The Clipsal 500, raced on the streets of Adelaide is one of the most popular on the calendar, but is there a need to change it for the good of Supercars?
I’ve talked a lot about the Supercars calendar and race format over the last couple of weeks because there is a need for change to re-invigorate the championship.
Simply put, interest levels have dropped in the category compared with a decade and even a few years ago.
When compared with other events across the season, it’s gotten to the stage where the popular events remain a fixture in the Australian sporting landscape, while others seem to avoid media attention and mass fan support.
The Clipsal 500 is one of those key events for Supercars, along with Bathurst, Sandown and generally, the Gold Coast and season finale which is being moved to Newcastle this year.
Moving the season finale away from Homebush is a step in the right direction in terms of calendar and popularity of events, but that’s another story for another day.
As mentioned, the Clipsal 500 on the streets of Adelaide is still one of the major events that gain traction with the media.
Being the season opener helps, but you feel it wouldn’t matter when the brutal weekend around the streets of Adelaide was held – it would still draw an audience, TV ratings and a decent amount of media attention.
That, by the way, is not me advocating for it not to be the season opener, because it definitely deserves to remain in that slot. It’s earnt the right to host the season opening weekend for as long as they host Supercars.
It almost wouldn’t feel right to kick things off anywhere else at this point.
Thankfully, the Supercars authority made the decision this season to scrap the 125-kilometre races that have marred the event in recent seasons and re-instate the 250-kilometre version on both days – something that seemed to spike interest.
You could tell playing around with the format and bringing in shorter races did nothing but quite literally drive people away from the weekend and spectacle of racing through Adelaide.
But that’s because no one really got on board with the idea of shorter races. People want to see the drama and storyline play out across a 90 minute to two-hour window – not something that is over in 45 minutes.
It simply doesn’t allow for interest to spike in the race. Essentially, Supercars need to make it worth it for people to go and watch.
250 kilometres in a lot of ways seems like the perfect length for the Clipsal 500, but there is just a feeling – and I don’t know if anyone shares it – that it could be so much more if it were a part of the endurance championship with possibly a longer race on Sunday.
Now, it doesn’t have to be 500 kilometres like the race at Sandown is, but if the Gold Coast event of two 300-kilometre races can be on the endurance championship calendar, then so can Adelaide.
Let’s make the Sunday race 350 or 450 kilometres – call it the Clipsal 600 or 700 – and kick off the endurance championship with a race early in the season.
That’s not an outrageous amount of laps. 350 would give us 113 laps, while 450 would give us 145. After witnessing Saturday’s slightly shorter event, it gives the drivers a chance to learn and turn it around.
Use the finishing order from Saturday to determine the grid instead of another qualifying and shootout and use the extra distance to give drivers a chance to work their way up the field across the afternoon.
While many casual fans don’t actually give a stuff about who wins the endurance championship – they care about who wins Bathurst, Sandown and the overall Championship – adding a storyline to the Adelaide event at the start of the season has a number of benefits.
The slightly longer race should bring in more casual fans – and even if not for the long term then certainly for the short term. Australian’s love and event and anything that is new or remotely exciting.
The main reward for Supercars though will be that, come Sandown there will be increased exposure because we already have a standing for the endurance championship and that perspective begins to play out.
Supercars need to be aiming to make the endurance championship something big. Something people care about and want to watch because it’s exciting in relation to its own series.
The problem – the only problem in fact to a longer Adelaide race – is the issue of co-drivers. The Endurance Championship is won by two drivers, not one, and using one driver in Adelaide might corrupt that idea a little bit.
Many of the co-drivers aren’t in Australia when the Clipsal 500 is raced and wouldn’t be willing to change their schedule for a second visit to Australia.
So, the question is – can we run the Clipsal 500 as part of the Endurance Championship without co-drivers and include them at a later date?
The other question resides around the idea that 350 or certainly 450 kilometres might be a touch too long to make drivers run on their own.
The Adelaide race traditionally has hot temperatures and fitness levels of drivers are not at the peak during the first round of the season.
I don’t have the answer to either of those questions, but if the Supercars can find one, the event in Adelaide has the potential to keep improving and become must-watch television.