Having relocated to Adelaide back in April, I had long looked forward to paying a visit to the impressive Bend Motorsports Park for the round of the Australian Supercars Championship.
Situated 100km to the south-east of South Australia’s state capital, and only an hour from the tourist delights of the Adelaide Hills, it is the first purpose-built track in Australia for over two decades and one of the newest and most impressive not only in the southern hemisphere, but anywhere in the world.
I did make a trip to ‘The Bend’ in June for the Australian Motor Racing series visit to South Australia as part of their season long country wide tour. Well, six rounds – but it does encompass most of Australia. It is racing of the “man in the street” after all.
I was then impressed that it was inexpensive for entry, it was access all areas with a view from the top of the home straight building, usually reserved for the more important people anywhere else (regardless of what would be on). The home straight building not only consists of the pit buildings but a welcome centre, hotel – yes a hotel on the pit straight – and a restaurant.
It was built on what was a dusty old Mitsubishi Test track and the brainchild of Dr Sam Shahin. A big motor sports fan, he arrived in Adelaide in 1984 with nothing, scraped what he had to purchase a petrol station in a small town in the Adelaide Hills and from that he has grown it into the Peregrine Corporation, one of the top 15 companies in the whole country and a top employer in the state where it operates numerous service stations that also encompasses franchises for Hungry Jack’s, Bakers Delight, Wok in a Box and so on.
You cannot miss the “OTR” sites on a visit to South Australia.
He and his family had been involved in the sponsorship of the street course meeting in Adelaide, held each March for the Super Cars on most of what was once the Grand Prix track but set to with his dream and got ‘The Bend’ built.
It is work ongoing, even since I was there two months previously, a permanent home straight grandstand opposite the main building had been erected.
There is also a Karting and Drifting Arena situated next door – I did apply for a job position there in the Autumn but to no avail. I tried though.
They are looking to add other motorsports there. Sadly, the oval motor sport scene (which is my forte in Europe) in Australia is obsessed with running on clay and following whatever the Americans are doing, which is a shame in many ways because, from what I could see, it would be a perfect venue for Hot Rod oval racing.
It has been big in Europe for more than 50 years and, if it can be done successfully in SA, it sure can be in Australia.
There is more to turning left than flicking it left, as spectacular as a night of Sprint Car racing without question is. The rest of the sport of Speedway is in poor health, particularly in South Australia, but that’s another story for another day.
The advertisement for the OTR Super Sprint stated that the fans could get “closer to the action”. Surely not as close as the street course can be around the streets of Adelaide?
Yes, for the pit access is open to all, which impressed me enough at the Australian Motor Racing Series meeting when I could home right in on the cars running in the Australian GT Championship, Formula 3 and so on was also available for the Super Cars.
It was possible to walk to the rear end of the garages, watch the race teams in action and see the stars of the series hope straight from their cars and walk through the pits to the team facilities behind. Not the norm at any other Super Cars venue, at least not withing parting company with a lot more money.
Therefore, it was possible to get right up close to legends such as Dick Johnson, a man who I was in awe of as child fan in England in the 1980s racing around Bathurst talking to the live TV crew with a small microphone attached to his helmet.
Such things were years away on British TV coverage.
It actually needed Aussie expat Alan Gow to make the BTCC the success it is, but again, another story for another day.
The Australian Touring Car Championship, as it was then, with the aforementioned Johnson, the late-great Peter Brock and Alan “Grumpy” Grice pioneered so much of the TV coverage that we almost take for granted today such as headlight facing cameras and drivers talking live to the TV commentary team.
When Johnson retired from driving, he continued as a team owner and has had mixed fortunes over the years but in the last three he sold majority shares to Roger Penske.
Dick Johnson and Roger Penske together?! Of course they are going to win!
Scott McLaughlin won both races over the weekend, leads the championship and is looking a shoo-in to win it.
His teammate Fabian Coulthard, second-cousin of David if you were wondering, didn’t have such a successful trip to South Australia and is running second.
Plenty of other famous names too – Walkinshaw and Andretti have combined to own and run a team – and Triple Eight Racing, who for so long dominated the BTCC did so down under too, with Roland Dane at the helm, the original founder of Triple Eight in the UK along with Derek Warwick, whose days together go right back to Toleman in the 1980’s.
That team is now known as Red Bull Holden. The Holden’s are struggling against the might of the Fords though (who DJR Penske run) as the new Ford Mustang is proving too much.
It was great to see Jamie Whincup drive the wheels off his Holden in an effort to keep up with the trio of Fords that filled the podium ahead of him in McLaughlin, Will Davison and Chaz Mostert.
When I visited the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park back in 2002, the Formula Fords were one of the support classes that weekend in Melbourne and stole the show, not least for the great driving from Whincup, Davison, Will Power and Fabian Coulthard et al. Yes, back then they all had dreams of following Mark Webber into Formula One and ultimately did not, but they haven’t done so badly have they?
With access all areas, an onsite campsite, an area over the back of the circuit (or rather the middle, as it is a long track) where the great Aussie tradition of parking up and watching from the truck with a slab of beers and a BBQ is possible and a few big screens around it really was a good day for what was only approx. $75 a ticket for general admission.
My only fault, and this was only because I look at certain things differently to many others being from a media background and that was the overall presentation and flow of the show.
The V8 Super Car support package is the same or similar at each round and each class appeared to have their own commentary team, which is fine as each clearly knew their subject and the Super Car comms themselves were taken from the Fox Sports TV coverage (where I do not think having all ex-drivers on the mic actually works, either).
However, this did lead to it being somewhat disjointed at times. A continuity presenter, or house commentator linking it all together and promoting the venue itself with the events coming, where everything is and so on would work better in my opinion.
But that is only a small thing on what was an enjoyable day at an extremely impressive facility. Long may it continue to grow, thrive and survive. South Australia needs it, Australia needs it and the wider world of motor sport needs it.