Roland’s View: Back off Bathurst

The Mountain is our Mecca – and needs to stay that way. Photo: InSyde Media

Mount Panorama is Australia’s greatest racetrack, but

Let’s face it, the Bathurst track, which sits right up there in the pecking order of not only Australian tracks but also race circuits across the World, is in dire need of some expenditure from its custodians, the Bathurst Regional Council.

It’s no good having this wonderful asset if they’re not going to look after it and maintain it to the level it deserves.

Furthermore, in order to preserve the unique nature of the circuit, and preserve its extraordinary place in Australian motorsports, the BRC shouldn’t overuse the venue. To do so will be to undermine its place as the Mecca of motorsports in this part of the World.

Dial the clock back to 2004 and recall the sight of the stunning new pit building and paddock layout (for which Tony Cochrane was very much to thank for corralling money from all layers of government into providing the necessary funding) which was such a huge step up from the previous 1960’s infrastructure as a working environment.

Since then, fans, drivers, commentators and teams from the world over have come and commented on the world class facility that is the pit lane.

Unfortunately, the rest of the venue hasn’t had the attention it deserves, whether that is the track itself and its immediate environment, such as drains, retaining walls and barriers, run offs, or spectator facilities such as more permanent toilets. Add in a scrutineering bay (and facilities within) that is so substandard as to be a standing joke amongst visiting international teams at the 12 Hour, plus a media shed not worthy of the name in this day and age and you probably get the picture.

Yes, we’ve got a great Brock Skyline walkway which I can personally vouch for as a place worth going, but the old Castrol Tower up there is a dilapidated eyesore and should have been turned into a unique spectator viewing platform by now (and not just a VIP one).

There should also be serious consideration given to seeking an upgrade to FIA Grade 2 circuit status in order to further protect the long-term future of the track. If the likes of the Macau street circuit can be Grade 2 then Bathurst can be!

The BRC earns good dollars (as it should) from every successful event held at Mount Panorama by dint of profit sharing agreements with promoters. It also benefits from the influx of visitors into the town for each event in varying numbers.

For sure, the BRC income suffered during COVID. Join the club. But now it’s time to have a spend and ensure that this venue continues to earn the local community money as well as providing the best motor racing experience in the country both on and off track.

Please don’t just think that resurfacing the track is going to make everything sweet. Increasing the lap speeds (an almost inevitable consequence of resurfacing) without carrying out some other track work would be negligent.

At the same time, overusing the venue will, I believe, ultimately lead to devaluing its unique place in Australian motorsports.

Currently there are five different events held annually at Mount Panorama. Four of them have a very special flavour of their own and clearly fully justify their place on the calendar. Those are; the Bathurst 1000, the Bathurst 12 Hour, the Bathurst 6 Hour and Challenge Bathurst. They cater for a very different range of competitors. The 1000 is The Great Race. The 12 Hour is a fully international event again. The 6 Hour is the ultimate club race meeting and the Challenge allows everyone to have a go. The first two are very much spectator led, the latter two are competitor led. But all four have a value directly and indirectly to the Regional Council and the local community.

The odd one out is the Bathurst International in November. It has yet to cement its place in the calendar as an event that has the special character that a race meeting at The Mountain deserves. It aims to be a spectator driven event, but there wasn’t any evidence of that last year.

I was there in 1997/8 racing 2.0-litre Super Touring cars and I have my doubts as to whether the fans will turn out in any numbers to watch latter day front-wheel drive shopping cars. Having said all that, ARG (the promoter) should be given the benefit of the doubt for this year and we should reserve judgement until after the November event.

But just using the venue for the sake of using it will only ultimately undermine its value. Look at Le Mans (the 24 Hour long circuit) and Indianapolis to name a couple. They are only used sparingly and that helps keep them special.

So, if the Bathurst International event doesn’t earn its keep, then either come up with a format worthy of Mount Panorama (for instance, maybe a major historic event such as those run at Le Mans or Monaco) or drop it. If that means only four meetings per year then so be it.

The Bathurst Regional Council, working with their respective event partners (Supercars, ARG etc), need to maximise each event on the calendar to give them both the direct and indirect returns needed to provide proper, consistent and long-term investment in this extraordinary circuit.

For sure, think about a second circuit that is two-wheel friendly, but don’t spend money on that until the jewel in the crown is as secure as possible for the next decade or two.

Read Last Week’s Roland’s View: The Significance of Chloe Chambers’ Toyota FR race win.

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