COMMENT: The big, bold last roll of the dice
BY NOW you would have seen the news that the Repco Bathurst 1000 will see Supercars and key Australian Racing Group categories join forces for a massive six-day show this December.
Without wanting to be overly melodramatic, this is it: This is the chance to get Bathurst in this year, to get the major national categories back on track at least once and to try and close out the year with something akin to normality.
It couldn’t happen earlier in November thanks to the Vaccination ‘race’ and thanks to other sports it couldn’t happen later, so this is an opportunity the sport had to grab.
The challenges faced since the New South Wales and Victorian Covid-19 outbreaks took hold have been enormous and they are not totally out of the woods; if they were, the other four rounds of the Supercars championship would have been announced today as well.
And yet, in a time when uncertainty is the only certainty in life this is something to grab hold of and work towards.
In many ways, 2021 has been tougher than 2020 because at least last year we knew things were finite. Things stopped, hard, and barring Supercars and their herculean efforts, it didn’t get going again. At least there was certainty that the job was off and that Job Keeper was on.
This year was supposed to be better; however, since June the only thing more inevitable than a state border closure causing incredible stress is the likelihood of Verstappen and Hamilton crashing into each other again.
So here we are: the sport uniting together in an attempt to have a massive swing at ending the second half of an incredibly fractured year on a massive high.
Most of all, this has to work. We’ve had Plan A, B, C, D and E this year, and then we’ve worked our way through the unfashionable middle stanza of the alphabet too. This is Plan Z, the final one on the list and it’s in the sports best interests to both find a way to make it work, and hope to hell that it does.
Here’s why it can – and why it simply must – happen as planned.
THE IDEAL DATE & THE VACCINE RACE
SPORTING wise, the first weekend in December is just about perfect to hold a major motorsport event.
There’s no Footy clashes, Cricket hasn’t yet started (at least in international or big bash form) and there’s something of a vacuum in the sporting landscape right for the picking.
So that’s a tick.
There’s also a commercial aspect to this date as well, namely around the potential to have people at the event spending their money on grandstand seats, tickets, camping and merchandise.
Pushing the Great Race into December gives the Government the most opportunity to get their own race – which took them some time to start – to something resembling a finish line, which in this case resembles the fabled 80% vaccination rate amongst Adults the country needs and has said they must achieve before opening up.
New South Wales, coincidentally, hit their 80% first jab benchmark today: with a window of between 20-30 days to get second doses in arms it’s conceivable to believe that the state will hit that benchmark well before November.
Best guesses for when each state will hit 80% double dosed (almost certainly sooner for most states) pic.twitter.com/Cl3ZEGmaZU— casey briggs (@CaseyBriggs) September 15, 2021
Victoria is looking at mid November, while Queensland is last on the list at the moment with a projected double-dose milestone date of December 4.
While it will be a close-run thing, and there may yet be delays to that timeline, at least a large portion of the nation and especially the host state will be double jabbed allowing a greater form of confidence that the event can proceed.
That will be confidence inspiring for everyone involved who absolutely do not want to be the first major sporting event back to cause a major outbreak.
TV WILL LOVE IT
BATHURST is the most-watched motorsport event on Australian television and it just so happens that the major broadcasters, Channel 7 and Fox Sports, also own the summer of Cricket.
Which starts a week later in Brisbane with the first Ashes test match against England.
Neither network will have ever had such a blockbuster lead-in to a major summer of Cricket than the 1000.
Expect lots of Cricket crossover in the network’s coverage, but more importantly, the clear air the date provides should deliver an enormous audience which will keep the networks – the financial lifeblood of the sport, in particular Supercars – very happy indeed.
Furthermore, running the 1000 in daylight savings time opens the opportunity for starting the race much later than usual.
Even allowing for a seven-hour window for the Great Race, a midday start would see the race finish well before the scheduled 7:55pm sunset time set for Sunday, December 5.
Of course, a later start means a later finish right in the key Sunday night prime-time audience window that will see numbers watching at their biggest.
