Exclusive: Virgin blocks name of Bathurst second circuit
A branding dispute with Supercars title sponsor Virgin Australia is set to force a name change for the proposed second circuit at Mount Panorama that is scheduled to join the championship by 2021.
Ahead of today’s Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, Speedcafe.com has learned exclusively that the planned new track behind the top of the existing course is no longer called Velocity Park because the airline is objecting to the use of the same name as its Velocity Rewards frequent flyer program.
The Bathurst Regional Council, which is halfway towards raising the $50 million needed to fund the additional permanent venue, is now referring to the scheme as “the second circuit at Mount Panorama”.
Supercars is looking to add the 4.5 km international standard track to the championship as a second Bathurst event in 2020 if the circuit is ready by then.
It would be a sprint race round held much earlier in the year to avoid being run too close to the iconic Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 on the second weekend of October.
Known as Velocity Park since planning for a permanent circuit alongside the Mount Panorama public road course began a few years ago, the site may have to be renamed if the argument over the Velocity tag isn’t resolved.
It is understood Virgin Australia has opposed the name because the airline claims it infringes the trademark of its Velocity Rewards frequent flyer program, even though there is a clear distinction between accumulating points for flying and other purchases, and a motor sport circuit.
Bathurst Regional Council (BRC) is believed to be trying to settle the dispute by negotiation, but if it can’t reach an agreement and court action is threatened, the local government body may decide to rename the track to avoid a costly legal fight.
In the meantime, BRC officials are now calling the proposed site “the second circuit”.
Whatever it is known as, the new permanent track at the southwest corner of the Mount Panorama precinct is on Supercars’ radar as a potential new sprint race event as soon as 2020.
Supercars chief executive James Warburton confirmed that a second visit to Bathurst was on the cards once the new track is completed.
“It would definitely be a sprint race round,” Warburton told Speedcafe.com.
“So we’d obviously need to have distance (in the calendar) between it and the 1000, but it’s something that we’d absolutely support.
“It will be absolutely magnificent in terms of the infrastructure and the way in which they’re looking to build it.”
The proposed second circuit will be constructed on BRC-owned undulating land behind the McPhillamy Park area at the top of Mount Panorama.
It will be FIA- and FIM-compliant with international safety standards and a minimum track length of 4.5 km, making it suitable for potential MotoGP and World Superbike bids as well as a Supercars round.
BRC received expressions of interest from five international and local track design companies, with the final field reduced to three main contenders.
Bathurst mayor Graeme Hanger revealed that tender documents were in the final stages of completion to be sent to the trio of design groups – two from overseas and one from Australia, believed to be iEDM, which has been responsible for tracks like the remodelled Surfers Paradise street circuit and the Newcastle city track.
“The tender documents will be presented to the three groups in the near future,” Hanger told Speedcafe.com.
“Exactly when, I honestly can’t tell you, but they’re close to being presented. Then it will be matter of how long will it take the groups to put their tenders together. Nine months, six months, eight months? Whatever it takes.
“So we’re a period of time away from a decision. Certainly, within the next 12 months, we’d be in a position to look at the three of them and select the successful tenderer, and take it from there.
“It’s a process that has to take its course. You don’t want to rush it, you don’t want to go too quickly. It has to be done properly.”
According to Hanger, there is no firm timeline yet for the completion of the second Bathurst circuit.
“We’re not giving a date as to when it will be operational,” he said.
“If it’s operational in 2020 or 2021, I really don’t know. We’re nearly at 2018 and we haven’t even got a design.
“Realistically, I think 2020 is optimistic. We’d like to aim for that, but 2021 is realistic. It’s still progressing. Tenders are being drawn up and it will happen.”
The track will cost an estimated $50 million, of which $25 million has already been pledged by the NSW and federal governments.
While BRC is prepared to put in another $10 million, it is still looking for further funding grants on top of the $15 million already committed by Macquarie Street and the $10 million from Canberra.
“Hopefully, there’ll be more,” Hanger said. “We’re aiming for more from both the state and federal governments.”
According to informed sources, BRC is still $7.5 million short of the amount needed to fully commit to the project.
NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian will attend today’s Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, but she is not expected to make any announcement about further state funding for the expansion of the Mount Panorama precinct.
Despite the previous BRC administration’s boast that the new Bathurst track would be accompanied by bids for MotoGP and world superbike events, Hanger is cautious about the prospects of hosting big international car or bike events.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get world superbikes,” he admitted. “Let’s build it and see what happens.
“The aim of the exercise is to build a track that is suitable for WSBK and MotoGP. But could we get them? That’s so far in the future.”
The existing Mount Panorama circuit is restricted to four major meetings a year, which include extra track days either side of the main events.
The new facility would enable Bathurst to host motor sport events and track activities all year around.