Crowd crucial to Grand Prix's fate
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There will be significant interest in the crowd numbers at the Toyota Racing Series finale this weekend.
Sunday's New Zealand Grand Prix at Manfeild will be the last in the current hosting deal with MotorSport New Zealand to make a call on the event's future early this year.
Hampton Downs owner Tony Quinn has been very public in wanting to acquire the hosting rights from 2018 and is promising to restore the event to its former glory when it was one of the premier sporting events on the New Zealand calendar.
But Manfeild, located 14km from Palmerston North, is not going to let go without a scrap.
They have invested heavily in a marketing campaign promoting this year's event and it is hoped the uncertain future of the meeting will rally those in the track catchment area to attend.
"From our perspective a great crowd would be over 10,000 but we certainly appreciate in real terms that might not be realistic," said Manfeild chief executive Julie Keane.
"We have put out a call to action for bums on seats. The success of our event - one way it will be gauged will be the number of people that will come through the gate."
Crowd numbers and general interest in the New Zealand Grand Prix has waned over the past decade or so. The Grand Prix is now contested as the final race of three in the last meeting of the Toyota Racing Series - the country's premier open wheel category.
"It will need to significantly improve," Keane said. "We have had just over 3000 over the Grand Prix weekend and that has been reasonably consistent over the last three years.
"The one thing we have done differently this year is we have invested significantly into additional marketing.
"We are reasonably confident that we have done the best we possibly can with the resources available to us."
Quinn said Hampton Downs was a better fit for the Grand Prix because of the North Waikato's proximity to the population base in Auckland and Hamilton as well as it being home to the majority of the country's leading media and corporate bases.
His track is newer and exceeds the standards of other New Zealand tracks but Keane said there were equally numerous reasons that made sense for it to remain being based at Manfeild.
"We are Wellington's race circuit as well. We are in the middle million - we have a million people within two hours' drive from us.
"Toyota NZ's headquarters are based in Palmerston North and that relationship is particularly strong. It is important for us to retain the Toyota Racing Series and the Grand Prix.
"The kudos that goes with hosting the NZ Grand Prix coupled with our relationship with Toyota New Zealand is important to us."
Keane said Quinn's deep pockets would not come into play as MotorSport New Zealand want one external promoter and will simply hire the best venue to host the event.
"It is a competitive process and MotorSport New Zealand will determine the ultimate outcome.
"Regardless of the location or the wealth or whatever the process will unfold in terms of what they have outlined what is going to happen. It is not going to be up to Tony to be able to fight that out just because he is saying he has the best location just like it is for Taupo or for us here at Manfeild.
"We all ultimately will become the venue host of the Grand Prix rather than the promoter as well."
Even if the event does move to Hampton Downs it is hard to see significantly more people attending just because the track is newer and closer to Auckland.
The answer might be in marketing it better.
"One of the things we have always had an interesting challenge around is how you market the event to get people through the gates," said Keane.
"I don't believe there is a magic bullet."
NZ Grand Prix
• One of only two national Grand Prix events not part of the Formula 1 Championship
• First contested in 1950
• Venues - 7 (Ohakea, Ardmore, Pukekohe, Wigram, Manfeild, Ruapuna and Teretonga)
• Contested by Toyota Racing Series cars since 2006
• Most wins are 3 (Stirling Moss, Jack Brabham, Craig Baird, Ken Smith, Nick Cassidy)
• Last Kiwi winner was Cassidy in 2014
• Previous winners also include Bruce McLaren, Chris Amon, Graham Hill, John Surtees, Jackie Stewart, Keke Rosberg, Steve Millen and Greg Murphy.
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