THEY SAY a week is a long time in politics and if you were a motorsport fan living in South Australia, the last seven days have been both excruciating and a whirlwind of energy and discussion.
In just a few days, motorsport fans in Adelaide, and more broadly the sport in general, went from anger to the shock decision of the South Australian Government to axe the Adelaide 500, to frustration that the move to a position as the season finale’ would come to naught and to a unifying collective protesting the decision.
The week ended with some optimism following confirmation that the state opposition would bring the race back should they win the next election in 18 months or so.
It was a lot to process in a year filled with stories that have been a lot to process.
The current State Government and attached Tourism department, while playing the politically expedient card of being supportive of South Australia hosting major motorsport events, has never been particularly ‘in to’ motorsport.
In their eyes, they’d much rather throw cursory support to privately-run events at privately-run circuits rather than go to the effort and expense of the street circuit race.
They had priors, too: two years ago they axed the Adelaide Motorsport Festival, a growing and increasingly popular event held on a shortened version of the Supercars circuit in the parklands.
While there was always concern once the incumbents came to power that they would slash funding to the sport, axing the Motorsport Festival – which took a tiny amount of funding for quite significant returns – was an eyebrow raiser for the broader community in the state.
Up to this point, however, there was always the feeling that they didn’t want to be the Government to kill the Adelaide 500 – but then along came a global pandemic and the absolutely perfect excuse to stick a fork in an event they didn’t want.
Two things were entirely predictable following last Thursday’s announcement – the first that there would be a massive out cry from the broad motorsport industry in reaction to the decision.
South Australia has always been a Motorsport state, from being one of the first in Australia to actively embrace street racing, to bringing Formula One to Australia and, ultimately, the introduction of the Adelaide 500 in 1999.
At the time, the then-Liberal Governments decision to back the Supercars street race was bold and ambitious: it had only been three years since the Australian Touring Car Championship had been rebuilt and reshaped by AVESCO and head-honcho, Tony Cochrane and while ratings and interest was growing, no one was quite sure that it could sustain as the headline act of a dedicated street race that once held Formula One.
The results, of course, were spectacular and the Adelaide 500 became the archetype and template for races in New Zealand, Sydney, the Gold Coast, Townsville and more recently, Newcastle.
Per-captia, the state would argue that it has the largest number of motorsport fans and certainly has punched above its weight in producing talent both behind the wheel – Nick Percat and Todd Hazelwood both openly cite their exposure to the ‘500 as kids as reasons for chasing the motorsport dream – and behind the scenes.
The strength of the sport in SA has also seen major investment: the $120m-plus incredible place that is The Bend Motorsport Park proof of that. Ironically, its existence probably helped hasten the demise of the Adelaide 500: in the eyes of an uninformed and uncaring government, why spend all that money on a street race when there’s a perfectly good permanent circuit an hour outside of town?
The second predictable thing was the response from the opposition.
In a year dominated by the Covid-19 Pandemic and the Governmental response to managing it, there has been little political ammunition in South Australia for the Labor party to throw the way of the sitting Liberal Government.
With SA one of the first to emerge from serious lockdowns, one of the first to open to other states and territories and with a negligible ongoing number of cases (and no community transmission for six months), the State Government has by all accounts done an outstanding job.
Which is why the opposition grasped this opportunity to leap on the axing of the 500 – it’s political gold in a year where there has been little to argue as the world attempts to beat Covid.
It’s impossible to tell whether the opposition are actually keen to bring back the Adelaide 500, or whether they are just using it as a political opportunity to win back some points and get in the media after a relatively quiet year in opposition – but certainly the effort to fly to Sydney and sign a MOU with Supercars was impactful and prompt and certainly won them some brownie points.
The task now will be for them to maintain that rage for the period between now and the next State election in March, 2022.
The final element in this remarkable week has been the broader impact on the sport.
And I say ‘Sport’ because it’s not just the Supercars Championship affected by the decision to kill the ‘500.
Behind the Australian Grand Prix, the ‘500 is the largest motorsport event in Australasia. It’s the third most-watched motorsport event in the region following the Grand Prix and Bathurst and sits only behind the Grand Prix as a major corporate destination for sponsors.
Literally hundreds of support race competitors use their participation at an event of such scale to sell sponsorship that can get them through events at much lower-key occasions.
It is an enormous driver for media coverage and for bringing casual fans to a shop front for the sport as a whole.
Losing it in the short-term due to Covid-19 would have been tough, but it would have bounced back. Killing it permanently leaves a massive hole that will be extremely challenging for Australian Motorsport to fill.
Time will tell if it returns, or if this truly is the end of one of Australia’s great sporting events.