Feature Mark Walker January 6, 2024 (Comments off) (653)

Planned Toowoomba Circuit Uncovered

For a decade, talk of a new high-quality motorsport venue located near the Queensland provincial city of Toowoomba has floated in the media. The Race Torque recently ventured up the Great Dividing Range to take a look at the prospective site and break down its pros and cons.

The Backstory

Talk of this venture first hit the headlines in 2014, with the plans tethered to the impressive Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport development, which opened in November of that year.

It’s an impressive venture from multiple viewpoints – the airport became the first significant greenfield public airport since Melbourne’s Tullamarine replaced Essendon in 1970, while it was also the first major privately funded airport in the country’s history, with the locally based Wagner family the driving force behind the concept.

The facility was opened with much fanfare and a distinct motorsport flavour, with local hero Will Power engaging in a series of match races between a Falcon Supercar and a Cessna Citation.

In a case of build it and they will come, the 2,870-metre runway has an international designation and can handle the Boeing 747, with the freighter version of the Queen of the Skies proving to be a scheduled visitor.

Qantas regularly flies passenger services from Wellcamp to Sydney, REX throughout Queensland, and Bonza to Melbourne and the Whitsundays.

Wellcamp is also an ideal host to diverted aircraft from Brisbane or the Gold Coast.

The adjacent industrial park has also witnessed substantial growth over the past decade, with a key tenant being Boeing Defence, which will produce the uncrewed Airpower Teaming System, or Loyal Wingman, at their facility, a first for the company outside of North America.

The Wagners also have their composite fibre technologies business based on site, while the Qantas Group have set up a pilot academy in the precinct, which opened in 2019.

Somewhat controversially, the site is also home to the 1,000-bed, $223 million Queensland Regional Accommodation Centre, which was built during the pandemic and housed a little over 700 people when it was designated as a quarantine facility.

Subsequently, the lease from the Queensland Government on the project has lapsed, with control returning to the Wagner Corporation, with its chairman, John Wagner, noting that the facility could be easily pressed into service to support the prospective entertainment and motorsport precinct.

“If that gets up, we’ll need a lot more accommodation than what’s (already) there,” he told the ABC.

Wagner Corporation is an ASX-listed international success story with a footprint covering multiple areas, including concrete, quarrying, transport and logistics, precast products, steel reinforcing, engineered solutions and more.

Motorsport and Entertainment

Originally slated to have a $40 million price tag, the Wellcamp Entertainment Precinct concept returned to the forefront in 2020 with a projected cost of $175 million, with the project extending beyond the motorsport and automotive realm to also feature a 40,000-capacity outdoor performance area.

At its launch, the Queensland Government backed the project to the tune of $40 million, with Wagner Corporation noted as chipping in between $95-128 million, with calls for the federal government to match the State figure.

By 2021, the leadership team from Motorsport Australia visited the site, while in 2022, the state government funding was confirmed in its ‘City Deal’.

Last year, we noted on these pages a looming battle of sorts between Queensland and Victoria, with the prospect of a venue at Avalon raising the ire of Wagner Corporation.

At the heart of the plans is the Will Power Centre for Motorsport and Driver Training Excellence, with Mark Skaife noted as an architect of the project, with other credits going to master planners Urbis, noted track engineers iEDM, and Tony Cochrane.

The circuit is aimed at earning an FIA Grade 2 certification, with the possibility to be split into two shorter layouts.

Motocross, karting, 4WD and offroad areas, driver training facilities, plus onsite accommodation would complement the multiuse pit facility.

It is noted in collateral that the facility would have the potential to support the 2032 Olympic Games, which will be hosted in the region.

Our Impression: The Pros and Cons

Firstly, if anyone can pull this off, it is the Wagners, with exhibit A being their shiny new airport.

Their capabilities in this area cannot be questioned, but they would absolutely have their work cut out making the site work.

For starters, when they talk about greenfield sites, this is it: one big green field, with some genuinely elevating farmland that is connected to the outside world by some heavily corrugated dirt tracks.

If the expectation is to build a facility capable of hosting 40,000 patrons, they will have to figure out a way to get them in and out of the area in an efficient manner – the opening weekend traffic dramas from Queensland Raceway have lived long in the memory of those caught up in the chaos.

Multiple access points to the site would be possible, but it would take significant investment and effort.

The location of the block on the opposite side of a valley to the airport would have its advantages – one, from a noise mitigation standpoint; secondly, it would allow for some interesting track layouts going uphill and down dale, with the elevation changes paving the way for a brilliant spectator vista.

A major win for the precinct is the recently opened Toowoomba Bypass, which simplifies the commute up and down the ‘Range, with the road extending straight through Wellcamp, connecting communities from the south of the state with the east.

However, accessibility to the distinctively rural Wellcamp is a genuine issue – it is located nearly two hours of driving from the Brisbane CBD and nearly two and a half hours commute from Surfers Paradise.

To put that in perspective, those figures are broadly similar to the drives you would expect to make from downtown Melbourne to the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit and to Winton Motor Raceway – as such, visitors for multiple days would most likely seek accommodation, rather than return daily.

While this would be a boon for local tourism houses, it could potentially discourage some competitors and especially affect the potential to attract budget-limited fans and officials on a repeat basis.

Queensland Raceway, on the other hand, is easily commutable on a daily basis from much of the populated areas of Ipswich, Brisbane, Logan and the Gold Coast.

While there will be challenges drawing visitors from around the region, one thing is clear: this is a motoring mad part of Australia.

Nearby to Wellcamp is the Toowoomba Speedway, which has grown in stature over time, and when Archerfield shuttered, it easily stepped up to be the premier facility of its type in the corner of the state.

However, Southeast Queensland already enjoys a range of permanent circuit racing venues, all pitching for their slice of the motorsport pie at different market ends.

From the rejuvenated Queensland Raceway at Willowbank to Lakeside Raceway in Brisbane to the nearby Morgan Park Raceway in Warwick, which has stepped up its offering recently, it’s a competitive sector.

In terms of big events, Supercars bypass all of the above venues to race on the streets of the Gold Coast.

Wellcamp’s blueprint is broadly similar to that from The Bend in South Australia, which is a regional goliath, although located an hour closer to the South Australian big smoke.

Will the dollars and cents stack up, and will the Feds step up to the plate with the final piece of the funding puzzle?

Time will tell if a motorsport field of dreams will be as successful as an international airport.

What’s your take? Hit us up on the socials @theracetorque, and join the conversation!

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