A Supercars summer? Yes please!

OK, here’s one of those classic ‘why didn’t I (or someone else I know and whose opinions I respect) think about this one first’ pieces of news which could – if it indeed comes off – benefit the sport on both sides of the Tasman.

I’m talking, of course, of the new – thoroughly revised 2020 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship series calendar (which was unveiled over the weekend) and the fact that on it New Zealand has been given the penultimate round – over the Jan 09/10 2021 weekend!

For years now I’ve argued that there was something fundamentally wrong with ‘our’ annual summer motorsport calendar; a situation which reached a nadir of ‘duck-shoving’ stupidity in January this year when the South Canterbury club was allowed to run its annual ‘Truck meeting’ the same weekend the Southland Sports Car Club was hosting the second round of the ‘NZ Championship meeting (featuring the Castrol TRS single-seaters and for the first time a colab with the Valvoline D1NZ Drift championships)

Sure, if you took them at face value (Trucks? TRS? Drifting? The two meetings could hardly be more different) so you’re no doubt thinking that I ‘protesteth too much.’

But if you have been around as long as I have – on both sides of the fence too – you’d see the Timaru meeting for what it was… the small Truck field being a Trojan Horse of sorts for a whoopin’, hollerin’ celebration of everything your typical South Island motorsport fan likes – not one but TWO classes of Muscle Car (Mobil 1 Mainland AND Enzed Central Muscle Cars) plus the Archibald’s Historic Touring Cars, 2KCup South Island, Pre65s etc.

While you can’t blame the Timaru club for trying it on (I suppose) it wasn’t a particularly good look if you were at Teretonga and wondering where ‘all the fans are.’

While I’ve no idea where the massed ranks of Southlanders who used to embark, lemming-like on a pilgrimage to watch the motorsport world’s great and good at the annual ‘International’ meeting on the last weekend on January were, I’m pretty sure most of those from Dunedin north were at Levels….

For a while there – in the early days of the TRS and when the NZV8 Touring Car category boasted 30-grids of evenly-matched Ford Falcons ad Holden Commodores you could enjoy Christmas and New Year with family at home before heading south for most of January (either staying down there or flying to and from at the weekend).

I used to love combining work with pleasure through those years, organising motorcycles to ride from ChCh to and from wherever the race meeting was on then flying back to Auckland for my day job (which at that time was editing Kiwi Rider magazine).

Unfortunately, because I had (and still have, in actual fact) a foot in both the contemporary and historic motor racing camps I eventually had to choose between heading south for all three (Ruapuna, Levels, Teretonga) meetings. Or staying at home and missing the first while I covered both from the various ‘Driver and/or Marque celebration’ meetings Jim Barclay, and Hampton Downs founders Tony Roberts and Chris Watson organised and started running on the second weekend of the traditional ‘down south’ month at ‘their’ circuit in the north Waikato.

Crowds flocked to Timaru International Raceway to watch the Historics and Super Trucks in January 2020

Hell you couldn’t blame them for picking that particular weekend; theirs’s was after-all, a genuine classic/historic meeting with zero ‘crossover’ between it and a TRS meeting at the other end of the country……or so you would think.

Fast-forward to the weekend just passed though and the current COVID-19 Coronavirus has been responsible for one of the biggest upsets to have faced the human race in decades.

What it has also done is forced everyone to stop pretty much what they were/are doing and evaluate the way they live their life.

What say, for instance, you are the Supercars employee responsible for salvaging a relevant, real-world calendar out of a year basically buggered to all hell by your Government’s Lockdown and Social Distancing restrictions.

In theory you have until December 31st to renegotiate the finer detail of each rescheduled round. But then again, why impose an arbitrary end date just because it is – in theory anyway – the 2020 championship?

If it’s only going to edge into the first and second months of 2021 -and there is the distinct possibility of a mutually beneficial ‘hook-up ‘ with the organisers of the 2021 Liqui-Moly 12 Hour at Bathurst over the first weekend in February why would you not look seriously at;

1/ Extending the 2020 series into 2021, and
2/ Using the opportunity to finally give fans here a meeting which has the same sort of hype and hoopla the early NZGP ones enjoyed at Ardmore in the 1950s then at Pukekohe through the golden ‘Tasman Series’ years of our sport through the 1960s and 1970s.

And do you know what? It won’t matter whether the ITM Super Sprints meeting is held at Pukekohe or Hampton Downs. Either would be fine, though speaking strictly personally here, I’d love to see Scotty, SVG, Fabs and Andre H attack the full international circuit at the latter.

So I think the idea of running the NZ round of the 2020 Virgin Australia Supercars championship is a good idea because it finally gives all of us here a chance to focus our summer calendars on one big, major, international event – particularly if the date ‘works’ for the Aussies and is included on the Supercars calendar in 2022, 2023 and so on.

I know, there are those in Australia who have floated the idea of the Supercars season actually transitioning from a year-on-year February-December calendar to a cross-year – say November one year, to October the next one.

Up until now, however, the main reason has been to escape the mainstream media’s (or at least this is how it seems to motorsport fans ) unhealthy obsession with the oval ball codes of league (In NSW & Queensland) and Aussie Rules (In Victoria and SA) with whose seasons the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship runs alongside.

Andre Heimgartner

The major stumbling block so far, however, has been Australia’s climate – conventional wisdom saying that it is way too hot to run race meetings even in southerly locales like Winton and Phillip Island through the tinder-dry fire season that is January.

Export at least two of those rounds to Tasmania and New Zealand in late December and early January and a cross-year calendar stars to make some sense.

Put on TWO meetings in New Zealand over consecutive or a fortnight apart meetings, one – say – in the North Island (Hampton Downs) and the other in the south (Highlands, anyone?) and…can you see where I am going here?

Because the Supercars series is an end in itself I can’t see a single (or even a pair of) meeting or meetings here in January having any real impact on the Castrol TRS Series – or the jewel in its crown – the NZGP.

Equally I don’t see a single Supercars meeting that early in January (the 9th and 10th) impacting on our three big historic meetings, namely the Taupo Historic GP in late January, and the Skope Classic at Christchurch’s Mike Pero Motorsport Park, and new George Begg Classic Speedfest at Invercargill’s Teretonga Park in February.

Clubs like the South Canterbury one would still be free to organise a meeting at Levels the same weekend. But this time, I think, they would struggle to get a single volunteer to man (or should that be to ‘person’) the gate, let alone anyone turning up to watch.

Because?

Because if there’s a category they love more than Muscle Cars in the 03-calling area it is Supercars. Actually, now that I think about it the same pretty much goes for blokes and blokesses in the 09, 07, 06 and 04 zones as well.

And if there’s a round – or two – on in this country they are going to want to be at it, no matter what time of the year, to whatever other motorsport or other event is on that weekend.

Shane van Gisbergen at Adelaide earlier this year
Ross MacKay

Ross MacKay is an award-winning journalist, author and publicist with first-hand experience of motorsport from a lifetime competing on two and four wheels. He currently combines a day job editing NZ4WD magazine with contract media work, weekend Mountain Bike missions and towing his 1989 Nissan Skyline drifter to grassroots meetings around the North Island.

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