Supercars wants new AGP deal

Supercars’ fans saw the most sessions of the category on Thursday this year, as F3 and F2 categories took prime weekend time slots. Image: Ross Gibb Photography.

Supercars wants a new deal to continue at the F1 Australian Grand Prix despite being relegated to the third support race category at the weekend.

The four-race Melbourne SuperSprint was the last in the current agreement, with an option to renew for at least two more years.

Supercars starred at the AGP on Thursday, before being downgraded with late afternoon or early morning races.

Despite the downgraded status, Supercars chief executive Shane Howard has declared that returning to Albert Park as a championship round next year and beyond is looking good.

“I think it’s positive,” Howard told select media, including Speedcafe. “Obviously, we want to be here – it’s a big stage, an incredible event.

“It’s just a phenomenon on where Formula 1 is at the moment, the crowds that it’s generating and the new interest in motor sport in general, and we absolutely want to be part of that.

“And I think the intent from AGP would be for us to continue. And we look forward to those opportunities.”

Until this year, Supercars had been the main AGP support act since the first Melbourne GP in 1996, missing just one event in 2007 over an appearance fee and facilities dispute.

The popular V8s returned in ’08 with a more lucrative deal that included a dedicated pit lane complex.

Supercars’ standing at the AGP was further boosted in 2015 when the races gained championship points-scoring status due to broadcast alignments.

But this weekend, Supercars has been downgraded to accommodate the official F1 feeder series F2 and F3, racing here for the first time and taking precedence on the support program.

Although always subject to F1 track time requirements, Supercars is now also subjugated to F2 and F3.

As well as ceding prime viewing times, Supercars has lost most of the area behind its pits to the F2 and F3 paddock.

Supercars teams’ transporters are now parked outside the Albert Park circuit, along with other deprivations.

Despite the new restrictions, Howard maintains that the exposure at the AGP is worth the inconveniences as he pursues a new deal from next year under the option clause.

“These things always come down to a joint agreement,” he said. “Both parties will assess the event, but I think we got to put on a good show here.

“We provide a lot of diversity in their program, which is a good thing. Certainly, there’s a lot of interest in our new cars here.”

Howard explained why Supercars was prepared to play second fiddle to F2 and F3 to continue at the AGP.

“With every street circuit, there is a lot of compromise,” he noted. “They’re so important because they just opened us up to such a wide, diverse demographic and big, big numbers of fans.

“So, yeah, we have to compromise in what we’re doing. But I think we and the AGP can come up with a good solution for us to be able to operate comfortably.

“Yes, there are operational difficulties to work through, but all the teams are happy to be here.”

With the recent explosion of interest in F1, Howard admitted that the squeeze on Supercars at Albert Park was inevitable.

“It’s very different now,” he said. “As I said, Formula 1 at the moment is a phenomenon. And with success, the precinct has a lot more infrastructure. But we’re just happy to be on the program.

“We want to be here and we want to put a good show, and if it requires a little bit of compromise, we’re good with that.”

With the arrival of FIA F2 and F3 to support F1, Supercars’ paddock space at the AGP behind its own pit facility was slashed, as well as reduced, time-restricted racing time.

Team transporters were relegated to outside the circuit and Supercars merchandise outlets restricted to a far-flung entry gate, reducing sales significantly.

Despite the deprivations, most Supercars team bosses support staying on the AGP undercard, citing international exposure and sponsor engagement at the glamour event

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