After Scott McLaughlin’s maiden title triumph in a final showdown in Newcastle the year before, Supercars in 2019 was poised to deliver another battle of the heavyweights. However, controversy has left a bitter aftertaste.
Years in the making, the V8 Supercars finally have a footprint in Australia’s biggest market, Sydney, following the successful running of the Sydney Olympic Park race around the streets of Homebush, which saw carnage, close racing and was even used as a battleground for the code war.
A total of 184,856 fans filtered into Homebush over the three-day Sydney 500, the final round of this season’s V8 Supercar series, exceeding the expectations set by the NSW government – which has committed over $30 million for the next five years – and V8 Supercar officials.
The success of the event prompted V8 supremo Tony Cochrane to predict future crowd figures of around 250,000; a figure usually reserved for the immensely popular events in Adelaide and Surfers Paradise.
Industry insiders feared the distance from the CBD would preclude the Homebush event matching the success of city street circuits such as Adelaide, despite the ready-made transport system that linked the CBD to the Olympic precinct so well in 2000.
They pointed to the steady crowds at Oran Park – now consigned to motorsport history books as it’s being turned into a property development – and at Eastern Creek where numbers were woeful.
Homebush was the logical solution to ‘crack’ Sydney, and judging by the numbers, it seems Cochrane and co finally have the presence they have long desired.
With the Cold Chisel reunion concert attracting 45,000, the track proving to be as challenging and unforgiving as Surfers Paradise with better than expected racing, few could fault the event.
The indoor paddock in Binnie Pavilion seemed to be a huge success, and the accessibility fans have to the inner sanctum of the sport and its stars means bonds with fans can easily be built.
Following the success of the Adelaide (Clipsal 500) template over ten years ago – a city street circuit that mixes racing, concerts and other off-track entertainment – V8 Supercars knows it has a winning formula to attract crowd figures that would make any other code envious, and the success of Homebush proves it can work in bigger, more fickle markets than the likes of Adelaide.
Should they convince the Queensland government that the Surfers Paradise event can be a V8-only weekend, without international representation, then the series will have a core group of city street circuits across Australia and New Zealand: Adelaide, Sydney, Surfers Paradise, Townsville and Hamilton (NZ), moving away from the suburban permanent tracks – like Eastern Creek and Oran Park – that struggle to attract fans and attention.
Purists may bemoan the heavy reliance on street circuits, but these are the events V8 Supercars needs to overcome its biggest impediment – its limited reach due to low levels of media coverage. Compounded by the number of rounds and gaps between them, not to mention wheels and engines not fitting into the definition of ‘sport’ for many Australians, media coverage can be extremely limited.
The event at Homebush marked a significant increase in the press’ coverage compared to last season’s corresponding round at Oran Park, and by bringing the races to the fans rather than the other way round, V8 Supercars is forcing itself upon the media through the increased crowds and attention.
Therefore, they will be hoping the new breed of Whincup, Winterbottom, Courtney and Davison can follow in the footsteps of Brock, Skaife, Lowndes and Johnson, into the public’s consciousness.
It remains to be seen if the Sydney 500 crowds will grow in the coming years, and you sense that, like Adelaide, it will need the off-track entertainment, such as the Cold Chisel concert, to entice big chunks of the population to the event.
The relative success of the event could act as the truest indicator of V8 Supercars’ place within the Australian sporting landscape.
A fascinating sideshow to the racing was the presence of the Greater Western Sydney AFL franchise, including coach Kevin Sheedy, who mingled with spectators and the media as part of a display that offered potential fans the chance to kick a Sherrin and find out more about the team.
Credit to the GWS for having the foresight to use such an event to start engaging with the community.
The news that the GWS franchise opted for a marquee at the Sydney 500 with the NRL declining had the local media screaming ‘code war’.
V8 Supercar officials must have enjoyed quite a chuckle at being the host’s of the latest battle.