TO FIND the last time a brand-new category launched ticking so many key performance indicators at once, you have to back a very long time in Australian Motorsport history.
When it comes to grid size, depth of competition and immediate impact probably only the launch of the Konica V8 Lites series – now Dunlop Super 2 – in the year 2000 comes close to what was achieved by TCR Australia at the weekend.
Will Brown, the young man from Toowoomba who won two of the three races for Hyundai at the weekend, was two years old when the second-tier Supercars series launched with 19 cars taking the start in their first ever race.
Conveniently, that was also at the circuit now known as Sydney Motorsport Park.
History of course records how successful Super2 has become and it’s own history books are now filled with great stories of champions, races and key moments.
But since then there’s been a lot of different racing categories try to get off the ground and barely make it out of first gear.
Two more recent examples, Formula 4 Australia and the SuperUtes series, stand out. Both launched with as much fanfare as they could muster, with substantial backing and each is yet to fire. F4 fronted with seven cars at the weekend while the Utes, for all the efforts of those behind it, just hasn’t captured the imagination of the paying punter nor, it seems, more than a dozen paying competitors either.
TCR Australia, at least after the opening round, seems different.
For the first time ever there was something approaching a crowd at Sydney motorsport Park for something other than a Supercars round.
The pits were busy, families parked their cars around the circuit and enjoyed the near-perfect weather and the highly-competitive 17-car field.
Yes there were last-minute deals and yes, several of those on the grid in Sydney were one-offs, but to launch with a field of that depth and quality was perhaps the most important factor. It’s hard to sneer at a grid that includes the likes of Moffat, D’Alberto, Bright and young-guns like Will Brown and Dylan O’Keeffe.
And then there was the product itself. Race one was a subdued affair, settling down into a follow-the-leader procession that ended when Jason Bright won the series’ first ever race. While everyone had hyped the potential for crash-and-bash racing, ironically it was the storyline rather than the show itself that dominated headlines on Saturday evening.
Sunday was better. Race two was very good while race three escalated things with some biff and bash that Touring Car fans, we’re told, want to see. Each race featured an overtake for the lead and each a multitude of manufacturers within the top five or six.
Sydney Motorsport Park is far from the best circuit for racing in Australia and I think TCR cars will be at their very best on shorter circuits, like Winton and Queensland Raceway. Just as Super Touring was, back in the day.
So if Saturday was merely a pass mark and Sunday a decent grade, what’s next?
TCR Australia has targeted 30 cars for next year and reaching that will be hard work, but then again few thought there would be as many as they had at the first round.
Those behind the Australian Racing Group, the company promoting TCR, have invested heavily in the series.
They’ve chipped in for cars, for tyres, probably for entry fees and for the impressive TV package that has every race live on free-to-air in a subtle backhander to ‘not a rival’ Supercars.
Importantly, they’ve also invested in good people like PR man Grant Rowley and Administrator Liam Curkpatrick – people wise to the racing world who will make sure the product operationally and the product presented to the people is first class; which in some respects is just as important as those underwriting it.
The owners have deep pockets and clearly have a long-term plan with which to grow the category so finding out how they continue to grow it while encouraging it to stand on it’s own two feet will be fascinating.
Perhaps getting the biggest tick of all, however, was something you cant measure with metrics, spreadsheets or KPI’s. It was the vibe.
It may have had something to do with the bight sunshine or it may have had something to do with a novelty factor; but the ‘vibe’ at the weekend was one of overt optimism.
Times are tough in motorsport at the moment and such is the pressure from social media commenters that it’s difficult for categories with a bad ‘vibe’ to turn things around. Just look at SuperUtes: they put on perhaps the best race of the year last time out in Perth, yet still got rubbished online.
TCRs vibe, after round one, is good. And if they can keep that going then the category may just sell itself here.
And, over the Tasman..