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OPINION: Time for Queensland to step up and light it up

Brett Murray

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Thursday 3rd December, 2020 - 8:00am

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Scott McLaughlin on the streets of the Gold Coast

The Queensland Government and local authorities have the opportunity to re-stamp the Gold Coast as the events capital of Australia with a total revamp of the event in 2021.

The announcement that the Surfers Paradise street event will be the season finale for next year’s Supercars championship is a good start, but that has to be treated as just the foundation on which something great can be rebuilt.

While the South Australian government used the pathetic excuse of COVID-19 to kill off the Adelaide 500 after committing to its slow death a few years ago, their Queensland counterparts have been handed a “free kick” as a result.

The Adelaide event was set to be the season closer in 2021, but the government’s decision to bin it has not only provided a “free kick”, but put Queensland directly in front of the goals – they only need Adelaide’s former naming rights sponsor Superloop on board to complete the pillaging.

There has been plenty of negotiation to get the revised date locked in on December 3-5, but now the hard work really begins for the celebration of 30 years since the original event in 1991.

There is now every opportunity for key stakeholders to get together and come up with a plan that brings back the festival element to what was once regarded as one of the world’s great events – an event once studied and used as a yardstick for major new projects around the globe!

The first initiative should be to go back to the original plans for this year’s race before COVID-19 hit and make it a night race and give it a real point of difference.

The funding is there because it was originally signed off through parliament so here is the chance for Queensland to show it is brave enough to be proactive in a tough environment.

If the concept does not work, then revert back to a daytime event in 2022, but give it a shot.

There should be a real focus to bring local entertainment venues back into play, not just for the three days of the event, but for the weeks leading into it.

There needs to be incentives for local businesses, schools and community groups to get involved within the all important 250km drive market.

At the other end of the scale some of the bigger traditional glamor events like the event “ball” should also be reengaged in partnership with partners like the Star Casino who would do it justice.

Sunday night could be a massive party with all the support categories having their respective awards dinners at hotels around the Gold Coast before everyone gathers at the Speedcafe.com Greenroom which has become a season highlight over the last 10 years.

It all could be tied into a “finale for the finale” at a Supercars awards gala on the Monday night, bringing back some of the five-star elements of the sport – remember when this event was actually televised?

All of this is designed to tip more money into the coffers of the local community which has been smashed in the last 10 months or so.

Obviously everything is subject to COVID-19 conditions and there needs to be a plan A, B, C and D, but we need to ensure that there is not paralysis through analysis and we need to start with a decent wish list and plan.

With the South Australia’s axing of the Adelaide 500 and nervousness remaining over the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in March with COVID-19 out of control in Europe, it’s time to step up, not shut down.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk continues to be a controversial figure because of her original border lockdown restrictions, but a commitment to this event, which was provided a five-year contract extension last year, would provide a clear indication to the rebuilding of the tourism and event industries.

I’m not here to debate Palaszczuk’s lockdown strategies because I am no expert on global pandemics, but I do have a reasonable bit of experience in major events, especially the Gold Coast street race which I was directly involved with from 1993 to 2011.

Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate has proven himself to be one of the most progressive city leaders in the country and also has a taste for fast cars and enjoying himself.

Tate understands the event industry and how important it is to his city and so many businesses within its boundaries that are connected to it.

There is an enormous list of examples of businesses that were given a chance to contract to the Gold Coast event which have grown into national and even international success stories.

They are the true economic success stories of this event and not only have they survived, but continue to grow some 30 years after the inaugural race.

Collectively they employ hundreds of people who not only call the Gold Coast home, but are proud to do so.

Obviously COVID-19 has also hit many of these companies the hardest and to have a major infection of enthusiasm about a new-look Gold Coast 600 for 2021 could not come at a better time.

The critics will say the only way to do that is by bringing back in Indycar and that might be something to consider in the long term, but in the meantime, there is so much more that can be done and done without writing massive cheques.

The Gold Coast race became a Supercars promoted event after the disastrous no-show of A1GP in 2009.

Supercars have a reputation of nickel and diming their own events, but an added injection of cash and enthusiasm from the Queensland government and the Gold Coast City Council would help set the event above the rest.

The Gold Coast race, which was established as a round of the CART (Indycar) World Series in 1991 and managed to survive a couple of years as being used as political football before it seriously came of age in 1993 with the arrival of Nigel Mansel who won the race from pole.

In 1998 the event moved from March to its current date of October which was the next turning point in its history.

This gave Gold Coast businesses their first March without the event since 1990 and their sudden downturn in revenue for that month made many of them realise the real value of the event.

Sadly the postponement of Gold Coast 600 last month was part of an overall punch to the face for the Queensland tourism sector.

The event was cancelled this year due to COVID-19, but was set to be a night event for the first time.

I wrote an opinion piece on the demise of the Adelaide 500 recently which provided some facts and figures which also stack up even more so when talking about the Gold Coast event. 

At its height, the Gold Coast Indycar event was the biggest motorsport event in the world outside of the Indianapolis 500.

It’s time to get itself back as a world-class event.

Brett “Crusher” Murray is the founder and owner of Speedcafe.com. He worked at the first two Gold Coast street events in 1991-92 as a journalist. He worked as part of the event’s media team from 1993 to 1996. In 1998 he was hired as the event’s PR manager and worked as an advisor on all aspects of the event. He was credited with being one of the saviours of the event after the dramatic no-show of the A1GP cars in 2009 and was instrumental in the creation of the International co-drivers concept in 2010 and 2011, but “cost cutting” ended his association with the event. He remains a Gold Coast resident and still has media ringing him for accreditation for the event each year.

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