Kiwi Supercars drivers want a second event in NZ. But where?
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The Virgin Australia Supercars Championship in its current V8-specific format have raced in New Zealand on and off since 1996. And barring a spin-off appearance on the streets of Wellington and the mixed stint racing at Hamilton in 2008–2012, all of those events have been held at Pukekohe Raceway.
So, perhaps it's time to consider expanding the roster to include two events in Aotearoa?
Two Kiwis are vying for this year's championship; Scott McLaughlin and Shane van Gisbergen. And over the weekend the pairing wound up being locked in a stablemate of sorts — each claiming a win and a second place at this year's ITM Auckland SuperSprint event. You can read our Sunday report by clicking here.
In the midst of all the championship 'drama', and the revelation that crowd figures were reportedly up on last year (110,678 across three days, compared to 105,208 in 2017) the question was quietly asked of both drivers: 'Do you think it's time to come here more than once?'
“I think it’d be pretty cool to do what the Middle East did a few years ago where you do a double-header,” responded McLaughlin.
“I’m sure we could accommodate that. If we do sea freight and bring the trucks over, I’m sure it’s probably not a bad idea. Any time we get to race even more in New Zealand would be awesome. I don’t think the Australians would like it, but I think we’ll enjoy it," he laughed.
“The passion here is second-to-none," added van Gisbergen. "It rivals Bathurst and we need to have a race down in the South Island or something as well and embrace it more.
“It was cool as well getting told the crowd numbers were nearly up almost 10,000 on last year. I’m happy to contribute to that and maybe the controversy adds to that.”
Before we can plan some flight-of-fancy gumbo of 'what if' scenarios, it's important to play devil's advocate and ask why Supercars probably wouldn't (or shouldn't) come to New Zealand twice a year. And chief among those reasons is likely to be cost.
As noted by defending champion Jamie Whincup and others, the cost of shipping a full grid of race cars and parts containers isn't cheap. And that's before you consider the price of flying, housing, and feeding all the staff.
It's also important to note the focus Supercars has on being a 'truly national' series in Australia. The calendar is methodically mapped out to make sure that each state gets its share of racing action (unlike a lot of Kiwi categories that skip the South Island because of costs). The process of travelling all over Australia is in itself rather expensive, given that it's a huge country, so adding another Kiwi event could furrow a few brows — especially if it came at the expense of another event in Australia.
But, as McLaughlin noted, some of those cost worries could be absorbed by having two Kiwi events back to back on a tight turnaround — meaning just one return trip over the ditch for the cars and teams instead of two.
There are eight major long-form racing circuits in New Zealand; Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park in Taupo, Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon, Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell, Teretonga Park, Timaru International Raceway, Mike Pero Motorsport Park in Christchurch, and the aforementioned Pukekohe. Four sit in the north island, and four sit in the south.
Of that group, in recent years only Hampton Downs, Highlands, Pukekohe, and Taupo have held international events. So, does that mean that a second Supercars visit would be best housed on one of those other tracks?
Well, not exactly.
Hampton Downs sits just a few minutes drive down the road from Pukekohe. Having sequential venues right next to each other would lay waste to ticket sales and any chance of scoring a different audience for both events.
Taupo is perhaps in better shape, but has long struggled to attract crowds despite its geographic position at the centre of a tourism-focused area. Even in the days that it hosted the A1GP, ticket sales declined greatly after year one.
Of the elevated group, that leaves Highlands. It's a circuit that, having lost its slot on the Australian GT endurance calendar, would greatly appreciate having an international event on its roster. But, amenities like accommodation are scarce in the area — particularly if Supercars wish to emulate the crowds they have at Pukekohe.
No, the best second Kiwi home for Supercars probably isn't Cromwell, Taupo, or (surprise) a second event on the cusp of Auckland. It's actually probably Christchurch.
Formerly known as Ruapuna, Mike Pero Motorsport Park is a simple circuit. The pit complex is humble, the profile is exceptionally flat, and the viewing facilities are generally of the 'BYO' variety.
But it's a circuit that receives incredible support from its locals. Crowds at domestic events are always impressive — at times looking twice as good as those witnessed in and around Auckland. The south island has never seen the Supercars Championship in the flesh before, so bringing the show to a built-up hub like Christchurch would mean big crowds.
There would be plenty of work to be done, and how it could be funded would be anyone's guess. But, Christchurch would be an amazing home for Supercars.
Heck, even a street circuit event could be good ...