Some six weeks later than originally promised, Supercars finally announced the full 2024 calendar last Friday.
After all the hype about an increased number of rounds, there are no more than this year, with 12 only. In fact, it's really going backwards as there's one less round on Australian soil next year with the worthy return to New Zealand.
Eleven Supercars events in Australia. Think about it. When was the last time that was the case? And in checking the numbers, don't forget to factor in the non-championship races at the Australian Grand Prix, and even at Surfers Paradise back in the day.
So much for RACE growing the sport.
In fact, they're doing the opposite. Fewer events and now fewer actual races at some of the rounds.
Case study: The Tasmania Supersprint. Firstly, it's in August. Really? Seriously, I just cannot believe the ineptitude of an organisation that simply takes no notice of past experiences. In 2009, we went to Symmons Plains on the last day of May. Disastrous. Then the powers that be decided to go again this year in late-May. And now, August…
Surely the desire is to pack the place to the rafters again. Apparently not.
Post-2009, I've sat in board meetings where there were collective promises made to never deviate from the March/April or November slots for Tassie again. I've even stood alongside the then-Premier whilst the Supercars CEO at the time reiterated the promise.
For the people who do turn up on the Sunday, they'll now get one race which, Safety Cars or no Safety Cars, is one hour long. This year, those fans got 2 x 42-lap races with a combined, green flag time of 15 minutes longer than the one hour. Whilst they were time-certain, there was time in each race for approximately 15 minutes of Safety Car time without reducing the race distance.
A couple of Safety Cars in a one-hour race, and 42 racing laps could be all you get that day under the new format. Perhaps the Race Director will use the Red Flag, and suspend the race, if any clear-up is going to take more than a couple of laps.
Furthermore, those Sunday fans will now get one race start rather than two and only one qualifying session to boot. Okay, so the Saturday fans will get a longer race in 2024, but Sunday is Race Day for many punters, especially at the smaller events.
The current CEO of Supercars is on the record as saying that fans want to see more race starts, not fewer – I've personally heard him make the case for more race starts to the Supercars Board in his previous role as COO and Head of Events. Conversely, teams often want to see fewer race starts, as each start is inherently risky and potentially expensive. I've barracked for both arguments, be in no doubt. But right now, the sport needs every bit of help it can get. So, more starts makes sense for everyone for the SuperSprint events in the big picture.
The British Touring Car Championship lacks the depth of talent, in both drivers and teams, that Supercars has, but it sports consistently big crowds, especially considering that all their venues are permanent circuits. One of the main reasons for that is that they pack a hell of a lot into Race Day, Sunday. The BTCC itself has three separate races in the one day. Now, where do you suppose that they got the idea for such a format? Supercars in the late 1990s, no less.
Of course, over there they don't have the option of going to venues when the weather's good! But we do. And Tasmania in August is madness, regardless of race formats.
A bit of juggling, and team co-operation for all the right reasons, could have seen Symmons Plains put between the Gold Coast and Adelaide. But that's without Supercars seemingly having moved Adelaide unnecessarily early. Why have they done that? Possibly to create the potential to include a trip to Qatar afterwards for a non-championship event alongside F1. Have Aussie fans been compromised for a jaunt overseas that may or may not ever happen? Who knows.
In the meantime, that August date for Tasmania could have gone to Queensland Raceway at a time of year when the weather rarely lets us down.
The appetite for Supercars, in what is real heartland motorsports territory, is as big as ever. But, that would have meant a 13th event, God forbid, with all the implications of having to pay the performers – the teams – extra money to appear.
Maybe there'd have needed to be a negotiation with the teams as to the quantum of the extra payments. There's no doubt that QR is generally one of the least expensive places to race at. In Supercars' shoes, I'd have done a two-tier deal with the teams – one with the local QR teams as they'd have no airfares and almost no diesel to factor into their costs, and one with the Victorian ones (plus Albury!) at a higher level.
And one day the roles will potentially be reversed over a Winton round.
A missed opportunity at QR, for sure. But then, there's possibly only one person on the Supercars or RACE Boards that's ever been there.
So, what else is right or wrong with the 2024 calendar?
Much of any Supercars calendar is predetermined by factors beyond the category's direct control, or contracts/tradition. Once those dates are clear (like the AGP, for instance, or the Olympic Games) then the remaining variables can be dealt with.
Considering that, it really only leaves one other issue, namely the venue for the opening round of the 2024 Championship.
I love Bathurst. And precisely because of that, I would hate to see that sense of being Special being undermined. Unfortunately, that's what's happening. In Supercars land, Christmas comes but once a year. In October.
The Bathurst 1000 is not only far and away the biggest day for national motorsport in Australia, but it's also far and away the biggest payday for Supercars. Undermine that sense of being a unique event in any way, and the foundations of the category will quickly be eroded.
I absolutely abhor what they've done in scheduling Bathurst as the venue for Round 1. During COVID, a second visit was born out of pure necessity when we struggled to race anywhere but New South Wales. It shouldn't be happening again.
Again, when I talk sometimes about “those who don't know history” being “doomed to repeat it,” it's not as though the second Supercars date at Bathurst hasn't been tried before. It didn't work in the late 1990s, so why now?
Moreover, the seemingly automatic presumption that there will be a full cohort of volunteers who are willing to effectively take 10 days off work, or out of their holidays, to turn up and assist in the running of the 12 Hour and Supercars on consecutive weekends is astonishing to me. But I hope I'm wrong on that one.
The total lack of any meaningful crowd at Bathurst last weekend for the International only further underlines the difficulties associated with getting fans to go there for anything other than the 1000. Sure, the 12 Hour has gradually built its own reasonable audience and is not to be sneezed at, but there's less overlap with the Supercars crowd than some might think, and the revenue produced from that event is a fraction of that of the 1000.
I suspect that the decision to go to Bathurst rather than Sydney Motorsport Park under lights (given there's apparently a contract in place that ensures the first round is in NSW), was purely one of cost. Television cameras and infrastructure can remain in place post-12 Hour, for instance.
Talk about short termism. The calendar has too much of it. And, in contradiction to the investment in better technical tools and processes, this is no way to grow the sport.