COMMENT: Sandown Raceway – The Future of a Unicorn
UPDATE: A report in today’s The Age newspaper outlines the behind the scenes plans to have the Sandown Raceway facility rezoned.
The article states that a formal rezoning plan will be put forward to Dandenong Council on April 16, which proposes 7,500 new homes to be built on the site.
A total of 10 per cent of the land would be devoted to the below-mentioned creek, with another 10 per cent to parkland.
The story reports that the venue is losing $5 million a year for the venue’s owner, the Melbourne Racing Club.
Sometimes, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
For the 372 days leading up to last Saturday, the state of Victoria had gone without a Supercar roaring into life on a race weekend.
Elsewhere around Australia might not get it, but this place is properly sports-mad.
Want proof? The state has hosted nearly 15% more Australian Touring Car Championship rounds than any other.
So it was somewhat fitting that the venue that has seen more championship action than any other was a last-minute sub for the parked Australian Grand Prix event.
Sandown is frankly awesome. So much character and history, an old school layout with an immense grandstand overlooking the open-plan paddock, all located within Melbourne’s suburbia – it’s a combination that isn’t replicated elsewhere in our corner of the world.
There’s zero doubt, sitting in that grandstand for a Supercars race start is one of the best experiences you can enjoy in our sport.
The limiter bashing consumes you, and on the flip side, when there is action on track, a decent-sized crowd will roar as one like any footy stadium.
Anybody who has ever experienced Sandown wants it to live forever, but the fact is, the venue’s days are numbered.
While its custodians, the Melbourne Racing Club, keep the place neat and tidy, it is now looking tired.
Some paint is flaking, and the race track is a quilt of 30 different patch-ups.
Sure, some band-aids have been applied in the name of safety, with temporary concrete barriers installed at turns four and over Rothmans Rise, but on the other hand, there are still lengths of antiquated two-high Armco marking the bounds of the playing arena.
The media centre continues to reside in an expansive function room in the back of the grandstand, with the only signage behind the bar being for Schweppes Diet Cola, a product which was discontinued in the year 2000.
From a horse racing perspective, the facility is lightly used – in April, there is one Monday afternoon event, with the following months featuring a lone Saturday meet each, and a smattering of mid-week races.
To find this information though, you have to visit the MRC website, because the Sandown site hasn’t been updated since 2019, and its Facebook presence discontinued.
Once famous as a quarantine hub for international Melbourne Cup entries, that use is now a distant memory with specialist facilities built elsewhere.
The fact is, no matter the cash flow from the limited horse and car racing days, supplemented by the additional hires at in between times, prime, undeveloped land in the heart of Melbourne’s south-east is a unicorn.
It’s a big site – the race track, surrounds and car parking amounts to a reported 112-hectares, which in real estate terms, equates to a staggering number of zeros behind a dollar sign.
Making the site even more appealing for developers is the fact that the block already features an artificial lake – who wouldn’t want to pay a premium to live at Sandown Lakes, complete with waterfront views?
Watch this space: the subject area, south of Pakenham.
So where to for the future?
The obvious candidate to replace Sandown is the new development at Cardinia, which has seemingly morphed through multiple iterations, although it has gone quiet for the past 12 months.
Originally announced with a $30 million price tag, the latest figure is $200 million.
With planning approval in place, the location of the site has to raise eyebrows – it is about 1.2km as the crow flies to the nearest housing estate, albeit on the other side of the Princes Freeway, while the urban sprawl from the east is now within a couple of kilometres of the area, and closing rapidly.
While Sandown has been operational in its current guise since 1962, and its nearest neighbours are within 150m of the racing surface, these homes were constructed around the same time, or after, the race track was installed.
Despite this historic building timeline, Sandown is still on the receiving end of attention from the ever-present NIMBY brigade, with the facility running to rigid operating times and constant noise level scrutiny.
How difficult would it be to overcome similar objections with a track built on a greenfield site in an expanding housing development corridor?
It’s the eternal battle for prospective race track developers – if you build close to the city, you will attract patrons, but also unwanted attention. Build far away, and you will struggle to make the sums add up.
Examining other recent race track developments which have become a reality, noise abatement has been at the heart of site selection.
While it would be difficult to describe The Bend as being adjacent to the Adelaide CBD, it’s a 1hr 15min drive towards Victoria, it’s a commute that has been balanced with multiple onsite accommodation options being made available.
It is built in a sparsely populated area, and is still a 7km drive away from the start of the Tailem Bend Township.
Queensland Raceway was erected in an existing motorsport precinct, next to a coal mine and a tip, plus it is also shielded from noise complaints by the nearby Amberley RAAF base.
A fleet of Growlers and Super Hornets will tend to take the attention off mere ground-hugging race cars.
Sydney Motorsport Park is unique in being positioned adjacent to multiple freeways, a garbage dump, industrial estates and a long-serving water reservoir.
Despite being well within the bounds of greater Sydney, the nearest housing estate is over 2km away as the crow flies from the racing surface, and for noise to reach there, it must pass through many solid objects.
The fact is, in modern times, in terms of downtown locale, and outside of street circuits, it will be impossible to replace Sandown like for like.
Who knew that an old school layout would produce great racing?
While sitting on the pit apron at the 2020 Grand Prix on that Friday morning, ready to roll out for qualifying, nobody in the Supercars paddock would know how that day would pan out, much less the remainder of 2020.
Fingers crossed the mad border runs, the on the fly calendar changes, and the isolation for the teams are now a distant memory.
If you squinted last weekend, it almost looked like normality.
There were people trackside in Victoria, and cars racing at Big Bad Sandown.
May it continue for a few years yet.
Below is a sample of some of our unpublished pics from the event…