This time last week, people stood around their water coolers de-briefing about the Bathurst 12 Hour.
The 12 Hour, an endurance battle of man and machine, had been waged across 290 gruelling laps of the Mount Panorama circuit. Millions of dollars of exotic machinery placed in the skilled hands of the world’s best endurance racers.
The topic everyone was talking about the day after? Not the greatness of such an epic race. Not even the winners necessarily.
It was Maro Engel’s unexpected sledging of his teammate Shane Van Gisbergen, after our current Supercar champion crashed and ended their race just half an hour from the finish line.
It was his ‘heat of the moment’ reaction during a Channel Seven TV interview that got everyone’s attention. So much so, that interview was replayed.
This off-track exchange captured more attention than the 12 hours of on-track racing did.
Fans lit up social media. Some defended Engel’s actions, some remarked it was ‘insulting’, ‘uncalled for’ and ‘poor form.’ Maybe so, but the point is everyone was talking about it.
Of the five hundred-plus tweets (yes, I counted them) from the official Bathurst 12 Hour Twitter account that day, Engel’s TV interview was the second-most retweeted. His Twitter apology received more online reaction than the winners of the race.
Controversy. Rivalry. Passion. Heroes. Villains. They are all elements that make the theatre of sport so addictive.
And motorsport, and in particular the country’s premier road racing series the Supercars, needs more of these right now.
As a self-confessed motorsport tragic, I want the participants in the game reflecting their passion at a level that matches mine. I want them to show how much it matters if they win or lose.
If an incident happens during a race that makes me want to throw something at the TV, I want to see that driver throwing something too. (And by this I mean more of a hissy fit than a hammer!)
Less sponsor-friendly political correctness and more authenticity. More rivalries, more feeling, more emotion. More engagement.
Yes, it’s sport but it’s primarily entertainment. And with the increasing variety of entertainment options out there, motor racing needs to engage and promote headline-grabbing storylines, regardless of the traditional notion of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ publicity.
Do you remember when Marcos Ambrose won the second race at Eastern Creek in 2003? Maybe not, but I’ll bet you can recall the images of Russell Ingall swerving at rival Mark Skaife as he shook his fists in that same race.
Over a decade on and the fact that scene still features in the highlights reels says something about what engages sports fans, don’t you think?
Remember Will Davison’s victory speech on the podium when he won Bathurst last year? I don’t. But I can recite then-Nissan driver Jim Richards’ feelings towards the crowd at the 1992 Bathurst verbatim.
I understand that we live in a different world now. One where the wrong move could potentially affect a sponsorship deal, or get someone crucified on social media.
But I’m not the only one that loves a sporting rivalry, and Supercars could really do with a villain or two. The drivers that fans love to hate. Personalities that polarise people. Less vanilla, and more Neapolitan – all competing together in a messy, unpredictable mash.
This season’s Supercars campaign line is ‘Get Your Heart Racing’. I hope we’ll see this tagline come to life in equal parts racing action and off-track emotion. Drivers should be encouraged to express their thoughts and reactions authentically, and not punished for it.
The annual silly season driver switches have provided some great opportunities for intra and inter-team rivalries. Jamie Whincup and Van Gisbergen showed at the 12 Hour that neither will give an inch in the fight for the title.
I’m interested to see how the dynamic between Garth Tander and James Courtney, now without the pressure of being factory-backed figureheads (and no longer teammates), plays out.
Who do you want to see stand up and become the sport’s villains and heroes?