Motorsport News Voices

ANALYSIS: THE 2020 SUPERCARS CALENDAR

THE 2020 SUPERCARS calendar was always going to be important and it was always going to be controversial – especially if you were a fan of Queensland Raceway and / or Phillip Island. The Race Torque delves into some of the changes coming in the new year.

WORDS: Richard Craill IMAGES: Mark Walker

SO, what’s the verdict on the key changes? We’ve taken a look at some of the bigger stories and if they work.

GOODBYE PHILLIP ISLAND

SPARSE on spectators and corporate support, Phillip Island was the obvious choice to vanish from the 2020 calendar. As good as the place is, in the last decade the circuit has hopped from either end of the calendar and has never established itself as an event of meaning or significance that the venue probably deserves. Proximity to the Grand Prix and unpredictable April weather (though that’s pretty much a constant there) probably all contributed to people not going.

What’s more, Supercars promoted the Phillip Island event themselves and thus took all the financial risk on what was almost certainly a loss-making weekend.

GOODBYE QR

COMPARED to the call to cut Phillip Island, dropping QR would have surely been a much harder decision for the hierarchy to make.

As the only major event within the broader Brisbane metro area, it serviced a large group of fans and always drew decent crowds who either didn’t want to travel to the Gold Coast or further afield to Townsville, but appreciated the fact that they could see the whole circuit from their chosen vantage point, be it hill or car.

Because of that there’s also a strong likelihood that the event made some sense financially, if not made loads of money.

There’s also the fact that it serves as the test track – limited as testing is – for the Queensland-based teams which may be seen as a disadvantage to them.

Having said that, one circuit had to go and the argument surely would have been dropping an event that the championship promotes themselves – and the risk that comes with it – or dropping Winton where they have much less financial involvement and are assured a return.

QR is traditionally the lowest-rated of the events held across the middle of the year on TV so losing it will have limited impact on ratings moving forward.

There’s also the fact that the circuit required expense from Supercars and CAMS each year to bring Safety standards up to code, as the circuit operates without a CAMS track license for a majority of the season.

That, coupled with the recent dramas within the Ipswich city council, will they, won’t-they upgrade it decisions and much more made this call the right one to sort the ‘balance’ the series’ feel they require in their schedule.

BUT QUEENSLAND BUILDS

THERE was much speculation about the future of the Townsville event, in particular, as it’s existing contract with the Queensland Government ended this year. Thus, the new five-year deal for that event and the Gold Coast 600 is a massive boon not only for the region, but for Supercars itself.

Make no mistake: Townsville needs their annual event – the city is hurting from unemployment and the spate of natural disasters lately and needs things that bring people into the city; which the ‘400 does.

On the other hand, this deal was critical for Supercars as it locks in the future of two absolutely key events that are important to the championship, especially with a new media rights deal on the way.

The Gold Coast event is such a staple that it never really felt like it was going to go anywhere – especially with the government’s recent investigations into bringing back IndyCar too – however the go-ahead to chase night racing and the prime-time TV ratings it would bring, in particular, clearly got this one over the line.

ENDURO SHIFTS

MUCH has already been said about the decision to award The Bend the pre-Bathurst 500 next year, at the expense of Sandown. We’ve detailed what we think Supercars need to do to make racing at The Bend more exciting in the recent Power Rankings column here, so we’ll see what happens, but that circuit was quite literally designed for endurance racing and the promoter will work hard to ensure there’s a crowd.

If there’s common sense in the world, the South Australian Tourism Commission will put up some form of prize for the first person to win both major South Aussie enduros in the same year – the SA 1000. It’d be promotional gold.

Removing the ‘race to the grid’ sprints is smart: they always felt like opportunities to tear up cars rather than really adding to the show.

Sandown moving to November ticks two boxes: It keeps a great, traditional circuit on the calendar and moves it out of footy finals. And while we agree that the series can’t always maneuver itself around other sports, having an event in suburban Melbourne that doesn’t clash with a key AFL finals weekend is sensible.

Hopefully it will allow the Retro Round concept to further flourish, though we would have been in favour of retaining a ‘500’ brand – be it two, 250km races or otherwise – rather than reverting to an ordinary ‘SuperSprint’ weekend.

Supercars have explained their thinking – they didn’t want to add any more kilometers to the calendar – but surely they could have dropped a practice session or two to find the extra 100-km or so of running required to keep Sandown’s historic title.

WINTON REMAINS

INITIALLY Expected to drop from the calendar, Winton’s recent successes in rebuilding and revitalizing their own Supercars round has been rewarded with a new deal.

This is an indicator that regional fans in country Australia remain important to the core of what Supercars is. City-bases governments love regional events because it makes them feel like they’re doing something for the voters out in the sticks, so hopefully this means some more backing for the Winton event, too.

Winton will be slightly frustrated to lose their now-traditional May date, however the move to the Queens Birthday long weekend opens up a new opportunity to do something with the public holiday Monday, too – and perhaps keep campers on site for another evening. It’s really only a fortnight later – it’s not like it’s going to get any colder – so this could work well for the Benalla Auto Club and Winton itself.

