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Saturday, December 7th, 2019

Victoria race tracks try to ward off threats to Supercars competition

by July 28, 2017 General

Victoria’s regional rounds of the Supercars championship are working to ward off the threat of being replaced by proposed new international events.

Winton Motor Raceway, near Benalla in the state’s north-east, and the Phillip Island International Circuit, south-east of Melbourne, have plans to secure their traditional places in the schedule as Supercars looks to expand into Asia.

Both tracks, which have been among the mainstay permanent tracks in the V8 era, are in talks to extend their current agreements.

Winton has a tentative deal for 2018-19, while Phillip Island is seeking a multi-year renewal from 2019.

New overseas races potentially will endanger some existing rounds at traditional tracks, which may have to make way for more lucrative foreign deals if demand exceeds the V8 series’ limit of 17 events.

Queensland Raceway, which is hosting this weekend’s Ipswich SuperSprint, was thought to be among the most vulnerable because of its outdated facilities and reliance on local and state government backing of the Supercars event.

But the circuit is set to stay in the series until 2028 following an agreement with Ipswich City Council, which has committed to funding major improvements to the track and amenities.

The deal is contingent on an initial multimillion-dollar upgrade of the existing 3.12-kilometre course to bring it up to the latest international track safety standards and the construction of better facilities for spectators and competitors.

Local authorities have also included a planned extension of the Queensland Raceway layout in a $52.3 million redevelopment of the surrounding multi-purpose motor sport complex.

In a complex arrangement, Queensland Raceway is owned by the state government and leased to a private track operator, with both state and local authorities funding the annual V8 event, which in turn is run and promoted by Supercars.

Assuming the safety upgrades and then the massive redevelopment go ahead, QR will be locked into the Supercars championship for another decade, putting pressure on other permanent circuits to lift their game.

Winton and Phillip Island are regarded as the most vulnerable because they have the least government support and attract the smallest crowds.

However, both Victorian tracks are working to consolidate their positions with extended or new deals.

Winton Motor Raceway, which is owned by the Benalla Auto Club, is seeking a two-year renewal of the six-figure grant it received from Spring Street for the first time last year to fulfil the remainder its conditional agreement with Supercars for 2018-19.

The state government’s support, which was on top of earlier seven-figure assistance for a $3 million track resurfacing in 2015, helped make this year’s V8 event profitable after the previous two made losses.

The Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit is the only track in the series this year that doesn’t receive some sort of government funding for its Supercars event, although taxpayer dollars do underpin the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix and the superbike world championship round.

The oceanside course stages its late-season V8 round in partnership with Supercars rather than just renting it out for the event, resulting in a more favourable financial arrangement that offsets the low attendance and limited corporate support for the far-flung venue.

Next season is the last of a long agreement and the Linfox-owned Phillip Island track’s management is looking to do a new multi-year deal from 2019.

Including the AGP at Albert Park, Victoria hosts four Supercars events – the most of any state – but the future of the Sandown 500 is in doubt after 2019 because the suburban track is in need of a multimillion-dollar resurfacing and safety upgrade.

It is unlikely that Sandown’s owner, the Melbourne Racing Club, will fund the refurbishment as its medium-term plan is to sell the combined horse and car racing complex in Springvale, which is worth hundreds of millions for residential and commercial redevelopment.

Including Winton and Phillip Island, next year’s Supercars championship will be expanded to at least 15 events with the addition of the Australian Grand Prix support races, which for the first time will count for title points.

It could be as many as 16 or the maximum 17 events – the limit stipulated in Supercars’ agreement with the teams – if South Australia’s new international circuit at Tailem Bend, 100 kilometres south-east of Adelaide, joins and an event in Asia is secured.

Supercars has received interest from tracks in Malaysia, China, Thailand and Indonesia, as well as an approach to headline the support race program at the F1 Singapore Grand Prix.

Its only existing overseas event, at Pukekohe Raceway Park, outside Auckland in New Zealand, is up for renewal after this November’s event, with Supercars seeking major track and infrastructure improvements on top of continued government funding to retain the event.