Insight Motorsport News

ANALYSIS: THE NEW SUPERCARS CALENDAR

THE MOST positive step towards Australian Motorsport resuming occurred this morning, Supercars confirming an 11-event calendar that will hopefully see the 2020 season completed. Here’s our take on the schedule.

WORDS: Richard Craill

JUNE 27 – that’s the date national level motorsport will likely resume in Australia following confirmation of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship calendar for 2020.

It’s great news and a testament to Supercars, Motorsport Australia and all the various parties to confirm a resumption of activity so rapidly, despite only being in the early days of governments gradually winding back Coronavirus restrictions.

• Sydney Motorsport Park 27-28 June
• Truck Assist Winton 18-19 July
• BetEasy Darwin Triple Crown 8-9 August
• Townsville 29-30 August
• OTR The Bend 19-20 September
• Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 8-11 October
• PIRTEK Perth 31 Oct – 1 Nov
• Tyrepower Tasmania 21-22 November
• Penrite Oil Sandown 12-13 December
• ITM Auckland 9-10 January 2021
• Bathurst 5-7 February 2021

There’s a lot to take in from the dates released and also lots of information yet to be confirmed; in many instances there’s likely a ‘wait and see’ approach in place to see how various states lift restrictions over the next six weeks.

Supercars were clear that every event on their new 2020/21 calendar is subject to change, with so many moving pieces to the puzzle yet to fall into place.

MAGIC NUMBER

A 12-event calendar is no surprise (remember, the season-opening Superloop Adelaide 500 counts) and spread over eight months through to early February 2021, it ticks a lot of boxes.

First and foremost, 12 is universally understood to be the minimum number of events the series primary broadcaster Fox Sports must show in order for the key contractual obligations to be completed, meaning they’ll pay their bills.

The spread of events isn’t bad either; while not as nice as the existing calendar, it will provide regular racing while still offering teams and crews some recovery time in between, though given everyone will be coming off a three-month break it’s less of an issue than it might already be.

Decent breaks between Townsville and The Bend, and Sandown and Auckland are helpful, and while a three-week gap between Perth and Tasmania makes for a lot of traveling in a short space of time, especially for Queensland teams, it is certainly manageable.

Having said that, if the 2021 Adelaide 500 retains the same date as it did this year – working on the basis that it will still happen, or still be the season opener – the turnaround between the final round of the 2020 season and the first of season 2021 proper will be tiny.. an entire off-season compressed into a fortnight!

Finally, it ticks boxes for the substantial governmental support key events receive. While New South Wales and Queensland each sacrifice a key street circuit event, the former gets a new finale’ at an iconic location. New Zealand, West Australian, Territory and Tasmanian government relationships are also looked after.

A NEW FINISH

MOST obvious about the new calendar is the new finish – stretching into 2021 and concluding at Mount Panorama, Bathurst.

And contrary to some media reports which prematurely suggested that the 12-Hour would be cancelled to make way for the new Supercars finale’, at this point that is far from the case with current plans revolving around running both at once.

The 12-Hour being contested next year will rely on the government relaxing their stringent border restrictions, allowing international teams and competitors into the country without a lengthy quarantine period.

Entries for the 2020 12-hour didn’t open until 7 August 2019 and closed on 21 December the same year, meaning there’s definitely some wiggle room for Supercars to give the Government time to confirm what their plans for international travel actually are and therefore give the event the best possible chance of going ahead.  

Regardless, finishing at Bathurst is important. It is a good gesture to the NSW Government – who sacrifice Newcastle for a year – and ensures the all-important date is retained in Supercars portfolio, 12-Hour or not.

Remember (and this goes mainly to the haters), Supercars owns and promotes the 12-Hour and has done so since 2016. It’s in their own best interest to make sure the event works, one way or the other. This isn’t an attempt to kill the around-the-clock enduro: it’s just an outcome of the current situation and the fact there’s just not enough support to run a viable 12-Hour from local GT entries alone.

