Roland’s View: Supercars and the AGP – To be or not to be?
By Roland Dane
Wednesday 5th April, 2023 - 2:00pm
Many people are asking the question this week as to whether it’s worthwhile for Supercars to participate in the Australian Grand Prix event. The landscape has changed post-COVID, especially now that Formula 2 and 3 are now a part of the weekend. So what was maybe a very clear-cut decision in the past for all involved is now possibly not as easy a call.
It’s worth recapping on a bit of history here first though.
Supercars ran a non-championship event as part of the AGP race card from the inaugural Melbourne event in 1996 through until 2018, when it became a part of the Supercars Championship for the first time. The only exception was 2007 when Supercars deliberately stayed away from the AGP in order to achieve better recognition of their undoubted contribution to the overall show.
On returning in 2008, the teams enjoyed better facilities and the appearance fee paid to Supercars had greatly increased. Tony Cochrane (then Chair of Supercars) didn’t let Ron Walker (then Chair of the AGP Corporation) forget that Supercars had won that stand off!
So, there’s plenty of history to look back on when assessing the best way forward for all involved – the AGP Corporation, Formula One and Supercars.
Personally, I was very unsure going into the weekend as to whether the average AGP attendee (which includes a substantial number of “once a year fans”) really cared about Supercars and whether the Netflix effect on F1 had made the Aussie larrikin category irrelevant, especially with the arrival of F2 and F3.
As I mixed with a huge number of people in the Red Bull Energy Station, as well as in the general enclosures, it was extremely clear that much of the crowd saw Supercars as an essential ingredient in the cocktail of racing that made up the weekend. Be in no doubt that the V8 part was very much a part of the enjoyment with the noise of the race cars being even better than before.
And the F1 guys, as always, were watching the action when they could.
The bottom line is that I now believe the majority of ticket holders – both General Admission attendees and corporate guests – would be very disappointed if Supercars weren’t on the card. Moreover, the teams benefit from showing the cars and the racing to an audience much of whom won’t otherwise see them live on track through the year.
A part of the beauty of the AGP has always been (and remains such) that it isn’t just another homogenous Grand Prix weekend. It runs over four days for one thing (and other organisers have been trying, unsuccessfully, to get permission to do this for years) as well as having the distinctive flavour of Aussie V8s, as the visitors invariably refer to them as, on the ticket.
So, Supercars needs to be there.
To make it worthwhile for teams to attend the AGP and for the fans to get the action they deserve there must be some changes. The AGPC and FOM (Formula One Management) need to work with Supercars to come up with a better racing schedule. Don’t squeeze the time allowed for each Supercars race so tightly that no-one is happy – neither the fans nor the teams. And don’t forget the fans watching at home! It is simply unnecessary.
We all know that F1 are the Big Dogs. We all know that F2 and 3 are going to be given priority, especially given that they’ve come halfway around the world. But there’s plenty of time over the four days to give Supercars a decent crack of the whip. The powers that be don’t have to prove that they’re in charge by being mean with track time just because they can. We know they’re in control!
Give Supercars four 18-lap races across the weekend and enough time to have one or two Safety Car laps without going time certain. That’s 95 kilometres per race.
That could be achieved in a 45-minute window, especially if it was mandated that the cars drove out of pit lane and straight to the grid as their sighting and warm-up laps combined. There’s no need for messing around on the grid plus then having a warm-up lap and thereby wasting a good 10 minutes that could be used for racing. We do this in club racing very effectively every weekend.
And if there’s still pressure on time, then lose three of the four qualifying sessions and run a progressive grid. That might have the added benefit of some drivers taking more care in the first couple of races.
Currently, there are rumours around that the pit lane complex Supercars have used over the last 15 or so years will be handed over to F2. Whilst that would be a shame and would mean that pit stops would probably be rendered impossible, I’d say that, as long as the races themselves can be given enough time to run properly, it’s still worth going to the AGP.
What would have to happen though, is that it would need to revert to non-championship status given that even having a puncture would put a car out of the race, let alone the effect of a rain affected race.
But, if the right amount of track time is given to Supercars, the bottom line, for me, is that they should be on the Australian Grand Prix support card and work around all the other issues that may pop up.
Meantime… there was a lunatic or two from the Supercars Board rolling around the paddock who still thinks it would be a great idea to go and compete at other regional Grand Prix. For the umpteenth time, for everyone’s sake, concentrate on building back up the home base, including New Zealand. If there was one common thread amongst all the fans I met at the weekend, it was a huge appreciation of how spectacular the Gen3 cars were to watch. Maximise that at home – including the Kiwis of course!
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