You could say it was cool while it lasted. But it’s more accurate to declare ‘it was cold while it lasted.’
Canberra joined the V8 Supercar schedule in 2000, after the ACT government saw what the Adelaide 500 achieved for South Australia. It was a unique event with a demanding racetrack around the Parliamentary Triangle, held at the start of winter just as the Federal politicians were breaking from their slumber and heading back into their electorates.
The driving force behind the event was ACT chief minister ‘Can Do’ Kate Carnell. In announcing the ‘National Capital 100’ in 1999, Carnell’s political spin included the absurd notion that Canberra had edged out bids from Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand to secure the staging rights for the race. Oh please...
The National Capital 100 moniker was replaced by the GMC 400 label, to re ect naming rights sponsorship from a power tool brand.
The GMC 400’s job was to ll hotel rooms, restaurants, cafes and bars on a traditionally quite weekend for tourism and hospitality – and showcase the nation’s capital to the world as a place of excitement. Trouble was, television images of freezing fans trying to avoid hypothermia wasn’t exactly the message Canberra’s tourist chiefs typically ran in their glossy brochures.
V8 Supercars darted between old and new Parliament Houses over three consecutive wintry Queen’s Birthday long weekends, 2000-2002. The tight and twisty 3.8km layout was designed with input from Mark Skaife and included a quick blast on State Circle. The 15-turn circuit skirted Lake Burley Griffin, the National Library, Treasury building, Albert Hall (a building far more elegant than the journalists who worked from it) and various embassies. It twice passed under Commonwealth Avenue.
For all the impressive landmarks, the circuit’s most distinguishing feature was its narrowness and lack of passing opportunities. A perfect track, then, to introduce a dedicated reverse grid race! What were they thinking?
Sure enough, the inaugural event proved a panel-crunching affair. Steven Richards kept his
VT Commodore’s nose clean and was declared the overall winner of the GMC 400, despite not winning any of the three sprints. In fairness, a reasonable crowd rocked up to that rst June 2000 race meeting but, unsurprisingly, the novelty value soon wore off and far less punters attended the two subsequent 400s. Even by street circuit standards it was difficult for General Admission spectators to see over the barriers and catch a glimpse of the cars threading the needle through the concrete canyon. Even the most rusted-on V8 racing fans attended just the once, vowing to stay home the following year to watch it on TV in front of the heater.
The event carried on into 2001, with Dick Johnson Racing’s Steven Johnson winning his rst ever round, a rare success for the hapless AU model Falcon. Somewhat ttingly, track designer Mark Skaife won in 2002 en route to that year’s title for the Holden Racing Team.
And that’s all she wrote. While it was a nice idea to have Falcons and Commodores racing past the Prime Minister’s window, the event suffered from not having the Adelaide race’s festive atmosphere, summer climes and spacious boulevards that encouraged good racing. The crying shame was that most roads forming the ACT layout were indeed wide enough – two lanes each side of a low medium strip – to facilitate overtaking. Yet, the track utilised only half of that available width, probably due to the cost of removing said medium strips. This begs the question: why create a circuit in the rst place if the track’s narrowness ensures follow-theleader racing? Madness.
The writing was already on the wall after the GMC 400’s second running. Then, when the ACT had a change of government, the event was quickly put out of its misery. In announcing that the nal two Canberra 400s (of a ve-year contract) would not be run, incoming Labor ACT tourism and sports minister Ted Quinlan said he couldn’t understand why the previous Liberal Government decided to hold an event of its calibre in the middle of a Canberra winter. No one could.
“Severe winter conditions have done little to show Canberra at its best and images of freezing fans huddling in the grandstands say it all,” Quinlan said in 2002. “Extensive TV coverage and other publicity is negated by images that reinforce a stereotype that our city is cold and bleak,” Quinlan added.
Yep, that pretty much summed it up. The three events soaked up $29 million in public funds, a far cry from Carnell’s promised economic boost. What’s more, the ACT auditor-general found that the promised international television and in ux of overseas tourists in fact never eventuated. Shock horror!
What was a massive coup for the category ahead of the rst event ultimately proved to be its greatest failure. V8 diehards found the sight of V8s thrashing around the nation’s capital heartwarming. Problem was, winds straight off Mount Kosciusko froze every other internal organ.
There’s no doubt V8 racing has been well managed overall through the years, but Canberra was a right royal zzer. When V8 Supercars mastermind Tony Cochrane was winding down his time as head honcho and chief head kicker, AMC asked him if he had any regrets from his 15 years in charge.
“I regret being talked into holding the Canberra street race in the middle of winter. The ACT Government was adamant they wanted that event on the June long weekend and I conceded to their wish against my better judgement.”
The Canbrrrr 400 was indeed a missed opportunity for the sport.