So put your conspiracy theories in the bin and move onward and instead hope for an awesome double-header weekend that will be good for both series.

GONE

KEY CASULTIES are the Newcastle and Gold Coast street events, which are just not viable to run in the current climate.

So much of those events’ financial success is tied to the enormous corporate take-up and ticket sales from the public and with no clear outlook on when mass gatherings will be allowed to resume, there’s absolutely no point in setting up a street track without those elements being allowed. Which is interesting, given the next subject..

TOWNSVILLE!

THE TOWNSVILLE mayor was on record this week saying she’d be happy for the event to run, crowds or not – and it looks like she’ll get her wish.

This is arguably one of the most interesting aspects of the revised calendar but is not without some logic.

Firstly, as others have reported, a large portion of key infrastructure at the Reid Park facility is already there; the pit garages, race control and other elements are fixed and cost nothing to build. This is a key difference for this event when compared to the Gold Coast and Newcastle, which are completely temporary.

If the event does indeed run spectator-free, then cash can be saved in not having to set up any temporary grandstands or corporate suites. It does not take a rocket scientist to lift concrete blocks into places where they’ve already been; and given a third of the track is in Reid Park itself the disruption to traffic isn’t as bad in North Queensland as it is elsewhere.

It’s a quirky one, this, but the Queensland Government will undoubtedly be keen to drag attention back to their key tourism regions (especially ones which were hurting pre-Covid-19) so several hours of live TV in August from Townsville won’t hurt the cause.

MIA

BOTH Phillip Island and Queensland Raceway were on the list of potential circuits people were talking about that could host rounds in a revised calendar, but both miss out.

Phillip Island is hugely expensive to hire for a weekend and the championship already has Sandown and Winton on the list for Victoria.

QR costs some money to update temporarily each year to bring it into Motorsport Australia track safety codes and while it would not be outside the realms of possibility of returning to Ipswich if for some reason Townsville doesn’t happen, clearly the latter won in a decision on where to run a potentially crowd-free, TV only event in the Sunshine state: We’re sorry to the fans in South-East Queensland, but clearly Townsville looks better on TV than Ipswich.

CROWDS?

THE next big question will be where and when do crowds start coming back?

Darwin looks like the most obvious choice given the Territory’s quick moves to re-open their economy and their already vocal stance on their potential to host footy games with crowds in a restructured AFL season – though that is not happening as yet.

Enforcing social distancing at The Bend wouldn’t be difficult… and you’d love to believe that by the time we return to the Mountain in October fans will be able to attend – even if in limited numbers.

Unlike stadium-based sports, Motorsport is in a good position in that it operates on a massive, spread-out scale with options like park-and-view only spectating a real potential at a majority of circuits.

PERKS

The weather in Tasmania in November has a much better chance of being nice than its existing date – the same goes for NZ.

Sandown in December could be its best ever date: outside of footy season, outside of horse racing season and in the early days for Cricket (before the Big Bash) and within the narrow ‘potential for good weather window’ Melbourne offers.

Darwin in August will be perfect, as always.

Winton in July will likely be freezing, but that’s par for the course there so people will deal with that. Having said that, June or July tends to be when the Shannons Nationals races at Winton, and most of the time the weather is crisp but also crystal clear.

SUMMARY

THIS would have taken an enormous effort from all concerned and Supercars should be applauded for their efforts in getting a re-start date set well ahead of all other major sports in Australia, outside of AFL and NRL.

The certainty is important for teams, sponsors, broadcasters and those who rely on the sport to survive and having something to work towards will unquestionably be good for the mental health of many, too.

Ultimately, it’s a safe calendar with few risks, only a few surprises and one that helps tick key stakeholder boxes with governments as best they can, too – but its still a calendar that also relies on several things going right, including the phased reduction of quarantine regulations state-by-state.

Like everyone else, this will be a one-week at a time approach that may yet see some change – but at least there’s something to actually change in the first place.