Driver ColumnsSam Tickell (Editor)

Opinion – Should the Gold Coast 600 end its run?

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Will this be a thing of the past as Government belts tighten?

The Gold Coast 600 could be living on borrowed time and in a way, it has outlived its useful life.  The race, still affectionately known as ‘Indy’ to the Queensland public was created back in 1991 for the Indycar Championship and became the biggest draw on the calendar – at least for crowd numbers and enthusiasm.

The Government loved it – pumping millions into the event.  The crowds turned up in great numbers – some 300 000 over a weekend – outranking even the F1 in Melbourne.  Even in the dying days of CART, it was a massive draw.

But that all came to an end when Tony George and his team made one of their regular nonsensical decisions to withdraw from the race.  The promoters made an even more nonsensical decision to get the A1GP in – despite it being known at the time that the thing was about to fall over.

Granted the V8s came to save the event at very short notice at the conclusion of the A1 debacle and have made the event their own with the international driver scheme they have going.

In a way, they have made their own race of champions.

They needed to as the Queensland Government demands an international element for their ongoing funding – reported to be at around $5million a year.

The racing is good.  There is some media interest – all would be good and successful.  But…

But the newly elected Queensland Government is trying desperately to save money.  They have taken money out of the arts (they have been slashed), community programs, closed down nursing homes, fired some 15000 government employees, cut conditions of those who remain.

In that light, it is hard to see how this event continues to exist.  We must not forget that the V8 Supercars has two other Queensland rounds – one in Townsville and the other an hour up the road at Queensland Raceway – both enjoy Government funding.

I agree that both of those events should exist.  One is run on permanent facilities and the other is in a key region for V8 Supercars and doesn’t enjoy the other cultural and sporting offerings that the folks on the Gold Coast do.

There are other reasons too.  It was long thought that the V8 Supercars drew the crowds to the Gold Coast, not the Champ Cars.  That was blown out of the water when the Americans stopped coming and the race had its worst attendance ever.  Even now, it is still some 100 000 down on its peak.

Media coverage is ailing with V8 Supercars not having live TV into Europe or the USA for Bathurst and running a live stream only after popular demand.

The contrived format, while nice proved catastrophic in race 1 of the 2012 event with seven cars being eliminated at the start.  The drivers are certainly capable of driving these V8 Supercars but when you have next-to-no experience in them and placed on a three lane highway with walls either side, it is not the place to learn how to drive these things.

We are also seeing the resurgence of IMETT (Integrated Motorsport Education Tourism & Technology) who want to create permanent facilities not all that far from the Gold Coast. (more information on IMETT can be found at their website.  We are in no way connected to IMETT)

The proposal from IMETT is to create a 6.5kilometre long track, 14 metres wide, constructed to the highest International FIA and FIM specifications.  The facility would also be open to motoring education, drive days, technology precincts and more.

The facility would be permanent and good enough for events like the World Endurance Championship for example.  Queensland would, for the first time, have world class motorsport facilities.

They would also have them the whole year round.  The big events can still be made into spectaculars – in fact it would be necessary.  But with proper planning and using the knowledge and cunning we know V8 Supercars and other major event organisers have, it can be done.

As a taxpayer and a motorsport fan, if I had a choice for where my $5m per year went, it would certainly be IMETT – not a street track.

This isn’t to say I don’t like the V8 Supercars or the Gold Coast round.  I attended the event for more than a decade as a spectator, event volunteer and media representative.

It was a great event, provided great coverage for Queensland internationally.  But those days are behind us.  Financial realities hit and other opportunities are on the horizon.

It is time to look forward for both the Queensland Government and V8 Supercars.

And it seems that, for the most, a street race on the Gold Coast reflects the rest of the mood of the rest of the place – a little juvenile, a little outdated.

(c) Sam Tickell, October 2012

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