MOTORSPORT in this part of the world is blessed with some fantastic circuits that are not just great for the drivers, but for those sitting trackside and watching, too.
And even as High Definition TV, on-demand viewing, live streaming and exxy ticket prices compete for the attention of the ticket-buying people, there’s still something to be said for going to the races to see it live.
As a kid it was a right of passage to get as close as you could, young face squashed between the wire fencing just meters from the cars at, in my case, the Mallala circuit North of Adelaide.
Mallala wasn’t an overly special circuit but it was great for punters because you were never more than six feet away from the track wherever you went – and you could see 90% of the circuit from just about every vantage point possible, too.
It was, and still is, a great place to watch motor racing.
So if you’re a mum or dad and looking to give your kids that same experience, where do you go?
Here’s a look at five of the best places to watch racing cars at work.
ANYWHERE AT THE TOP OF MOUNT PANORAMA
THIS is an obvious one, of course, but there really is nothing like the top of Mount Panorama.
Like the Nürburgring in Germany, sometimes you have to be amazed that it still exists.
No matter how many times you’ve visited, it’s always steeper than you think, narrower than you think and much, much faster than it looks on TV.
Around past Reid Park you’re elevated on a spectator mound, watching as the cars burst over the hill and then down towards the compression at Metal Grate, threading the eye of the needle at 220km/hr.
Further around at McPhillamy Park you’ve presented with the vista of what looks to be most of the New South Wales Central West behind a ribbon of circuit seemingly tacked onto the side of the hill. The fearsome left-hander at McPhillamy is one of the greatest corners in our sport, with the line between pass and fail amazingly narrow.
Then, further around, there’s the slow speed stuff and elevation change of the dipper, where you’re three meters higher than the cars and get a remarkable perspective as they drop down the height of a six-story building in about three seconds.
You’re close to the track and a majority of it remains catch-fencing free these days. If the top of the Mountain doesn’t get you excited about racing cars – nothing will.
ALBERT PARK – TURN 11 & 12
F1 cars may not sound as good as they used to, but they go round corners much quicker than they ever have – so if you’re going to watch them, cross the pontoon over Albert Park lake and get to the outside of Turn 11, the super-quick left-hander on the Grand Prix circuit.
Few corners anywhere give you such a complete demonstration of what a fully-loaded ‘wings and slicks’ racer can do than this bit of road. The approach is fast – 300km/hr – before a quick downshift and then.. rotate! Watching the cars turn in at this speed, no more than three meters away, is fantastic. Then they way they change direction for the even quicker right-hander at turn twelve, accelerating away from you, makes you marvel that anything can point and squirt that quickly.
It might not make for great racing, but this is s superb bit of road where the extraordinary quick modern F1 cars are at their very, very best.
SENNA CHICANE – ADELAIDE PARKLANDS CIRCUIT
ONE of the best seats in the sport is the Senna Chicane grandstand at the annual Adelaide 500, overlooking the famous right-left-right-left sequence as the cars approach from the start-finish straight, negotiate the chicane and accelerate up Wakefield street.
A supercar here is maximum commitment; the cars often appear to be backed-in, rally-style, before pounding the first kerb to get some rotation. The middle kerb is then smashed, often launching the cars into the sky with all four wheels off the ground.
Watching the remarkable ride control and suspension compliance of a modern Supercar through here is impressive; as is the way they quickly regain composure, squat and go up the hill towards turn five. A great, famous bit of road.
BEACH CHICANE, GOLD COAST STREET CIRCUIT
THE FAMOUS back chicane on the Surfers street circuit has been a staple of the event since it started hosting IndyCars in the early 1990s. It was great for open wheelers, but Supercars are in their element here.
It’s a rapid approach and, if there’s side-by-side racing occurring, a game of who-blinks-first before committing to the straight-line approach to the first part of the chicane.
Then there’s the ever increasing ‘whack’ of the kerb strikes as the cars bounce from one side to the other.
What the TV doesn’t show is how steeply the road is cambered towards drivers left – the spot where you can stand trackside and watch. You’re almost looking down on the cars mid-corner, the effect usually doubled by the fact they smash the kerbs so hard the cars get launched into the air.
It’s a visceral place to watch racing cars do their thing and on the Beach Chicane, you can almost reach out and touch them. You can’t see much of the race from there, but for that section of road, it’s a riot.
ANYWHERE AT SANDOWN
SANDOWN should be a national treasure and its main grandstand is one of the best places to sit and watch racing in Australia. Full Stop.
Completely covered from the (inevitable) wind and rain, you can see 97% of the circuit from the one location making it an ideal place to watch a race unfold. What’s more, the design of the stand acts as a megaphone, taking the noise from the cars in front of you and recycling it around and around.
Sandown has some of the most strict noise controls in Australian Motorsport, but you never notice cars being muffled there because the grandstand acts as a giant amplifier anyway.
The start of the Sandown 500 there, for example, is one of the better motorsport experiences you can buy.
Watching racing at Sandown is as close an experience you can get in motorsport that you can get going to a footy game. Highly recommended.