Home­bush

2009-2016

Australian Muscle Car - - Back in the Day -

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.

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