Symmons Plains pit building as an example.
Drivers would merge left off the sweeper into pit lane, before rejoining on the outside of the turn 7 hairpin (which would become turn one).
The ingress and egress to pit lane would actually be very similar to Symmons Plains, which is the pit building we’ve borrowed here to show that it fits.
This would give Mallala a permanent facility with garages, a new race control building and potentially areas for corporate hospitality, media and events to occur.
There’s plenty of room behind where the new pits would go – it’s currently a paddock and way back when was used for camping when the V8’s came to town – for a large hardstand area for transporter parking and additional marquee’s or garages for support categories.
It doesn’t need to be a $10m building, either.. a Symmons-style facility, or even something more simple like those used at Winton or Wakefield Park would do the trick here.
The old pits could then be used for the second short-circuit configuration, club events and more – again offering versatility to the venue.
Meanwhile, the old race control and media centre buildings can be removed, opening up the facility for more spectating or new areas to leverage commercially.
This probably goes without saying, but the place does need a tune-up in this respect.
The grandstands were recently re-floored, which stopped you feeling like you’d fall through every time you walked on them. So spend a bit more to tidy them up and maintain them, because they’re great viewing.
What the place needs for spectators is shade, and protection from the wind that blows across the Adelaide plains rather vigorously.
Windbreaks along the main spectator areas on the (current) pit straight would help, as would shade and covering over the southern side of the grandstands.. but the bottom line is there’s only so much you can do to control the elements when your race track is located on the Adelaide plains.
BRING THE HERITAGE
FINALLY, our last thought turns to Mallala’s heritage.
The circuit is one of the oldest in Australia, not to mention it’s former life as an Royal Australian Air Force base that was used in World War Two.
Drawing on this history would be a great place to differentiate the circuit from all the others. In effect, Mallala has the potential to be the Goodwood of the South.
It wouldn’t cost much, either. Simple signage promoting the corner names (i.e Turn two used to be called ‘Hangar corner’ as the hardstand around it was once a hangar for the airfield). Turn nine is Clubhouse. And we’d suggest Turn 7 become get a new name, too.
At a Shannons Nationals round in the late 2000s there was a lengthy delay when a car ran off the road at the tight right-hander. The delay, however, wasn’t for the recovery – it was that when the car went off the road it hit a part of ground so specifically it collapsed into an underground bunker that had been used when the circuit was an RAAF base.
‘And the cars are heading into ‘Bunker turn'” has a ring to it, right?
Simple Goodwood-style innovations that play to the heritage of the place will give Mallala a unique point of difference and a heritage charm.
Oh – and another thing: putting a replica RAAF Spitfire (or something Mallala specific) on a pole in the middle of the circuit is a must.
Donnington Park in the UK had one and it was sensational – but would be even more effective in today’s social media ‘viral’ world.
WORDS: Richard Craill
MALLALA IMAGES: Richard Craill