Roland’s View: The Meaning of Life – Bathurst
By Roland Dane
Wednesday 4th October, 2023 - 6:00am
It’s that time of the year again. The footy finals have come and gone, and spring is well and truly in the air, so it must mean it’s time for the Great Race.
I’ve never made any secret of my love of the Mount Panorama circuit and, in particular, the Bathurst 1000. My fascination with the circuit, and the race, started many years ago when, as a kid in Ireland, my Adelaide-based godfather started sending me Wheels magazine every month.
In those far off days, Wheels was a real cutting edge publication rather than the limp-wristed automotive industry PR exercise that it is today. I loved it and the many irreverent articles written by the real giants of motoring journalism at the time.
Pieces about Bathurst, and the cars that raced there, represented a glimpse of another world for me that I knew, one day, I wanted to be a part of.
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Then, in the 1980s, with the advent of the Group A rules, the BBC in the UK started to broadcast a post-race highlights package of the 1000. Some great and, at the time, cutting edge camera work only served to whet my appetite further.
In 1997, my first opportunity to make the journey to the Mountain came about, courtesy of the Supercars v TOCA, V8 v 2 litre, battles and the generosity of Channel Seven.
I couldn’t believe the financial offer on the table to bring our Triple Eight UK GM Vectra Super Touring cars to Australia for the 1000 as well as the chance to have Peter Brock driving for us. Talk about ticking every box!
And then we got to repeat the deal again the following year.
We didn’t win either time, and we could see and appreciate that the 2 litre cars were really not what the Australian fanbase wanted to watch at their favourite circuit, but we had a great time and appreciated all the more the unique character of the Bathurst 1000.
As an aside, it still amazes me that some folk even today (and that includes people who were involved in those 2 litre wars a quarter of a century ago) think that there can be a lasting appetite for TCR cars here.
Finally returning in 2003, as Triple Eight Australia with proper Aussie V8 Supercars, made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, a feeling that has never failed to be there each time I’ve made the journey ever since. The atmosphere is so special.
Close friends will confirm that the only motor racing memorabilia that I have at home is the collection of Peter Brock trophy replicas that I have – one for every Triple Eight win. Nothing else in motorsport has the same meaning for me.
Meanwhile, in the last few weeks, I’ve been quietly asking a few fans what the Bathurst 1000 means to them.
Two themes emerged.
Firstly, the theme of growing up watching Bathurst at home on the television with the family and/or friends. Making a day of it with the broadcast humming away as the barbie sizzled in the background.
And secondly, the perennial camper who has an almost rock solid appointment with the race as an attendee every year.
It was good to hear stories from both groups. But the first group made me fear for the future, at least until I corralled the thoughts of the second group!
It’s increasingly clear that the idea of families and friends gathering around the TV to watch the race for six or seven hours is running out of steam. For sure it does still happen, but these days there are so many other distractions and choices that the average consumer can make, the market is increasingly fragmented.
In recent years, Supercars has done a good job of using social media during the Great Race to push incidents and big moments into the world of video clips as quickly as possible, so the engagement is still there but maybe not to the same extent in the traditional way.
However, in keeping with the trend towards excellent attendances at high-profile, special events in all sorts of sports, the message from that perennial fan who packs up the camping gear, come rain, hail or sunshine, and heads for Bathurst each year shows that these folk are as keen as ever to actually be there.
Campsites bulging at the seams, sold out weeks before the event, are a sure sign that the Bathurst 1000 remains a very special event. One which compares with the other great endurance races around the world like the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Nürburgring 24, and the Twelve Hours of Sebring that all attract massive crowds.
So many of the fans at the 1000 will be fans who are not fully engaged for most of the year. They don’t read every article on the ‘P’ word, they don’t watch most of the races, but they do make the annual trip to the Mountain. It’s no different to many of the people who go to the Australian Open, the Grand Finals, or the F1 Grand Prix.
There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s good. And even those part-time fans mostly know more about the Sport than some of those who oversee it…
For me, there remains great potential for Supercars and the Bathurst Regional Council to continue to grow the event itself. Television is vital of course, but there’s big upside to be had in the actual event on the ground.
Is there a strategy in place to make the event into a truly weeklong festival that takes full advantage of the clear appetite for big, annual, unique happenings? I hope so.
Rather than pursuing pipedreams overseas, the Supercars Board needs to fish where the fish are. And maximising the opportunities for the Bathurst 1000 should be very much to the forefront of any plan.
Meanwhile, I’ll be watching the broadcast on Fox Sports from home, the barbie sizzling in the background, with a mate or two here. The live timing will be on, and the TV volume muted, save for some Murph or Larko moments.
Enjoy The Great Race from wherever you’re watching.