Insight Mark Walker August 15, 2023 (Comments off) (7765)

The Case for Calder Park

Calder Park Raceway roared back into life over the weekend, with competitive racing returning for the first time in 15 years, representing the awakening of a giant.

When we visited the venue 12 months ago, we noted in our story that the venue had the ability to be usable once more.

The potential is there for it to return as a functioning fixture sooner rather than later. Fingers crossed.”

Subsequently, mountains have been moved, and Victoria’s fourth permanent circuit is rising from its slumber.

A massive effort has been placed into the grounds, culminating in the weekend’s Victorian Motor Racing Championships (VMRC) event, which also featured a series of parades for the stock cars in attendance on the Thunderdome oval.

It’s a significant turnaround for the venue, which not long ago was raising the ire of local residents, who were dealing with tumbleweeds rolling in from the expansive property.

When the ongoing battle of Bob Jane versus CAMS came to a head following the last V8 Supercars visit to the venue in 2001, circuit racing finally petered out at the former Australian Grand Prix venue in 2008, when the AASA-sanctioned VMRC last visited the flat track.

Revivals like this in Australian motorsport are few and far between, although Lakeside Park is a notable exception.

TRT was present on that day when a similarly low-key event saw the Queensland venue re-emerge from a seven-year hiatus.

While Lakeside has gone on to pave a niche in its corner of the local market, with Calder Park, you get the vibe that the potential is there for this once crown jewel to return to its mantel of something special in the sport.

With the future of Sandown remaining under the spotlight, metropolitan Melbourne is crying out for additional motorsport infrastructure, which represents a genuine opportunity for Calder.

To get to this point in time, the vision and commitment of people like Rodney and Kim Jane, venue manager Rowan Harmon and those on the ground getting the work done, ought to be congratulated.

Work to date

Over the past year, TRT has made multiple visits to Calder Park, and with each passing month, more and more progress is evident.

From fresh paint to new signage, to the removal of some of the degraded structures around the grounds, including works atop the grandstand, it’s adding up.

Weeds have been whacked, and the feeling is that this facility is no longer abandoned.

It’s not The Bend Motorsport Park, but at the same time, it is currently in an entirely acceptable state for its current level of motorsport.

The project’s most visible aspects had cranked up a notch ahead of the circuit racing return.

Big earthworks had taken place, especially at turn six, where around 4,000m3 of soil had been etched out of the hill to create a longer runoff at the end of the back straight, while much of the overgrown scrub around the backside of the circuit had been cleared.

New tyre walls now protect the concrete and armco in key spots, as supplied by the local Supercars teams, while ex-AGP concrete barriers form a new first line of protection down both sides of the drag strip.

New flag points had been formed for the marshals, while the kerbs and track edges have received a lick of paint, and the gravel traps renewed.

In an effort to limit speeds at the end of the back straight, the quick chicane after Mount Jane has been artificially tightened with tyre bundles, which does the trick – slower, nimble cars like Hyundai Excels can still take it flat, while bigger, faster machinery are forced to take a decent lift.

The track surface itself is far from perfect, but neither is the dancefloor across town at Sandown.

Softly sprung saloons wear the odd lump and ripple in their stride, while faster aero cars can be heard grinding away on some bumps.

But there is much more currently in the pipeline.

Further, vast tyre bundles are nearly ready to be deployed, and many lengths of rubber belting are standing by.

Things are just getting started…

What we have and its potential

As a first-time spectator at Calder Park circuit, one thing’s for sure – it’s a racey layout.

From the long front straight, where slipstreaming games come into play, to Mount Jane, a true oddity, in a good way for a racetrack, where the cars are genuinely unsettled over the crest, the base design is one which promotes good action.

And what’s more, from most of the vantage points around the facility, you can see the entire track, a la Queensland Raceway.

It’s prime positioned too – only 25 minutes from downtown Melbourne, and it’s also close to the Airport, which also means that it is directly below the flight path, making it uncomfortable land to build houses on.

While some corners are getting up and about regarding the prospect of a new venue at Avalon, at Calder, all of the hardest work at Calder has already been done.

Instead of going through the red tape, time and money of developing a greenfield site for motorsport use, at Calder, the approvals, the earthworks, and the very basis of everything needed are ready to roll.

As a bonus with Calder, you already have a multi-discipline workhorse.

