Grand Prix stays in lower North Is­land

The Horowhenua Mail - - OUT & ABOUT - GE­ORGE HEAGNEY AND SAM KILMISTER

‘‘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.

PHOTO: WAR­WICK SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

The New Zealand Grand Prix will re­main in Feild­ing. Man­feild chief ex­ec­u­tive Julie Keane

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