Crowd the key curiosity as Austin set for kick-off

The main grandstand on the front straight at the Circuit of the Americas

The main grandstand on the front straight at the Circuit of the Americas

The V8 Supercars Championship’s ability to draw a strong crowd at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, remains a major unknown on the eve of the category’s inaugural event in North America.

Although all signs point to far greater local interest in the category than that experienced at recent international events in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, but a saturated sports market and a lack of local involvement loom as major hurdles.

This year is the first in a five-year deal between V8 Supercars and the Circuit of the Americas, which acts as the promoter of the meeting.

V8 Supercars commission chairman Mark Skaife is adamant that the category can flourish in Austin, but says that producing an entertaining debut weekend is vital for the event’s future.

“A lot of what we’ve done, for reasons that have sometimes been out of our control, haven’t had the long-term viability that we should have,” said Skaife at a Nissan Motorsport function in Austin, referring to previous fly-away rounds.

“(But) we believe that if you take it (V8 Supercars) to the right place, people will follow.

“I’m a firm believer that if you take it to places like Bahrain and Abu Dhabi and you don’t have people there that actually appreciate it, it isn’t the best thing for the business.

“I think at a place like this… Americans will love this sport. This is the sort of event that we believe will be sustainable.”

“We didn’t know and we’ve spoken to a lot of people about what the crowd expectation is,” he added when asked by Speedcafe.com whether the key indicators from the first weekend alone will form enough evidence to pass a clear judgement.

“We’re hearing that the pre-sales have been ‘pretty good’, but we don’t know what pretty good means. Is it the same as Formula 1? What would NASCAR get if they came here and raced?

“It’s a new territory for a lot of us. We’ve tried very hard to do promos linked to big events, so the MotoGP promo (where 2010 V8 Supercars Champion James Courtney drove demonstration laps in the category’s Car of the Future prototype car) was very important.

“My honest opinion is that you need more than one year. To appraise it in one go is very hard.

“But what’s really important is to put on a good show. If we put on a good show then we can hold our hands on hearts and walk away from here saying we’ve done our very best.”

As many 2,000 Australians are said to have flown to Austin for the event, including approximately 40 members of the media.

The high-profile categories to have competed at the Circuit of the Americas since it opened in late 2012 have attracted weekend crowds of 265,000 (Formula 1), 130,000 (MotoGP) and 28,000 (Grand-Am).

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