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Challenge Bathurst could become ‘invite only’

Mat Coch

Tuesday 3rd September, 2019 - 3:32pm

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Challenge Bathurst could become an invite only event

Swelling interest in Challenge Bathurst could see it switch to an invitation only formula for future events according to event boss James O’Brien.

Run by Yeehah Events, which oversaw the Bathurst 12 Hour and Bathurst 6 Hour before selling them to Supercars and Australian Racing Group respectively, Challenge Bathurst is a sprint style event which offers a more grass roots occasion at Mount Panorama.

It sees a mix of regularity and sprint classes, and has attracted many of the leading GT teams who’ve treated it as a test session for the Bathurst 12 Hour.

Last year that saw Christopher Mies set a new outright lap record in an unrestricted Audi R8 LMS GT3 around the 6.2km circuit.

“It’s almost a sellout now, and that’s starting now to become an invite only event in terms of our retention levels are quite high,” event boss James O’Brien told Speedcafe.com.

“The AGT (Australian GT) is hosting a group from sprint. We have the Vet Car Club of Queensland taking a group of regularity.

“The good thing about that event is you need the Level 2 licence to participate – you can rock up in your road car, you don’t have to do many modifications at all. If you want to do it very cost effectively you can.”

For O’Brien, the future of the event is about balancing interest in the event from individuals with interest from larger groups such as Australian GT, which has purchased a chunk of track time which it is then on-selling.

“The AGT has effectively paid for the entire grid for that group,” O’Brien explained.

“They can have a maximum of 40 cars on the grid, they can have a handful of cars on the grid, it’s theirs, which also means unlike all the other entries that come to us individually that we deal with, with that group it’s essentially the AGT’s group.”

“We’ve just got to find the right balance,” O’Brien added when asked if selling off track time to groups rather than taking individual entries is the way forward for the event.

“At the moment, there are five groups of regularity and four of sprint, and one group of regularity we moved to the Vet Car Club Queensland, en masse, and one group was sprint to the AGT, which is the first time we’ve done that with a sprint group.

“So that still leaves four groups of regularity and three groups of sprint where individuals can enter directly through us.

“Whether that grows, there’s another group in sprint, or another group in regularity, we’ll look at that each year.

“I want to make sure that there’s enough spots available for individual competitors who aren’t aligned to anyone.

“The thing with Challenge Bathurst is there isn’t a lot of area for growth, in terms of maximising the days, or maximising the track time,” he added.

“We’ve looked at a number of cars versus track time. I think pretty much where we are is where we are. It’s never going to be televised, (it’s) not a spectator event, not really hospitality or sponsorship associated with it, or very little.

“We’re just looking to maximise all that spots on the grid, and there’s no reason why it can’t just continue in that vein year in and year out.”

Instrumental in the early success of the Bathurst 12 Hour, O’Brien was also the driving force behind the Bathurst 6 Hour, an event he’s recently sold to the Australian Racing Group in a deal orchestrated by James Warburton.

“ARG approached me, obviously to acquire the event. Initially it was through James Warburton,” O’Brien explained.

“Obviously James was at Supercars and we did the negotiations when Supercars acquired the 12 Hour.

“As things progressed, I was happy to divest the event and ARG have got some grand plans for motorsport in Australia, including events and categories, so it seemed like a nice fit.

“Obviously council were happy for ARG to acquire the rights to the event.

“While ARG have obviously TCR and a number of other support categories, I think this is their first foray into event management, that I’m aware of,” he added of continuing as a consultant for 2020.

“It sort of just made sense for a transition period for me just to fill in a consultancy role and help that team deliver the 2020 event.”

Though set to step away, much as he did with the Bathurst 12 Hour after selling it to Supercars in 2015, O’Brien is confident the event will continue to grow.

“I think then the 6 Hour could logically become a round of the national championship (Australian Production Car Series), hopefully then there’ll be a few manufacturers that come to play, even at a low level, whether it’s supporting product, teams, or some low level support.

“The future for the 6 Hour is strong. It’s heading in the right direction, all the stakeholders seem to be working together. I’m confident the grids will build in the future years.”

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