Plans Revealed for a 10-Day Festival of Motorsport as Supercars Season Opener
In a bold move to address the ongoing deadlock surrounding the Newcastle 500, plans are now underway for a 10-day “festival of motorsport” that would incorporate the Bathurst 12 Hour as the opening event of the 2024 Supercars season. This innovative solution aims to protect the Bathurst 12 Hour while providing an exciting start to the Supercars Championship if the Newcastle situation remains unresolved.
Teams are set to be briefed next week on the 2024 Supercars calendar, with the intention of the schedule being released to the public either during or after the recent Repco Bathurst 1000. However, the main challenge lies in determining the location for the season-opener, as the Newcastle 500 continues to be entangled in a political standoff.
Despite the strong support from the New South Wales government for a Supercars event in Newcastle, the budget constraints have resulted in only a one-year interim funding arrangement being offered. This “black hole” in the budget has been the primary factor preventing a secure long-term commitment. Although Newcastle Mayor Nuatali Nelmes insists that the event has been a success, she and fellow councillors are holding firm on the requirement for a five-year contract before further community consultations can be carried out.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that New South Wales holds the contractual rights for hosting the season’s first event, and if Newcastle is not able to fulfill this obligation, Mount Panorama has been positioned as the backup plan. However, hosting at Mount Panorama raises concerns about logistical challenges, such as sharing garages between Supercars and GT3 teams, as well as the potential impact on the Bathurst 12 Hour field’s local stars and pit crews.
Fortunately, a creative solution has now emerged. The proposal suggests that the Bathurst 12 Hour and the “Mount Panorama 500” could join forces to create a 10-day event, providing individual race weekends for each category. The Intercontinental GT Challenge (IGTC) action would take place on February 16-18, followed by the Supercars Championship events on February 23-25. While this schedule deviates slightly from the preferred timing for the first event of the year, it remains later than the Adelaide 500 held in 2020.
The concept holds several benefits, particularly from a contractual standpoint. State legislation limits the number of “motor races” held at the Mount Panorama Motor Racing Circuit to five per year, including the Bathurst 12 Hour and Bathurst 1000. However, there is no constraint on the duration of a “motor race” under the state’s Motor Sports Events Act. Therefore, with the consent of the Bathurst Regional Council, there would be no legal impediment to extending the Bathurst 12 Hour into a more prolonged festival of motorsport.
By spacing out the headline acts, Supercars drivers could still participate in the Bathurst 12 Hour without compromising their performance in the championship races. This solution would also allow their engineers, mechanics, and the Supercars Motorsport department to fulfill their commitments to the GT3 event. Additionally, SRO (the organization that owns IGTC) would still have its dedicated event at Mount Panorama, despite the additional activity already taking place at the circuit.
However, there are concerns as to whether another event at Mount Panorama is desirable or if it may contribute to oversaturation. With the Bathurst 6 Hour and the Bathurst International already vying for attention on the Australian motorsport calendar, the Bathurst 12 Hour has already established itself as a significant attraction. Furthermore, the Mount Panorama 500 held in 2021, acting as a substitute for Newcastle, was deemed by many to be lackluster. Previous attempts to introduce sprint rounds of the Australian Touring Car Championship at Bathurst were scrapped due to poor attendance.
An alternate option for the season-opener is Sydney Motorsport Park, the only other currently operating race track in New South Wales that fulfills the contractual obligations. This venue boasts permanent lighting and could potentially host a spectacular opening event. Nevertheless, it may face criticism due to the recent saturation of events caused by COVID restrictions.
Considering the various factors at play, the proposed Bathurst festival idea offers a refreshing departure from a simple pair of 250km races. It presents a unique opportunity for race fans and could serve as a temporary solution while a more sustainable and lasting Supercars season-opener is developed.
As the 2023 season resumes with the Boost Mobile Gold Coast 500 later this month, fans eagerly await further announcements about the 2024 calendar. The introduction of the 10-day festival of motorsport as the Supercars season-opener promises to deliver an exhilarating start to the championship while ensuring the continued success of the Bathurst 12 Hour.