Feature Mark Walker June 15, 2021 (Comments off) (3369)

Major Development Set for Willowbank

A new major development is set for Willowbank, the home of Queensland Raceway and Willowbank Raceway, with the Inland Rail project to be constructed adjacent to the venues.

Tagged as one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the history of the nation, Inland Rail is a 1,700km route from Brisbane to Melbourne, with this method of freight movement offering considerable efficiencies over traditional road transport options.

The Willowbank area has also been noted as a potential host of an Intermodal Terminal, an interface between the railway and the road transport network, with it being ideally positioned thanks to its ready access to the Cunningham Highway, which runs past the front door of the precinct.

While the actual rail line and freight facility should not impact the function of the motorsport venues, it does offer up some interesting prospects, with the Ipswich City Council investigating the possibilities of a significant industrial park in the area, while the Federal and State Governments are investigating the option of passenger rail services along the route from Brisbane to Toowoomba.

If these opportunities come to fruition, they would have the potential to be advantageous for both motorsports focussed businesses and fans alike.

The link from Calvert (west of Rosewood) to Kagaru (just north of Beaudesert) is set to feature 53km of new dual gauge track, a 1.1km tunnel and 27 bridges.

The corridor for the rail line is set to run directly to the south of the motorsport precinct, as pictured above, parallel with the drag strip and turns one-to-two of QR, with a 53m long road bridge to be constructed over the top of the line at the Cunningham Highway.

In years past, rail connections for spectators to events at Willowbank have been made available via the Rosewood station, some 13km away, while the nearest rail line is to the adjoining Ebenezer coal mine, some 2.3km as the crow flies from QR.

The missing link finally goes missing

The one big-ticket motorsport genre absent from Willowbank is speedway.

Outside of circuit racing and drags, the precinct is home to the Ipswich Kart Club, the Ipswich West Moreton Auto Club (the dirt short circuit next to QR that features autocross and sprints), the Ipswich City Dirt Kart Club, and the Ipswich Switches Junior Motorcycle Speedway (a block which has seen multiple uses over the years).

The council also owns land west of Queensland Raceway, which is currently used by RSL RAEMUS Rover Racing, an initiative for returned soldiers with PTSD, engaging them in a motorsport-styled program.

However, construction had indeed commenced on a speedway in the area, which was to be located near the far end of the drag strip and QR’s first turn.

Piecing together an exact timeline of events around the project is difficult, although the “Willowbank Speedway” and the trading name “Willowbank Thunderbowl” were registered in June 2000, with preliminary earthworks undertaken by the neighbouring coal mine.

Some 20 years on from those efforts, the faint outline of the speedway can still be seen on Google Maps, above, with the land being acquired by the Queensland Government for the rail project in 2011.

For many years, finding a replacement for the aging Archerfield Speedway has been front of mind for Brisbane speedway enthusiasts.

In May 1997, the month after Motorsport Queensland was awarded the lease for Queensland Raceway, Auto Action ran a piece on a prospective “super speedway” to be built in the area.

To be known as the Ipswich International Raceway Motorsport Complex (!), collateral for the project was circulated by Interactive Motorsport and Recreation Queensland (IMRQ), which had strong ties with the owners of Lakeside Raceway.

The article stated:

It is understood that IMRQ has taken out an option to purchase the property from (the) current owner, who is believed has been an opponent of the Willowbank drag strip complex, and according to council records has also applied for a council permit to build a dirt speedway on his property.

The plans, as depicted in Auto Action, 1997.

Marrying up imagery, the location of the dam in the circuit diagram from AA lines up neatly with where the Google Maps map view of where the earthworks for the speedway were carried out, which in the coming years will be ploughed underneath the train tracks.

Whatever happened to THAT massive upgrade?

Do you think your local council is a bit over the top? The Ipswich City Council tells your council to hold its beer – here is an abridged version of recent events…

The topic of speedway racing has been on the agenda for Willowbank in more modern times too, most recently when the Ipswich City Council announced a $220 million project to develop the precinct under the Ipswich Motorsport Park (IMP) banner, a private company set up by the Council.

Stage one was to feature an extension of Queensland Raceway, with other facets including a speedway, a motorcross track, and a three-star hotel.

Launched in July 2016, and with Damien White in place to oversee the project, leading motorsport engineering firm iEDM were engaged to provide circuit and precinct concept master planning services., while later renders were provided by Apex Circuit Design.

The project however had its genesis back in 2003, when the original masterplan for the precinct was drawn up by Council, and updated again in 2013, while in 2014, further economic and development reports were commissioned.

The dream: the 2016 vision for the area.

Initially, one of the driving forces behind the concept was Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale, who for a time held on-track sponsorship at Queensland Raceway.

Holding the top spot in the local council dating back to 2004, Pisasale earned 83.45% of the popular vote in his most recent successful election campaign in 2016.

The State Government then chipped $150,000 into the project in February 2017, with the council at the time noting it would cost $25million to extend QR and light the venue to a TV standard.

However, from there, things unravelled in spectacular fashion.

Following a disagreement with the board of the company, White left in March ’17, while Pisasale resigned from his post in June ’17, one day after his office was searched by the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission.

Ultimately, his rap sheet featured official corruption, sexual assault, unlawful drug possession and 27 counts of fraud, amongst other charges.

He was sentenced to 7.5 years and is eligible for parole in October next year.

The above extension to QR would have swallowed up the Ipswich West Moreton Auto Club and the Ipswich City Dirt Kart Club facilities.

Rewinding to July 2017, the Ipswich City Council announced a revised upgrade plan for QR, with a $52.3million upgrade of facilities (which in Council documents was earmarked in September the previous year), unveiled alongside a 10-year deal for Supercars to visit the venue.

The subject of the IMP project then became a political football during the campaigning for the by-election to replace Pisasale.

Pitted against each other were Pisasale’s deputy Paul Tully, a director of the IMP company, and Andrew Antoniolli, who promised to shut down the project if elected.

A staunch backer for Antoniolli proved to be Queensland Raceways CEO John Tetley, who in an open letter revealed the story of the existing Willowbank leaseholders – in essence, the project was a hostile takeover of their venues.

Ultimately Antoniolli was elected mayor, and true to his word, announced in November 2017 that the council would wind up the IMP company, which was deregistered in September 2018.

Antoniolli’s stint as Mayor meanwhile came to an end in May 2018, when the Queensland Government appointed an administrator to run the city, with 15 current and former councillors, plus officials, facing almost 80 charges of varying natures.

For his part, Antoniolli was found guilty of 13 fraud-related offences in August 2019, which were overturned on appeal in December last year.

Also in May 2018, the Ipswich City Council signed off on upgrades to see Supercars return to the venue in 2018 and ’19, while in July that year, a memorandum was issued regarding the masterplanning of the precinct.

Outside of the need to add a driver training centre and decent camping facilities, the document noted a desire to acquire additional land and increase the footprint of the zone.

As it stands, a fresh council is now in charge of the city of Ipswich, and outwardly, little has been said recently about the Willowbank facilities.

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