The Newcastle street circuit proved popular among local competitors who sampled it at racing speed for the first time yesterday at the Coates Hire Newcastle 500.
While the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship had two 40-minute practice sessions on Friday, and a raft of support categories also had their opportunity to take in the 2.65km layout.
“I was full of emotion on that first lap,” admitted Aaren Russell.
“To see everyone waving and all the thumbs up, and we’ve a big following from Plus Fitness here – they’re in one of the apartments on Watt Street, so I could see them going nuts.”
“You’d like it’s Saturday, and we’re here Friday,” he added of the crowd.
“We knew it was going to be like this. Novocastrians love their sport and they’re mad motorposrt fans as well. A lot of good motorbike riders have come from Newcastle and the Hunter Valley, so I never doubted that all the support was going to be for the event.”
The first car on track was Aussie Racing Cars competitor Charlotte Poynting, who won a fan vote to lead out the opening session onto the Newcastle streets.
“I’m very excited. It’s a bit nerve-wracking in front of my hometown with everyone watching, and having my friends and family here,” Poynting told Speedcafe.com.
“The atmosphere is amazing, the local support has been so good, on my first lap out I could see everyone on the sides clapping and cheering and the support back here in the pits has just been endless.”
Including Poynting and Supercars driver Aaren Russell, six drivers will this weekend have the opportunity to compete in their first ‘home’ race.
Fellow Aussie Racing Cars driver Reece Chapman is also relishing the opportunity to compete around the streets of his hometown.
“I’m really pumped to be here. “The atmosphere is amazing, there’s a lot of people around,” he said.
“The view was great, even though you’re not looking at it from the car, but there’s going to be some awesome competition over the weekend.”
Toyota 86 driver Will Cauchi also lapped up his home event.
“It’s unreal, first practice session I took it quite easy obviously with the new track and I’ve never done a street circuit, but it’s really, really exciting,” said Cauchi.
“Really fast down the Esplanade because it’s through the esses, but you try and go as fast as you can and then back into the stadium section is pretty cool.”
Support from the locals was a common theme from all Novocastrian competitors, with Touring Car Masters’ Cameron Mason also singing the praises of his time town fans.
“It’s awesome, a lot of good support, local companies and just the public in general always helps and makes it more fun – and the fact you can stay in your own bed is good too,” said Mason.
“It’s a massive crowd for a Friday, all the grandstands are packed already – it’s crazy!”
V8 Utes racer Jeremy Gray was also impressed by the crowds that rolled into the venue across the opening day.
“It’s good to see a lot of familiar faces and just after the practice session, on the track it was fantastic, I really, really enjoyed it,” said Gray.
“[My favourite part is] heading up the hill to Turn 2, then coming down the beach section is pretty special.
“The other thing too is the crowds on a Friday like this it’s good to see Newcastle getting behind the event and hopefully it boosts up the local economy as well.”
This year’s Coates Hire Newcastle 500 is the first of a five-year contract for the event, with the Virgin Australia Supercars set to remain at the venue until 2021.