COMMENT: THE BEND’S BOX TICKED
IT’S SAFE to say that The Bend Motorsport Park, Supercars and the paying public have had an interesting relationship since Australia’s newest circuit appeared on the calendar three years ago.
WORDS: Richard Craill IMAGES: Frank Hodak
There is now, however, no doubt that the 2020 Supercars double header must entrench the circuit as a staple on the Supercars calendar moving forward.
It’s impossible to argue that the last two weeks weren’t very good for both series and circuit, setting each side up for a long-term future after a somewhat rocky year.
For Supercars, they got two events at a professional circuit that could also host in comfort a vast majority of the teams, drivers, crew and infrastructure required to keep the show, quite literally, on the road.
They also got a promoter willing to pay to host them and two events that could not only attract fans (which enhances the TV product, sells some merchandise and much more) but opened up commercial benefits as well.
The events also backed up the changes made by the category this year to both the sporting and technical regulations and it’s here where the circuit got a massive boost as well.
If there was a key criticism of The Bend in the past it was that the Supercars races held there were less than exciting – which in itself was odd because most other races from other National or state-level classes generally turned on a very good racing product.
Much of the Supercars issue was down to tyre partner Dunlop mandating the use of the harder compound slick for racing there, on account of the long, loaded corners that cause plenty of rubber stress under the weight of a 1400kg Supercar doing 250km/hr.
As well as being better suited to circuits without as many fast and flowing corners coming one after another, longer races with compulsory stops for fuel and tyres didn’t help the cause and spread the field out across an already long lap.
However, with the tweaked formats and tyre rules this year, and after testing them at the pre-season official test in February, Dunlop offered up the Soft, Supercars embraced it and it transformed the racing product.
The limited tyre allocation and challenging wearing conditions on the 4.9km International circuit made the first weekend of racing not just the best for Supercars at The Bend, but made Race 25 on the Saturday one of the better Supercars sprint races for the last few years.
A switch to the West circuit started with a relatively sedate race on Saturday, however it came alive on Sunday once teams worked out that the shorter, point-and-squirt layout wouldn’t hack tyres apart like the longer track did a week before.
On Sunday we were treated to the kind of elbows-out Touring Car racing that everyone claims to clamor for; the first 10 or so laps of both Sunday races were almost as ‘BTCC-spec’ as any in Supercars’ last few years at least.
The racing on both weekends was entertaining, of a high quality and proof of the job Supercars have done in nailing down race formats and sporting / technical regulations during this stupid Covid-affected year.
More importantly for the circuit, it verified everything more hardcore fans had seen of The Bend in other categories, like Porsche Carrera Cup, GT and Super3: it’s a very good racetrack that can and does produce very good racing when the product putting on the show allows it.
Ultimately it’s the marriage of those elements that make the weekends just gone a real success.
Executing successful race meetings that appease both the series and all its moving parts, the track spending the money to host them and the fans spending money to attend, is a difficult process.
When it comes to Supercars at The Bend there were some missing pieces to that particular process in recent years that saw the product miss the mark, if only slightly.
While the events themselves were good, well supported and successful as events – the on-track product wasn’t as promising; in two years it never really felt like Supercars were part of the furniture at The Bend, nor The Bend part of the regular Supercars product.
Drivers would grumble about the tyre being too hard or the areo making it too hard to pass on such a flowing track and fans would grumble on social media about boring racing.
Then the track had a grumble about the way it was dropped from the calendar and it seemed like the future for the relationship between both parties was uncertain at best.
It is, however, amazing how some sensible decisions and a couple of good motor races and can change outcomes so significantly and so positively.
When a hole in the calendar appeared and Supercars needed dates, The Bend reached out to Supercars to offer them a turn-key solution to their troubled pre-Bathurst calendar movements. With the alternatives either returning to Sydney or paying to play at Queensland Raceway, Supercars smartly saw the potential and said yes.
What transpired were two well-supported events that made great TV, got fans trackside again and despite a three-week process to set them up, felt like they had been planned for months.
Finally, the elements came together on track to put on six very high quality races that should quash suggestions of boring Supercars races at the circuit as well.
The impressive facilities, support from an engaged South Australian motorsport fan base, backing from the promoters / circuit owners and the commercial and financial prospects (for all parties) of an Event at The Bend have never really been in doubt.
Now the on-track product lines up with the already successful elements in place, there should be little argument about the circuit’s place on the Supercars calendar moving forward – because it makes sense for all parties.
The track gets great events that bring fans, corporates, media, TV eyeballs and more through their doors.
The series gets to play at an impressive facility and a promoter willing to back the championship with their own money and put on an event or two.
The drivers get a circuit they genuinely say they enjoy driving.
And the fans get a great circuit that, now, also provides great Supercars racing.
In a year where victories have been hard to come by (unless you are Scott McLaughlin) this is a triple treat of a success for our sport, and a proud outcome for all the parties involved.