For all of V8 Supercar’s early success and commercial growth, it never really cracked the Sydney market. Still hasn’t.
Very early in the organisation’s life it set itself the goal of securing a bumper street racing festival for the nation’s biggest city. In fact, the idea went all the way back to 1999 and the inaugural Sensational Adelaide 500. It was then the cogs began turning in category chief Tony Cochrane’s head about duplicating its success in Australia’s most populous metropolis.
It took 10 years to make it happen, but, against all odds and most people’s expectations, it miraculously came to life.
Oran Park on Sydney’s southwestern fringe had held some bumper V8 rounds, but visits to the now defunct circuit never really captured the wider public’s or media’s attention. Why was that such a problem? Well, one quarter of Australia’s population – almost six million people – live within 90 minutes drive of Homebush Bay, the city’s geographic heart. Quite rightly, V8 Supercars long considered that to be a huge, virtually untapped market for the sport.
There is always so much going on in Sydney – not to mention drawcards like the beaches and harbour – that it’s difficult to entice people to sporting events. It takes a mega event to make an impact. V8 Supercars believed a big Sydney bash would open up all manner of other opportunities for the category. Sound logic, really.
It took much lobbying, arm-twisting and dealmaking with many authorities to get the green light. And it helped that the project was embraced by then NSW minister for state and regional development, Ian Macdonald, who went by the nickname of ‘Sir Lunchalot’. While Macdonald was in office he had a reputation as a Labor Party powerbroker and for being generous with the public purse. So it could be argued that schmoozing him was simply good business practice. The timing of V8 Supercars’ proposal to the state government via Macdonald was good, as not long after his approval he found himself in hot water. Firstly with other party members and, ultimately, with the law over other dealings he’d done.
Now, we are not suggesting any improper behaviour took place to get an event approved at Sydney Olympic Park and underwritten by the NSW Government. We are simply saying that timing is everything, and that V8 Supercars found the right person at the right time to sign taxpayers up to fund a car race that no other pollie would approve.
The rst SOP event was announced not long after Oran Park hosted its last ever ATCC/ Supercars round, in late 2008, and effectively shut its gates for good.
To give Cochrane’s mob credit, the rst Sydney Telstra 500, held over December 4-6, 2009, de nitely caught the city’s attention. Only hermits, prisoners (whose ranks did not yet include Macdonald) and self-absorbed airheads would have missed the fact the V8s had set up camp in town. It was a big deal with massive pre-event media coverage. It helped (a lot) that part of the strategy was hosting the reunion concert for rock icons Cold Chisel.
The circuit itself was typically narrow and lacked overtaking zones. However, these aspects were largely overlooked by the sheer size of the still-shiny precinct and facilities not previously encountered at other race meetings.
Greg Murphy said at the time: “The thing about this event is it is so vast and so big. There are so many areas to go and do things which is the big difference compared to some street races where everyone is crammed together.” Like Hamilton.
Mark Winterbottom added: “It was really like the venue was made for a motor race and all the infrastructure the site has, thanks to the Olympics, has raised what we do at street races to another level.”
Said V8 Supercar chairman Tony Cochrane immediately after the 2009 event: “We’ve proven this is a fantastic event precinct. We’re just going to build on this now. This is only purely limited by your imagination now. I reckon in three to four years there’ll be a
quarter of a million people attending this event every year.”
Never happened. In fact, crowd numbers dwindled over ensuing years.
The chink in the armour was a lack of good viewing points for spectators. Many of the diehards who had happily perched themselves on Oran Park’s grassy mounds all day, where they could see 90 percent of the track, attended once and never returned. They couldn’t nd a spot where they could see 90 percent of one
corner, let alone the entire track. Some new fans were attracted and dazzled by the colour and noise, but the sport’s traditional fans were disenfranchised. A day at the Sydney Telstra 500 was indeed a very different experience from what they were used to.
True, the indoor paddock area at Homebush was an amazing set-up that created a point of difference. Housing the teams’ impressive B-Double transporters, fans could see the teams working on cars in between track sessions, in air- conditioned comfort. But indoor paddock access came at an additional $30 cost to the already sizeable general admission prices. Sunday GA adult entry, purchased at the gate, was $79!
Tony Cochrane may have been grinning like a Cheshire cat after year one – official three-day attendance in 2009 was 184,856 – but the former concert promoter knew that the proof of the pudding was in the second serving.
There were noticeably less people in the precinct in year two, at 2010’s championship decider. Saturday’s race gave us what will be the enduring memory of eight years at Homebush – the chaos caused by a mid-race thunderstorm. Race leader Mark Winterbottom and fellow title combatants Jamie Whincup and James Courtney hit the wall during the torrent, then limped their cars back to the pitlane. Their crews then ew into action, as the rst team to complete repairs and get their man back on track would effectively secure the title. Dick Johnson Racing and Courtney won that race and was crowned champ the next day. Meanwhile, the actual race was won by Jonathon Webb, his maiden victory.
Memories of the Homebush races all tend to merge together thereafter, with Triple Eight Race Engineering winning nine of the 13 races between 2011 and 2016.
The event itself plodded along with slowly dwindling crowds and nancial shortfalls. Most discussion centred on two aspects: which concert acts would perform in the Olympic Stadium on the Saturday evening; and whether the new (2011) Liberal government would extricate itself from the initial ve-year deal inked by its predecessor.
The O’Farrell Government honoured the agreement, but made it clear to V8 Supercars Australia it would no longer underwrite it. The category itself assumed the risk – and took a bath – from 2014 to 2016 to ensure the sport had a bumper season- nale until a worthy successor was secured. When Newcastle was locked in, the death knell for Homebush rang.