Plans for 10-day Bathurst ‘festival’ to open 2024 Supercars season
Saturday 14th October, 2023 - 6:00am
Plans are being hatched for a 10-day ‘festival of motorsport’ incorporating the Bathurst 12 Hour to open the 2024 Supercars season if the Newcastle deadlock continues, Speedcafe understands.
Championship management is set to brief teams next week on the 2024 Supercars calendar, having previously targeted a public release by or at last weekend’s Repco Bathurst 1000.
The main hold-up remains the season-opener, with the Newcastle 500 caught in a political standoff.
The New South Wales government continues to enthusiastically back a Supercars event in the state’s second-biggest city, but has only put an interim, one-year funding arrangement on offer due to a budget ‘black hole’.
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Notwithstanding that city mayor Nuatali Nelmes declared last month that the event is “very successful,” she and fellow councillors have dug in their heels over the fact that its community consultation was predicated on another five-year contract.
Regardless of the Newcastle situation, NSW is understood to be contractually entitled to host the first event of the season and, as revealed by Speedcafe, Mount Panorama is in the frame if there is no return to the Hunter Valley in 2024.
It is a back-up plan which raised all sorts of questions about how Supercars competitors would share garages with their GT3 counterparts, as well as the depletion of the 12 Hour field’s local stars and pit crews.
However, it now appears that a creative solution has been devised.
The Bathurst 12 Hour and the ‘Mount Panorama 500’, to borrow the name of the 2021 Supercars season-opener as a working title, would share an event which spans 10 days and hence allows each to have its own weekend of racing.
The Intercontinental GT Challenge (IGTC) action would still be held on its new, later date of February 16-18 and then the Supercars Championship field could hit the track on February 23-25, slightly earlier than ideal for the first event of the year but later than the Adelaide 500 was held in 2020.
There are several benefits to the idea, not the least of which is contractual.
State legislation limits the Mount Panorama Motor Racing Circuit to five ‘motor races’ per year, of which the Bathurst 12 Hour and Bathurst 1000 count as two, with the other three slots filled by the Supercheap Auto Bathurst International, Bathurst 6 Hour, and Challenge Bathurst.
There is no limit, though, to the length of a ‘motor race’ (an ‘event’ in traditional motorsport parlance) under the state’s Motor Sports Events Act.
Assuming Bathurst Regional Council agrees, and it should be noted that the town is used to big-ticket motorsport events and the economic spoils which they produce, then there would appear no legal impediment to elongating the Bathurst 12 Hour.
By spreading out the headline acts, Supercars drivers are still able to participate in the Bathurst 12 Hour without compromising their performance when they race for championship points.
Their engineers and mechanics who would normally work the 12 Hour, including but not limited to those from Triple Eight Race Engineering and Grove Racing, could conceivably still do so
The same could be said for Supercars’ own Motorsport department, which helps make the GT3 event happen.
Furthermore, SRO, which owns the IGTC of which Bathurst counts as the opener, still has its ‘own’ event at Mount Panorama.
Whether yet another event (in practice, if not technically so) at Mount Panorama is desirable is another question.
There is already a not uncommon view that Bathurst has reached saturation point with the 6 Hour and International now vying for attention on an Australian motorsport calendar of which the 1000 is the flagship event and the 12 Hour has developed into a serious drawcard of its own.
It would also be reasonable to take the view that the Mount Panorama 500 which opened the 2021 Supercars season, standing in for Newcastle by using the Bathurst 12 Hour slot which would otherwise have gone unfilled during that COVID-affected period in history, was a relatively dreary affair.
Before then, sprint rounds of the Australian Touring Car Championship were held at Bathurst in 1995 and 1996, but the concept was scrapped in part due to poor attendance.
Sydney Motorsport Park is the only alternative season-opener which fulfils the contractual obligations with NSW, as it is the only other (currently) operating race track in the state.
‘Eastern Creek’ nowadays boasts permanent lighting and could be used to create a spectacle befitting of a season-opener.
However, it too still evokes a sense of fatigue among some given its run of hosting five events in six across the end of the 2021 season and start of 2022 as a result of COVID restrictions.
Additionally, the Bathurst ‘festival’ idea is at least something different to a simple pair of 250km races at a track famed for hosting the longest Supercars race of them all.
It could also be a truly unique opportunity for race fans if it is used simply to buy time for a more lasting Supercars season-opener.
The 2023 season resumes with the Boost Mobile Gold Coast 500 on October 27-29, by which time it is expected more will be known about the 2024 calendar.