THE SUPPORTS BADLY NEED IT
IF YOU are a team like Wall Racing, McElrea Racing, Sonic, Team BRM, Melbourne Performance Centre, Matt White Motorsport or a host of other race teams around of Australia, you badly need this to work.
While Supercars teams operate on a scale and generate significant income from the sport, the teams that field cars in the support categories are not in the same financial position.
While like their main-game brethren their sole purpose in life is to field racing cars, they do it on much tinier margins and without anywhere near the same levels of income from the sport, sponsors and so on.
What’s more, half of these operations have spent the last few months locked down with very little or zero income coming in through the door.
Put simply, they need to go racing so they can get some income through the door and at least end the year with some cash in the bank. In this way the undercard on the Bathurst program is remarkably important in the long-term effectiveness of all the categories involved because without the teams to run cars, they will all be in serious trouble.
Getting a massive event done, where some teams could run four, five or six cars, will be an enormous relief to the bank managers and financial controllers of many of our sport’s excellent racing teams.
THE COMMON GOOD IS.. GOOD
BOTH organisations, Supercars and ARG, clearly get value out of this deal to join forces and combine for this ultimate six-day event on the Mountain, but it remains superb that it has even happened.
Regardless of the current status of the Supercars sale, there are so many variables in place that could have stymied this opportunity.
Certainly, Supercheap Auto deserve praise for their magnanimity after having to give up their naming-rights status of the Bathurst International, especially when everything ends up on an event backed by arch-rivals Repco.
Still, between their TCR backing and the Triple Eight wildcard program they have plenty of chances to create a good story out of it.
There will be compromises everywhere behind the scenes but on the surface it has, so far, looked remarkably smooth which is a testament to the leadership in both ‘camps’.
Motorsport has an excellent knack of proclaiming decisions are made ‘for the good of the sport’ when actually they do nothing at all for it, but in this case it absolutely is the truth – because this will absolutely be good for the whole sport.
THERE’S STILL GOING TO BE UNCERTAINTY
WHILE it all sounds great on paper and it’s clearly taken an enormous amount of work to piece this together, it’s not going to be without its challenges.
For starters, there’s a good chance that even if the vaccination target is hit that State Premiers will remain hesitant in opening their borders.
New South Wales has committed to opening. Victoria are announcing plans this weekend, while South Australia has vowed to follow the Prime Minster’s plan to open borders and remove the threat of lockdowns as their state reaches the 80% mark.
But as we’ve seen, political speak means very little these days and there’s a very good chance that there’s going to be quarantining, isolation or some time in hotels involved when people return home.
And a very good chance Western Australia will be shut until Easter, but that’s a triggering topic for another medium.
I suspect it will be a risk most will be willing to take for the sake of getting this event in, but it’s a risk nonetheless.
At least the early December date allows for people to do two weeks if they need to and be out in time for Christmas.
The schedule is going to be hard work and there’s no doubt there will be angst between the support categories as to whom gets the magic Sunday morning slots prior to the Great Race, or the primo slot prior to Saturday’s shootout. With 10 categories on hand it’s going to be a busy program.
There will be paddock space requirements to factor in, sorting out TV logistics is going to take some serious effort and the moving goalposts of just how many people will be allowed to attend will play a role, surely.
There is much to do.
Then there’s the elephant in the room in that, based on experiences of other countries, there will be more cases, there will be more hospitalizations and there will be more deaths from Covid-19 when the country opens up, irrespective of vaccination rates.
How that is managed, and what role it plays on Bathurst proceeding or succeeding, is the greatest unknown of them all.
IT IS very easy to get excited about the news today, and if the sport can pull it off it’s going to be an incredible thing.
A positive approach is vital to build the confidence of all the stakeholders that this thing can and will happen.
But as we’ve seen this year, the Pandemic often has other plans when it comes to us having nice things so the optimism should be tempered with caution as well.
There are no guarantees at the moment and there’s so many variables on the table that things may yet change.
Here’s hoping it happens, though, because if it does it will be the story of how the sport triumphed at the time it most needed to – and will be an event with a lasting impact moving forward.
Cross everything that it comes off.