Supercars calendar waiting on Newcastle council decision
Tuesday 26th September, 2023 - 6:00am
Finalisation of the 2024 Supercars calendar appears contingent now on a decision from the city council regarding the Newcastle 500, although when that occurs remains to be seen.
City of Newcastle would be one of three parties to the still unsigned contract which would take effect next year, the others being Supercars itself and the state’s tourism/events body, Destination NSW (DNSW).
It is unlikely that any answers will come in tonight’s monthly council meeting either given, at time of publication, Supercars is not part of the agenda.
In fact, a decision may yet be weeks away given the following ordinary council meeting is not due until October 24, and may yet be postponed by one week due to a clash with a Sir Paul McCartney concert in the city.
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The Newcastle 500 is still considered more likely than not to be renewed, for at least one more year, and Speedcafe understands that discussions continue among council, DNSW, and Supercars.
Those discussions may well provide a clearer picture in the days ahead, and an extraordinary council meeting at some point prior to October 24 or October 31 is not out of the question either.
However, notwithstanding that The Bend is also understood to not yet be locked in, Newcastle is the key hold-up which is preventing the 2024 Supercars calendar from being finalised.
Without a decision one way or the other, no firm answers can be given regarding whether the number of events remains at 12 or grows to 13, but the implications are wider than that.
If Newcastle were not renewed, then presumably some sort of shuffle would be necessary in order to install a new venue as the season-opener.
That is unlikely to be Albert Park by default, notwithstanding that the 2024 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix takes place on the weekend of Sunday, March 24.
While a presence at the Grand Prix is considered commercially important by teams, several sprint races somehow squeezed into the schedule around F1, F2, and F3 is hardly the big bang befitting of the opening event of the Australian Touring Car Championship in 2024.
The opening event of the ATCC in 2023 was the last of the inaugural, five-year Newcastle 500 deal, the fulfilment of which was delayed due to COVID restrictions which prevented the event from taking place at all in 2020, 2021, and 2022.
While frustration is building in the paddock over lack of clarity regarding the Supercars calendar, the Newcastle contract is far from straightforward for several reasons outside of Supercars’ control.
Reported crowds were up this year but a vigorous lobby group opposes the event and its cause is unlikely to have been harmed by the results of community consultation to which council committed last December.
That a majority of residents were found to be opposed to a new deal made for damaging headlines in local media, although the specifications of the consultation process raised questions not just about the future of the event but also the veracity of the survey itself.
There was also the question of what a new state government, elected a fortnight after this year’s Newcastle 500, meant for Supercars, but indications are that DNSW is willing to agree to at least a one-year renewal.
That too has raised ire among residents in the city’s East End although why, to those opposed to Supercars, a one-year deal is any less palatable than a five-year deal for any reason other than not being raised during the aforementioned consultation is unclear.
Even if it is assumed, for argument’s sake, that the state government is onboard for 2024, final say is with Newcastle council, where Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes has previously hailed the positive economic impact in the tens of millions of dollars.
However, an unusual turn of events may well be slowing down negotiations in the Hunter.
Specifically, council Chief Executive Officer Jeremy Bath is currently the subject of an independent investigation over a bizarre letter-writing saga, involving a friend who has a pattern of correspondence with newspapers which support Bath’s causes in various matters, despite said friend simultaneously claiming to work in Japan and live in any number of suburbs around Greater Newcastle in the past decade.
It is the CEO who would sign the Newcastle 500 contract as council’s authorised representative, with Bath currently on leave and his position filled in an acting capacity by David Clarke.
Meanwhile, another ‘tentpole’ of the 2024 Supercars calendar has fallen into place, with last week’s announcement of the specific weekend in April on which Taupo will play host to the championship’s return to New Zealand.
It is in fact the only thus far confirmed date for racing next year, although the timing of events at Hidden Valley, Townsville, Bathurst, and the Gold Coast can all be confidently predicted; multiple others can reasonably be estimated; and a new AGP deal is thought a formality now.
The 2023 season resumes with the Repco Bathurst 1000 on October 5-8, by which time Supercars has been aiming to have finalised next year’s calendar.
Update 07:39 AEST
A letter to councillors from acting CEO Clarke late last week, as reported by the Newcastle Herald this morning, reads, “Just advising there has been no material change this week in relation to the Newcastle 500.
“City of Newcastle committed in 2022 to undertake extensive community consultation on the option to extend the Newcastle 500 for a further five years following the 2023 race.
“To date, the NSW Government and Supercars Australia have not agreed on a five-year extension of the race.
“Instead, the NSW Government has offered a one-year extension.
“This is inconsistent with the extensive community consultation undertaken in 2023.”
A Supercars spokesperson told Speedcafe on the Newcastle 500 matter, “Supercars and Destination NSW are aligned in their shared commitment to host the opening event of the 2024 Repco Supercars Championship in Newcastle.
“Discussions are ongoing with Newcastle City Council and we continue to work collaboratively to find a resolution swiftly regarding the long-term future of the event in NSW’s second largest city.”