WE’RE at The Bend Motorsport Park this weekend for the next round of the Supercars championship.
The $130m venue has still got that new-race-track smell and continues to evolve and grow as it settles into the landscape and continue to introduce new developments and features.
And yet for all of the excellent pit buildings, a welcome centre that doubles as a car museum and an endless variation of circuit layouts and cars to drive, the first thing most have noted early in the weekend is a somewhat more… elemental facility.
This circuit has the best bathrooms of any in the country.
It might seem like a strange thing to highlight when there’s five kays of undulating bitumen in front of you and a classic Lola F5000 sitting next to the Coffee Machine to your left.
And yet there’s something comforting about knowing that going to the loo doesn’t mean running the gamut of encountering broken cisterns, rubbish all over the floor or.. well.. worse.
The difference from the last round to this one is profound because of all the circuits in Australia, Queensland Raceway probably has the worst bathroom facilities of them all. They’re woefully inadequate: they’re probably fine for club days but any time you have more than a small crowd at the Ipswich circuit by the second day they’re essentially unusable – so you find yourself crossing your legs until the point you can leave and go somewhere better.
In this day and age it’s really not good enough when the local McDonald’s has a cleaner restroom than a supposedly major race track.
Fortunately that’s most certainly not the case at The Bend, a circuit that has restrooms cleaner than most people’s houses.
And while I agree this may seem like an odd thing to discuss on these pages, stay with me because I think topics like this are increasingly relevant to the sport.
The battle motorsport faces in attracting people to its venues against a wave of other sports, Netflix or otherwise continues – and circuits must continue to offer reasons for people to get off their couch and go.
People go to The Bend because the facilities are excellent and they know that even the most basic functions – like going to the Loo – won’t be a horrible experience. It may sound silly, but more and more this kind of factor will remain in people’s minds when it comes to making the call to go or stay home and watch it on TV.
Car racing faces an uphill battle on this front as well, because the other sports have the distinct advantage of having governments continuing to throw money at brand-new sporting stadiums.
The construction of these buildings, sometimes worth more than a billion dollars, is now as much about the sport as it is the ‘fan experience’. People speak with their feet and if the ‘fan experience’ is no good, it won’t take many home-ground losses for people to get sick of going and stay home.
In Adelaide, a $550m renovation of the Adelaide Oval had an enormous impact on drawing people back to both Aussie Rules footy and Cricket, after years of declining attendances at the old Football Park, which was a stadium out of the city and still rooted in the 1970s. Basically, people stopped going to an old, run-down ground with poor facilities compared to what they could get elsewhere so something had to be done.
Motorsport has less venues and less major events to worry about but there will come a time when stuff like that plays a bigger role in bringing people out.
We live in an age where the form of your team means as much as having access to free wi-fi, decent food and, yes, clean and numerous bathrooms to make the punter experience a good one and ensure they keep coming back.
Race tracks tend not to attract the same kind of support that major sporting stadiums to – but even so there’s an argument that it’s not that hard to make sure the catering is good and that the toilets flush.
Sometimes, it’s the bare necessities of modern life that make going – in every sense of the word – worthwhile.