Grand Prix stays in lower North Island
‘‘We always knew they were going to be competitive. We had to put our best foot forward.’’
Manfeild has fought off stiff opposition to retain the prestigious New Zealand Grand Prix hosting rights, but needs to show it can improve the event to keep it long term.
The Feilding motorsport venue was on Monday awarded the hosting rights for the next three years, with the possibility of hosting it for another two. Manfeild beat a proposal from Waikato track Hampton Downs and its owner, businessman Tony Quinn, and an expression of interest from Pukekohe Park.
Manfeild has held the grand prix since 2008, but came under fire after concerns it no longer had the profile the national race deserved.
The bid to keep it in Manawatu was aided by the support of councils from Wellington to Hawke’s Bay, but $100,000 from Manawatu District Council and Palmerston North City Council got it across the line.
Manfeild will keep the event until 2020 and chief executive Julie Keane said it could get it for another two years if it showed promoters Speed Works and their director Geoff Short it could be successful.
‘‘Ultimately, we need to continue to grow it,’’ Keane said. ‘‘It needs to increase in stature and needs to be well supported. We had a lot of impetus this year in doubling our gate.’’
Keane couldn’t give a figure for how many people attended this year. About 2500 people attended in 2016 and Central Economic Development Agency figures show there were about 5600 spectators a year later.
Keane was aiming 7500-10,000 people next year.
Manawatu Mayor Helen Worboys, Palmerston North Mayor Grant Smith and Rangitikei MP Ian McKelvie were for all involved in supporting the bid.
Additional drawcards, such as live entertainment, needed to be added to the programme, Worboys said.
‘‘This will do that. It will look into corporate sponsorship and some more activities on how we can widen the audience of the grand prix. We need to make as much mileage from it as we can and we need to pull people from outside the Manawatu.’’
Short said it was a relatively simple decision to go with Manfeild.
‘‘They really want to grow the grand prix, making it the status event that it should be, and where we want to take it too.’’
Short was impressed with the council support and Manfeild’s ideas to improve the event.
He would have been happy to support either Manfeild or Hampton Downs, but it came down to the quality and commitment evident in the Manawatu proposal.
Well-resourced Quinn was confident his track, which he has spent millions on, would get the rights.
Despite that, Keane hadn’t lost hope.
‘‘We always knew they were going to be competitive. We had to put our best foot forward. The promoters believed we’ve done that in comparison to the other venues. We’re happy with what we did.’’
Keane said they weren’t interested in a one-year deal and wanted a minimum of three, as long as they could continue their momentum and keep growing numbers.
She said there was a $20-million development plan and they wanted to use a fair amount of it on the circuit. But there was no immediate work planned.
The economic agency estimates the grand prix brought in almost $1.2m to the region last year, based on visitor spending.
The motorsport calendar is yet to be released, but Keane said the grand prix was likely to be run in early February again.
The New Zealand Grand Prix will remain in Feilding. Manfeild chief executive Julie Keane