Pukekohe Supercars under threat
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The New Zealand round of Supercars could be under serious threat if comment at last weekend's round at Pukekohe Park Raceway is anything to go by.
The contract to stage the round expires after next year's event and Kiwi motorsport fans could be left in limbo should the parties not work better together.
A crowd of just over 106,000 watched Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen all but secure the championship last the weekend - down 10,000-15,000 on previous years.
The racing this year was a procession with passing opportunities limited and strategy not at play due to the format.
Supercars want Auckland Council's events arm Ateed to continue to help fund the event and are seeking a new contract before Christmas. They are believed however to want greater investment put into the facilities at Pukekohe, including track resurfacing.
Ateed are disappointed with the declining crowd numbers and are not committing to supporting the round until they look at some numbers. It is hard to see them stumping up more than what they are in the existing deal with declining numbers.
The drivers would like to have a second round staged in New Zealand. Six-time champion Jamie Whincup suggested during a press conference last weekend that the series needs to come to New Zealand twice while Kiwi drivers such as Fabian Coulthard and Andre Heimgartner have also called for a second local round.
Pukekohe Park Raceway facilities are outdated and need serious work. The track, which has limited passing opportunities, is not conducive to exciting racing in a series where the field is so even. To get exciting racing the series needs to include pit stops.
Just down the road is Hampton Downs, which is a modern track and would be ideal for racing Supercars.
What Supercars chief executive James Warburton is saying.
"We have an exclusive agreement with Ateed to race at Pukekohe until the end of next year and we are in discussions with them about a renewal. We've had a great relationship with the New Zealand motorsport fans and have five Kiwi drivers in the championship.
"We've had a great relationship with the Government and value their support which is crucial to host an international motorsport category of this calibre. We have a massive worldwide television audience of 233 million homes and huge television audience back into Australia which is a key tourism driver for New Zealand.
What Ateed boss Brett O'Riley is saying
"We'll be talking to Supercars and Counties Racing Club about the future of an Auckland Supercars event beyond 2017 once the economic analysis of this year's event is completed and we've had a chance to review it. That discussion will include the state of the facilities and amenities at Pukekohe.
"The numbers this weekend were the lowest reported in four years, and obviously we'd hope that the event would be growing in popularity rather than contracting. I'm sure Supercars will be listening to feedback from fans and drivers about this year's format as they review the event outcomes.
"Hampton Downs is outside the Auckland region, so that will always present a challenge in terms of making the case for investing in an event held there. Our sponsorship of major events, on behalf of Auckland Council, uses ratepayer funds and our prudent investment of that money is used to deliver social and economic benefits for the Auckland region.
"A strong business case would need to be presented outlining how the event will generate clear benefits this side of the regional boundary.
"A street race format would be unlikely. Auckland's city centre, including parts of its waterfront, are undergoing the biggest programme of urban redevelopment seen here over the next few years.
"Auckland competes against cities in the wider Asia-Pacific region to attract and retain events. We want to be - and are - a competitive host city, but we have a responsibility to Auckland residents and ratepayers to ensure our investment decisions are based on the criteria and desired outcomes of Auckland's Major Events Strategy."
What driver Andre Heimgartner is saying.
"It is obviously pretty important that it stays here. It has been here for so long. The first race I ever watched was from here.
"It will be sad to see it go again from here but you have got to go to places where it is popular and better for the sport. In a couple of years I think it will be at Hampton Downs - it is pretty inevitable. There or at an Auckland street race but they tried that a few years ago and couldn't get it across the line.
"I would love to race here and then in another event in New Zealand as well. We have five Kiwi drivers in the field. New Zealand is a major motorsport country - you need something here to keep that alive and keep fans interested in it.
"I would be in favour of taking rounds overseas as long as they don't drop any rounds that are already here."
What Hampton Downs owner Tony Quinn is saying.
"Hampton Downs is one of the best tracks in New Zealand. It is built to an international standard so there is no reason why they couldn't go there.
"Supercars run a financial business model and is has to make sense financially. They need the Ateed money from the Auckland Council, which Hampton Downs falls outside, being in Waikato. I think they have got a pretty good deal at Pukekohe, where they don't pay much rent.
Pukekohe will, at some stage in the future, be a retirement home. Whether they do a street race somewhere in Auckland I don't know.
The logical place for motor racing in the North Island is Hampton Downs. Pukekohe is 50 years old and some of the structure looks 50 years old but they also have 50 years of history and 50 years of knowing what works and what doesn't.
The 101 was the first major event we had and people talked about video screens, more shade and more grandstands and we will take that on board.
Hampton Downs could easily accommodate the crowd that was at Pukekohe last weekend. Yes it could hold 60,000 people a day right now. As far as spectators go - they are diminishing all over the world. Young people aren't going to watch these events like they used to. Everyone has gadgets to watch sport on now.
"Ateed need to be seen to be backing something that has numbers that stack up. If they have 10,000 this year they'll need 15,000 the next. The numbers are really hard to justify - not just at Pukekohe but at every track they get government money at.
The Herald's verdict.
Forget the street race - it would be perfect but is not going to happen.
Supercars and Ateed would be foolish to not speak to Tony Quinn about Hampton Downs about what would need to happen to stage the round there in the future.
Hampton Downs isn't in the council border but it takes the same time to get to from Auckland city as it does to get to Pukekohe.
The commercial difference from Pukekohe to Hampton Downs is minimal. You could argue about how ratepayers' money could be better used on roading etc and I would agree but the big events arm has a budget that will be used. They may as well use it on a major international event that New Zealanders enjoy.
Supercars need to start doing right by the fan base in New Zealand. That means stopping with threats of going to cashed-up Asian cities just to push the price up for Auckland. The reality is that New Zealand has a huge knowledge of Supercars and a solid fan base. The Asian cities don't and while their governments might underwrite a race - by the time renewal time comes they will be nowhere to be seen. It has been tried before and didn't work.
Surely Supercars wouldn't be silly enough to walk away from New Zealand and a hardcore fan base for a one or two-year cash grab that is not sustainable.
They also need to suck it up and bring the same format used at Australian sprint rounds to Pukekohe if they want exciting racing.
Working out a deal is a no-brainer. The Auckland round of Supercars is the biggest international sporting event in New Zealand annually. The New Zealand fan base is huge for the Australian competition - think pay television rights, benefits sponsors get going to New Zealand audiences etc.
Supercars and Ateed need to get together and reach an agreement - it is in everyone's best interest.
- NZ Herald