EARLY ADELAIDE

ALREADY announced for some time, Adelaide’s move to be a week earlier is critical. There are just two years remaining on the ‘500 contract with the state government, which a year after being voted in is currently in slash-and-burn mode. It is one of the most important events on the calendar and launches the year with a bang, so getting the next year right is important.

The return of the stadium Super Trucks is a positive and will be worth money to the promoter. The date change doesn’t change too much – it was going to be hot anyway – but importantly works for the spacing of the calendar.

Moving the test day to the same state as the season opener makes logistical sense and saves teams from the cost and hassle of making another trip at the start of the year for what was essentially a one-day race meeting, without any racing.

CALENDAR SPACING

SUPERCARS wanted to space the calendar more evenly and they have succeeded here. From the Supercars-promoted Bathurst 12 Hour in early February through to the now later Darwin event in July, there are two weeks off between each round. To use a Supercars term, this gives the first half of the year great ‘rythm’: from early February to late July there’s a Supercars event every three weeks.

That should work for the teams to give them some more flexibility with time off and managing resources and travel across the year.

The five-week break after Darwin gives everyone a pause after the Northern swing and allows for a big chunk of the second half of the footy seasons to play out without trying to compete with them.

After that, the calendar resumes its rhythm of one week on, two weeks off until Sandown and Newcastle at the end of the year, with those events just one weekend apart.

If Supercars are smart and the title battle is good, that’s not a bad thing: There’s a week-long press tour up the East Coast from Melbourne to Newcastle awaiting with the key contenders in the week between both events.

In another massive win, for the first time in years there’s no clash with the renowned LeMans 24 Hours – a win for those who have the chance to take a mid-season joint to France to drive, spectate, work or otherwise.

The Gold Coast not clashing with MotoGP at Phillip Island will also be a very welcome respite for fans of both and, especially, broadcasters of both series as well.

NIGHT MOVES

PERTH was always going to return to a night format based on the success of this year’s event, which helped revitalize a flagging event. Sydney was always going to be back based on the first-up effort two years ago.

However, has there been an opportunity lost here to really have a crack at the ‘Big Bash’ Motorsport that could be occurring here? The desire to offer more racing across the season is understandable, but running into the twilight on Sunday evening may prove troublesome for attendances.

Sydney Motorsport Park struggles to attract people at the best of times, and Barbagallo isn’t exactly suburban and by Sunday evening people want to be home and readying for work / school and whatnot.

There was an opportunity here to build a spectacular one or two-day show that culminated in a massive Saturday night extravaganza, with a unique format and all the show that we’ve already seen.

We feel like that may have been missed; how the Sunday component of a ‘Super Night’ format event works will likely be a big talking point as the 2020 season unfolds, with ratings and crowds to be studied closely, for sure.

NZ ON ANZAC DAY

PUKEKOHE has bounced around the calendar a lot, but if there’s a chance to make something work it’s on this weekend. The chance to do something really special in terms of an Australian-New Zealand ANZAC day celebration and remembrance should be a priority here and could be very special.

SUMMARY

THE 2020 calendar ticks a lot of boxes, for sure. One less event means some cost-saving for teams, while the spacing between events makes it a slightly more sensible proposition from a travel and logistics point of view – even if Tasmania to New Zealand to Perth in six weeks will still be something of a challenge.

The break in the depths of Winter will be welcomed by those on the tour, who will surely be able to grab a few weeks to escape somewhere warm, while the run home should build momentum towards the (slightly later) Newcastle finale.

Question marks? Format will be the big talking point and while there’s good intentions behind the move to make more racing with the twin, 200-km format perhaps there’s a chance to do something very different.

The same goes for the SuperNight events. While it seems counter-intuitive to go to a circuit for less time, having a crack at massive, single or two-day shows under lights with something new and innovative would have been a worthwhile attempt – even if it was only at Sydney, for example.

This was never going to be an easy calendar, but the positives, especially the new long-term deals for the Queensland events, the retention of Winton and Sandown and a return to Sydney’s metro area, outweigh the negatives like losing QR and Phillip Island – one of which was a good event at a poor circuit and the other a good track with a quiet event.

You’ll never please everyone, but the longest schedule in professional sport in this part of the world should provide an easier to manage, varied and interesting campaign when 2020 rolls around.

2020 CALENDAR

EventDate
Pre-Season Test Day (The Bend), SAFebruary 18
Superloop Adelaide 500, SAFebruary 20-23
Melbourne 400, VICMarch 12-15
Tyrepower Tasmania SuperSprint, TASApril 3-5
ITM Auckland SuperSprint, New ZealandApril 24-26
PIRTEK Perth SuperNight, WAMay 15-17
Truck Assist Winton SuperSprint, VICJune 5-7
Watpac Townsville 400, QLDJune 26-28
BetEasy Darwin Triple Crown, NTJuly 17-19
Sydney SuperNight, NSWAugust 28-30
The Bend OTR 500, SASeptember 18-20
Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, NSWOctober 8-11
Vodafone Gold Coast 600, QLDOctober 30-November 1
Penrite Oil Sandown 400, VICNovember 20-22
Coates Hire Newcastle 500, NSWDecember 4-6