The Virgin Australia Supercars Championship is Australia’s premier motorsport category and draws crowds no matter where the paddock lands… apart from arguably the country’s best purpose built circuit: Sydney Motorsport Park.
After conducting a test on Thursday night to determine the possibility of a night race, it’s clear Supercars is keen to boost attendance to Sydney’s remaining championship race.
Since first holding an Australian Touring Car Championship round in 1990 (the Nissan 500), the track formerly known as Eastern Creek has played host to multiple races over the years in a number of different formats.
In 2003 and 2004, SMP hosted the final round of the seasons, both championships won by Marcos Ambrose for Stone Brothers Racing before his departure for the United States.
At the time, the stands were packed out, despite the torrential rain in 2003, thanks to the race occupying the end-of-season slot where it doesn’t have to compete with more popular Sydney sports like NRL.
A short hiatus from 2009 until 2011 meant the venue wasn’t used for three seasons when the series returned in August 2012, just under a year since the track had been upgraded and changed from Eastern Creek to its current title.
This event was possibly one of the negative points in terms of the history of the race. While the Supercars featured, the support categories were nothing spectacular and didn’t provide much entertainment.
Again not featuring on the calendar in 2013 (apart from a pre-season test day), SMP has been held at the same time of year ever since.
Therein lies the problem; Supercars is trying to hold a race when the NRL is quickly closing in on the finals, school is still in session and the winter chill, despite not being as bad as some other towns, is a strong deterrent for fans who want to make it out.
Transport to the event is virtually non-existent whereas even the failed Homebush race had a train station right in the middle to make it easy for punters from anywhere in Sydney to attend.
Although marketed as a family event, as is evident by the one drinking area and things like Will Davison’s Tekno entry resembling the Cars franchise’s Lightning McQueen, hardly any families turn up.
A three-day family pass for an unreserved grandstand position will set you back $300, which is a lot of coin before you start to factor in the ludicrous price of food and merchandise.
So what can Supercars do in the future to make the event more attractive, let alone accessible?
The idea for a night race is solid and is something I’ve been a fan of. Here is one of the calendar’s best tracks with a decent amount of viewing areas and it can become electric by putting up some lights.
This was done for a few races back in the 90’s, both at Eastern Creek and Calder Park. If it could be done then, there’s no reason why it can’t be done again.
In 2004, the first race of the final round held at SMP was a “twilight” race, meaning it ended at, well, twilight. It ended with about as much light as the Saturday races do in the middle of winter but since it wasn’t common back then, it was received well by fans.
Night racing is something almost every major motorsport category is doing in the world right now and it’s about time Supercars followed suit. The only issue is the timing.
When in the year do you hold it? Should it be on a Friday or a Saturday? Will it be a championship race or just running for fun? These are the questions which Supercars must ask itself but more importantly, the fans.
At the end of the day, the teams don’t go racing for the fun of it; they do it for money. Getting asses in seats brings in the money which allows the sport to continue and hopefully thrive.
Image via Nissan Motorsports