Racing is getting back on track, literally

Permanent facilities give amateurs like us somewhere we can play responsibly.
Permanent facilities give amateurs like us somewhere we can play responsibly.

In addition to taking sim racing way more seriously earlier this year, motorsport organisers around the world have also developed a newfound appreciation for permanent circuit racing facilities.

As reported in the Western Advocate, when discussing the new 2020 calendar V8 Supercars CEO Sean Seamer said "To be honest with you, the good thing about Tasmania, Perth, QR [Queensland Raceway], Bathurst, is they're not street races, right, so the builds aren't as significant, and I think what our teams have shown is they can quite quickly get an event up at a dedicated race track."

Even so, border restrictions are still playing their part and on a domestic level. The Darwin rounds of the V8 Supercars for instance, were delayed for a week because teams and their transporters had to wait for approval to complete their long-haul journeys.

Before the pandemic, many championships, and governments, liked the idea of a street circuit. The taxpayer kicks in public funds so the temporary facilities can be put in, and all stakeholders appear to win.

Governments see it as an event to draw more temporary tourism into the region. As a side note, don't believe the inflated attendance numbers, they accumulate when it's the same person turning up to all three or four days; they're not all tourists either.

When announcing temporary street events, the organisers make carefully-worded statements using phrases similar to "financially viable" that indicate they actually stand to make a bigger profit than if they had to come to some agreement with the private operator of a permanent track.

For example, Sydney Motorsport Park was off the V8SC calendar for a number of years simply because they struggled to cover costs each time that circus turned up. The track's custodians - The Australian Racing Driver's Club - were expected to garner their funds from gate sales, but some wet events with low turnouts meant that arrangement was unsustainable.

The saddest thing about this situation was SMP is owned by the state government and leased to the ARDC. Instead of supporting their own venue, in 2008 the state chose to pour in tens of millions of dollars into initially creating the Olympic Park track and then millions more each year on set up and pack up.

Even more strange, NSW actually had to change the law to take power away from the Sydney Olympic Park Authority for about two weeks each year, a body established for the sole purpose of looking out for the interests of that precinct.

Teams don't tend to like the extra panel work street venues create either. This was evident back in the days before the Indy and F1 GP events counted for championship points. Teams with older models in the shed turned up with those rather than taking the risk on bending the shiny and still-straight current-model in between all the very unforgiving concrete barriers. But that's something they must have come to terms with.

In 2020 however, with events around the world now not able to attract spectators in significant numbers - if at all - the street circuit idea is almost untenable.

I say that because the Townsville event was allocated with new dates and it seems to be going ahead on consecutive weekends. Limits to numbers and no pit access for fans makes sense, but how is it "financially viable" as a publicly-funded tourist event this year when the state border isn't even open?

As a grassroots enthusiast what I see is temporary facilities denying the wider population somewhere relatively safe to go and play in a responsible fashion.

The only exception is Mount Panorama, which although technically a street circuit owned by the local council, is permanent enough to host a number of amateur-level club events throughout the year.

The venue I've competed at the most is SMP. Whether it was on the skidpan at club level or the various circuit layouts for state level competitions, the mere fact that it and some others exist all year round is what makes a motorsport hobby possible.

Sam Hollier is an ACM journalist and a motoring fanatic who also has a Bachelor of Business in Tourism from SCU.