Bathurst floated as Newcastle Supercars back-up plan
Saturday 30th September, 2023 - 6:00am
Bathurst has been floated as a back-up plan for the 2024 Supercars season-opener in case of a new contract for the Newcastle 500 not coming to fruition, Speedcafe understands.
The fate of the Newcastle 500 hangs in the balance due to an impasse between the New South Wales government and the city council over the length of the agreement.
State tourism agency Destination NSW is offering a one-year deal as an interim measure due to a budget ‘black hole’, but council is digging its heels in for the stated reason that the community consultation undertaken earlier this year was predicated on another five-year agreement.
Caught in the middle is the other party to the would-be contract, Supercars, which had set itself a soft deadline of next weekend’s Bathurst 1000 for the release of its 2024 calendar.
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Now, it is believed that Mount Panorama has been floated as a back-up plan.
Logically, barring an even more surprising development, that would mean combining the Supercars season-opener with the Bathurst 12 Hour.
Mount Panorama has already once been used as something of a stand-in for Newcastle, when it opened the 2021 season during two heavily pandemic-affected years in Australia.
Then, however, it was also a neat solution to external border closures rendering the Bathurst 12 Hour infeasible.
This time around, though, a Supercars season-opener would have to be combined with the Bathurst 12 Hour, an event which it owns, for such a plan to work.
State legislation restricts the Mount Panorama Motor Racing Circuit, which is a public road, to no more than five full circuit closures each year.
That allocation is already exhausted thanks to the presence also of the Bathurst 1000, the Australian Racing Group’s Bathurst 6 Hour and Supercheap Auto Bathurst International, and the Challenge Bathurst sprint/regularity event.
A combined Supercars/Bathurst 12 Hour event would not be infeasible, but it would create major challenges for either or both competitions.
The most obvious is logistical, including garage and paddock allocation.
Mount Panorama has 36 pit lane garages yet the Bathurst 12 Hour entry list alone often exceeds that figure, and both fields need access to garages given their race(s) feature pit stops.
That presents a scenario whereby one field would have to work from paddock marquees and move into pit lane for their sessions, or some sort of garage swap would have to take place during the event, which would be a laborious exercise.
Some of that effort could be saved with creative scheduling, but then even greater headaches are created with respect to track time.
The Bathurst 12 Hour race has always taken place on a Sunday.
Would action for the GT3 field be compressed into Saturday and Sunday only, leaving Thursday and Friday for Supercars? If so, the latter essentially becomes a support category at an event which it owns.
Would the Bathurst 12 Hour be brought forward to Friday, compromising that show instead?
If the once-around-the-clock race is held on Saturday, then the Supercars programme becomes incredibly busy on the Sunday and/or straddles the Bathurst 12 Hour, which exacerbates the garaging issue.
Then there is the burden on Supercars Championship drivers who would race in the Bathurst 12 Hour.
This year, there were six full-timers, namely Shane van Gisbergen, Broc Feeney, Anton De Pasquale, David Reynolds, James Golding, and Chaz Mostert.
Could they reasonably be expected to commit to several hours of racing on the day before/after they also vie for championship points across, presumably, another 500km of action in their regular battleground?
Similar could be asked with respect to pit crews. Not only would Triple Eight Race Engineering and Grove Racing reasonably be expected to compete in the Bathurst 12 Hour, PremiAir Racing supported Schumacher Motorsport this year and engineers/mechanics from other teams often pick up gigs for the Mount Panorama GT3 contest.
Supercars’ own Motorsport department would also likely be stretched, given some of its personnel also work the 12 Hour, and one must also consider the availability of volunteer officials for an already draining weekend of motor racing.
It is true that the Bathurst 1000 and Bathurst International were fused into a six-day extravaganza in late-2021, but the latter element was a clear second fiddle to the former, and the longest race of the event lasted six hours and 15 minutes rather than a full 12.
It is a date which is earlier than desirable for a Supercars event, but does at least mean it can serve as the season-opener.
That is of significance because, sources have indicated, the contract with the NSW government which stipulates that the state shall host the season-opener is independent of that of the Newcastle 500.
If that is indeed the case, then the only alternative circuits to Newcastle East are Mount Panorama or Sydney Motorsport Park.
While SMP is not a street circuit nor does it boast the grandeur of Bathurst, it does feature permanent lighting which can be used to create a spectacle befitting of a season-opener, and draws spectators from within the most populous city in the country, and beyond.
Even if, for argument’s sake, the NSW obligation does not exist, there are few other obvious alternatives.
Albert Park is locked into the weekend of Sunday, March 24 by the Formula 1 calendar and Supercars will be treated as the third-string support category there, while Taupo’s date was recently announced as April 19-21.
Neither Hidden Valley nor Townsville can move from mid-year due to climactic considerations, while the Sandown 500 and Bathurst 1000 are also virtually fixed in place.
Gold Coast Indy, as it was known at the time, was held in March until 1997 but such a slot is considered suboptimal due to the timing of the region’s busy tourism periods and proximity to the Australian Grand Prix.
The Adelaide 500 used to be the customary season-opener, but it is now the contracted finale.
The other current circuits are Symmons Plains, Wanneroo, and The Bend, all of which have their appeal, but not necessarily to kick off the campaign, although the latter has been investing in building its overall entertainment offering.
Next up in the 2023 season is the Bathurst 1000, where practice commences on Thursday, and where it had been expected that the 2024 calendar would be announced.
Given developments of the past week in Newcastle, that may yet be delayed, although a later release would hardly be unprecedented considering this year’s calendar was unveiled on November 23, 2022.
Holding off on an announcement could also buy time to resolve the issues facing the Newcastle 500, which the city’s Lord Mayor, Cr Nuatali Nelmes, described in recent days as “very successful”, notwithstanding that she also makes the one-year contract proposal to be an issue.