Outside of rider and driver training, Drag Racing and Roll Racing have become fixtures, while the drifting community have embraced the many different track layouts and has forged ahead with its own brand of events that attract genuinely strong crowds through the gates.

We’ve been to some events, including a Keep it Reet Friday Night show, and it was an absolute revelation – with some promotional flair, people will absolutely go to Calder on a cold and wet night.

Then there are the track days and competition-spec test days.

On Australia Day, we participated in a Drive Events hosted track day on the combined 4.2km long Thunderdome and National Circuit, which was a perfect combination for softly sprung road cars.

Outside of all of the possible uses of tarmac around the venue, a huge opportunity exists for some of the wilder aspects of the block to be developed into a destination 4WD park.

The venue is now home to a massive quantity of fill in various areas, which, combined with a creek running through the southern part of the property, has the potential to be shaped into some extreme terrain.

Want more? All of the light poles down the drag strip and around the Thunderdome are still there.

If Sydney Motorsport Park can be a day/night seven days a week multi-use proposition, nothing is stopping Calder Park from copying and pasting the formula.

When you look across Victoria, the accessibility of the venue and its adaptability ticks a lot of boxes.

Winton, as it stands, is more developed and has its place in the motorsport landscape, but is two hours further out of town, while Phillip Island is a similar drive from the CBD, and caters to a higher-end audience with its rightly higher rental fees, with its beautifully manicured surrounds perfect for MotoGP and WSBK.

Sandown, meanwhile, is limited to five major car racing meets a year and has a finite lifespan – even with a pro-Sandown board in place at the MRC, there’s no guarantee that motorsport will be there in the long term.

Work to Do

While the work done to date has been impressive, there is still more to be done to catch up with the laundry list of items that the Jane family plan for Calder.

When the early categories hit the slick track on Saturday morning, many were reminded of the consequences of the drag strip traction compound while it is still wet – it was an issue back in the day, and it will continue to be a trap while the two genres share the front straight.

Also, while the runoff at turn six has been addressed, turn one appears to still be an issue, with the creek running through the infield complimented by the existing tyre-lined Armco on the outside not far from the track, with the escape road blocked by a tyre stack on the weekend.

A massive outfield run-off exists beyond the tyres bundled in this area – gently curving down some 600m to Calder Park Drive – it was here that Peter Hills wound up when the brakes gave up in his Super Touring Mondeo in the 1990s.

Obviously, portions of the track need a repave, but at the current rate of progress, if the rage is maintained, there’s no reason why with further patronage and reinvestment, it can’t be a top-flight facility once more.

Then there’s the Thunderdome.

Following the weekend, Rodney Jane noted in the media that he would love to one day see oval track racing return; that form of the sport has deep roots for both him and Kim.

As proven this year, the surface is perfectly acceptable for track days with softly sprung cars, with the area looking a whole lot better than when we visited in 2014 – the weeds have been plucked, it has been tidied up, and it is much more presentable.

Obviously, a full repave would be an expensive exercise, with American experience showing that it isn’t as simple as sending out paving equipment to have at it – the physics of 24 degrees of banking is beastly.

Still, following the stock car demonstrations on the weekend, we can all dare to dream.

Elsewhere, looking at the vast spectator banks rising above the drag strip – if this level of manicure is applied to the whole venue, I have no doubt people would flock back to it.

Bigger picture, that top end of the raceway would be perfect for major concerts, like Fleetwood Mac or Guns N’ Roses, which drew massive audiences to Calder back in the day.

Why not go the whole hog with a music festival? The venue has the space to pull it off.

Over time, there has been a push by factions in the Brimbank Council to add a train station in the vicinity of Calder Park, with the main Sunbury rail line passing by the property’s western boundary, which also features a stabling yard.

If implemented right, that station could truly service both local residents and any potential major events.

Overall, in its current condition, Calder Park has the ability to serve a vast ground-floor clientele.

With more polish applied in the right areas, it could easily extend itself to offer premium experiences, which could cater to higher-end midweek corporate customers.

Quantity is one business plan, but it can be combined with quality – the opportunity is there.

Up Next

In addition to the Drags, Drifting, Roll Racing and track days, the Motorsport Australia Vic State Race Series is slated to host its sixth and final round at the venue in late October, pending the proper track license being approved in time.

Meanwhile, the Hi-Tec Oils Super Series has moved its final round to the first week in December, with the event to feature Saturday night racing.

If the past weekend is anything to go by, that will be well worth attending.

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