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The biggest change to the V8 Supercars calendar this year would have to be the addition of the KL City Grand Prix to the schedule.
In between the rounds at Ipswich and Eastern Creek, James Warburton’s Flying Circus will race on a unique street circuit set in the shadow of the Petronas Towers.
The addition of the track represents V8 Supercars’ first international round (excluding events in New Zealand) since 2013, and the series’ first event in Asia since 2005. Shanghai International Circuit, which currently hosts Formula 1, WEC and World Touring Cars, last saw V8 Supercar action almost 11 years ago, with a sole visit to the track.
Since then V8 Supercars visited the Gulf, with forays into Bahrain (2006-8,2010) and Abu Dhabi (2010-12), the last of these events being part of the support bill of the 2012 Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
In 2013 the series made a stop at Circuit of the Americas in Texas, but never returned.
There were several reasons why these events failed. In the case of China, despite strong crowds, the promoter lost interest. The races in the gulf had issues with timeslots, particularly with the night races in Abu Dhabi. The American round went up against NASCAR on the same weekend, the result being a predictable one.
However, V8 Supercars’ latest move overseas looks like it will be a sustainable one. Kuala Lumpur is not on the other side of the world, keeping costs down for teams. It is also two hours behind the Australian East Coast (without daylight saving), leaving the door open for a race in a primetime slot (with the potential for a broadcast on free-to-air television as well).
It features a unique street circuit which plays well to the characteristics of the cars and has decent crowd numbers as well. The only potential fault with the event is the decision to use sprint races, although this is understandable due to the congested layout of the pit lane, next to the Petronas Towers, along with the tropical temperatures, which are an added challenge to drivers.
The move into the Asian market, a key area for current V8 supercar manufacturers, not only guarantees races suitable to the Australian timezone, but also a sustainable way to slowly grow the series and gain new fans. The V8 Supercar Championship is by name an international one, with allowances to hold six international events, so as a result we could see several new Asian tracks on the calendar in coming years.
One very likely destination is a round in Japan. Japan has the strongest motorsport culture in Asia, with enthusiastic fans flocking to Formula 1, WEC, Super GT, Super Formula and MotoGP.
Of the many circuits available, the most likely to host a V8 Supercar race in my opinion is the majestic Fuji Speedway. Owned by Toyota, parent company of safety car providers Lexus, it is located at the foot of the spectacular Mt. Fuji. The circuit has a flowing layout with plenty of overtaking opportunities, hosting a dramatic WEC race last year.
Another possibility for the series is a return to China, another important market for manufacturers. However, instead of returning to Shanghai, the series could visit the Zhuhai international Circuit, which has hosted rounds of the FIA GT Championship and A1 Grand Prix.
Designed by the same Australian company responsible for the fantastic Adelaide Grand Prix circuit, it is the base for several Asian motorsport teams. The layout lends itself to overtaking, even if it resorts to the design cliché of long straights followed by hairpins.
Located closer to home is the Chang International Circuit is Thailand. Opened in 2014, it has hosted Super GT and World Touring Cars and features a flowing layout.
Another option is the Changi Racing Circuit in Singapore, which is still under construction and was mooted for an appearance on the calendar in 2012. And if we are talking about superb circuits in Asia, we cannot forget Macau.
While it’s unlikely we’ll see the V8s being thrown around the punishing 6.2 kilometres street circuit, there still is a small chance that the series could make an appearance, given the lack of a headline act after departure of World Touring Cars in 2014.
V8 Supercars’ move into Asia is not only an important step in the growth of the series, it is also important to the business needs of many of the manufacturers involved. It also adds a new fan-base to the series, without losing the many loyal viewers at home and could also lead to new and exciting drivers coming into the series from the area.
Certainly, it means that there could be some very diverse and exciting action to come.