One of the more pressing issues in the Australian Supercars Championship leading into the 2017 season is a lack of overseas races, with the only trip away from home being to New Zealand.
The Supercars, either in their current form or any previous have a chequered history going overseas, but it’s something they badly need to make work.
2001 was the first time the Supercars went overseas, to Pukekohe Park Raceway in New Zealand. While there has always been strong support for the category across the ditch, with legend of the sport and proud Kiwi Greg Murphy leading the charge by winning the first race, support around the rest of the world hasn’t been so strong.
Pukekohe is a name synonymous with the Supercars championship. There have been plenty of races held there, on a fast flowing circuit that always allows for some aggressive racing.
While Pukekohe has missed out some years, it will once again hold the second last round of the season in 2017, and there is little question the track deserves it.
However, no other venue that the Supercars Championship has travelled to over the years has made a mark on fans, locals, drivers or officials and been scrapped shortly after.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been any good racing overseas. Travelling further than New Zealand began in 2005, with a trip to Shanghai in China. Todd Kelly, racing alongside Mark Skaife in the Holden Racing Team Commodore, took out the round, but the competition has never been back to the Formula One circuit.
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Following the Shanghai adventure, there have been attempts to get some international rounds up and running, 2010 being the best for it with trips to both Bahrain and Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi.
It was the fourth visit to Bahrain and the first to Yas Marina, with a further two to follow in 2011 and 2012, before the Supercars last trip overseas, to the famous Circuit of the Americas in Austin Texas, during the 2013 calendar.
Despite television coverage of the series in all of those localities, it just never got off the ground. Traction was never made in local fan-bases, while other issues – some legal, some financial – have stalled the series in getting away from Australia again.
Unfortunately for the Supercars, low crowds is a trend that, unless we are talking about Sandown or Bathurst, has followed it around like a bad smell.
It’s not as if motorsport as a whole needs expansion, but Supercars certainly does. It needs to reinvigorate the format, get a different type of series going and involve more countries to do it.
This will, believe it or not, benefit the mainland broadcast deals and fan support. At the moment, every round is done in either Australia or – in the case if Pukekohe – in New Zealand. It means there is a lot of racing, much of it feeling a little needless in the sprint round format in Australia.
It leads to lower crowds and lower interest from media and fans. What sending races overseas does – even if it was to be just three races per year – means the only way people in Australia will be able to watch them is by switching on the TV.
What’s more, it increases exposure in some racing hotspots overseas and means the Australian calendar is a little more spread out. Australians love an event, and that’s where going overseas a few times per years, with a purpose comes into the fold.
Looking at the TV ratings, most of the big numbers come from events. State of Origin is always a key breaker, as are grand finals of the football codes, or the final of the Australian Open, for example.
While it’s not thought the Supercars Championship could reach those numbers simply by going overseas, it will certainly help because it has a special event feel to it.
What the Supercars administrators can’t afford to do, though, is send them overseas with the sprint round format. While it’s another discussion for another article, the shorter races simply aren’t drawing numbers in crowd or TV because there is no time for the excitement of a race to build.
A race lasting 100 or 125 kilometres simply isn’t long enough. 250 kilometres should be the bare minimum for a race anywhere, and nowhere is that truer than overseas.
While it might cost the category more in the short term to get away from Australia, it needs to be done. It’s not a last resort to save the struggling series, but it’s an attempt to increase exposure.
Options to go overseas, through cost and legal issues seem a little limited at the moment. Malaysia has often been talked about as the go-to option, and with the facilities to cover it, you wouldn’t be surprised to see the V8s over there in 2018.
Asia is an important ground for the Supercars, and along with an extra race in New Zealand needs to be explored heavily. America seems a little out of the question, while seeing the Supercars race around some of the famous European tracks – Brands Hatch, Nurburgring and Le Mans to name a few would be fascinating but unlikely.
Start local and expand from there needs to be the motto for the Supercars, but one way or another, it needs to be done.