One week out from the season-opening Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation unveiled the inaugural Coates Hire Supercars Melbourne 400 Larry Perkins perpetual trophy.
AGPC CEO Andrew Westacott was joined by Larry Perkins, Rick Kelly and trophy designers from Melbourne’s RMIT University Adrien Fasel-Murphy and Scott Mayson at Albert Park’s lakeside today to take the covers off the newly designed trophy created mostly through a 3D printer with the help of virtual reality.
The unveiling of the new Larry Perkins perpetual trophy becomes special for both Larry Perkins and the Australian Grand Prix as it is the first time in the event’s 22-year history it has hosted the Supercars category as a championship round for points. Westacott explained that things have now turned serious for Supercars at the AGP.
“We’ve talked it up in the past, but we can talk it up now to the stratosphere. This is a points round, it counts for 300 points similar to Bathurst, there is four races, this is serious stuff for Supercars and serious stuff for fans they’re going to be really excited so it’s a big deal,” he said.
“We’ve got a great format to have the four qualifying sessions back-to-back. Then we have got Friday with a twilight race post-FP2. Saturday and 70-kilometre race in the middle of the day and then the 130-kilometre race at the end of the day, again twilight.
“But then on Sunday, what a fantastic bonanza for fans. You can come along, you see the support categories: Ferrari Asia-Pacific is there, an international category for the first time (at the AGP) in 17 years. But then the first time ever, to have a championship round for Supercars right in the middle of the day, the final build-up to the Formula 1 2018 Rolex Australian Grand Prix, it’s an absolute ripper!”
The choice for Larry Perkins to be honoured this trophy was obvious. His motorsport talent took him all the way up to Formula 1 between 1974 and 1977 racing under many names such as Brabham Martini Racing and Team Surtees.
Although retirements and failing to qualify was common during his time at the top level thanks to less-than-stellar equipment, Perkins managed to finish a career-high eighth position at the 1976 Belgian Grand Prix.
His additional success in the Australian Touring Car Championship was also extraordinary, claiming top honours at the Bathurst 1000 a staggering six times, equal to Mark Skaife and Craig Lowndes.
Nissan Motorsport driver and co-owner Rick Kelly paid tribute to the mark Perkins’ achievements have left on himself and in Australian motorsport.
“For people that don’t know, Larry has had a massive impact on Australian motorsport, but also in my career as well,” he said.
“Todd [Kelly – Rick’s brother] drove for Larry in 2008 and he inspired us to start our own team with some of the staff that Larry had in his Supercars day’s and in fact, a lot of those guys are still in our business. So there is a pretty rich heritage of Larry within our career’s as well as Australian motorsport.”
Kelly (pictured right) also added while present at the revealing of the trophy that drivers will become calmer and aware of what’s at stake now that the race is for valuable championship points.
“To have points up for grabs now changes things slightly and I think it could almost tone (the racing) down a little bit. There’s been a lot of significant dramas in our category for the AGP over the years. Logistically, this is the exact same event for us. We have always put a lot of effort into the AGP.
“Four races is no dramas from our point of view, it’s 400 kilometres when we did 500 kilometres two weeks ago at Adelaide. It makes it more exciting having those races set up that way, there’s more race starts, more pit stops, more finishes. It’s harder for us when we have bigger and longer races as well. I think it adds to the event having Supercars spread over the weekend a little bit more. But from a physical point of view, fitness for all the drivers in our sport won’t be an issue come next weekend.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Westacott made note that with Formula 1 new owners, Liberty Media, in the mix, decisions to improve fan engagement are becoming easier to negotiate since the reign of Bernie Ecclestone at Formula One Management prior to 2017.
“I think there is more conversation and there is more willingness to explore a variety of options,” he said.
“It doesn’t mean the new owners of Formula 1 (Liberty Media) say ‘Yes’ all the time, but this was something that really fitted with the fans. They’re doing a great job at putting the fans first just like we always do and this was a simple – in Aussie terms – no-brainer for them to say about 12 months ago yes to Supercars and here it is in 2018.”
The Australian Grand Prix kicks off the 2018 Formula 1 World Championship at Albert Park with gates opening Thursday the 22nd of March. The first free practice session for Formula 1 starts at 12pm on Friday 23 March (GMT +11).
Images via Luke McCullough