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End of an era: 2017 Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.

There should be a sense of occasion about the 2017 Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000. There should be a sense of majesty, of pride, of nostalgia…and perhaps there will be for those that follow what is now called, merely, Supercars, and for those that attend the yearly event that is seen as the pinnacle of motorsport in Australia, at the fabled Mount Panorama.

My earliest experiences of what was to become a significant part of my motorsport career were of watching highlights of the Hardie-Ferodo 500 on one of the just three tv channels available in Perth during the 1970s. Channel 7 would run a package from late Saturday night through to race start on the Sunday morning (early, Perth time) whilst I, bleary eyed and barely awake, would watch the blurry, grainy, images on our 48cm black and white tv screen.As times and technology changed, the quality would improve, colour was the norm, and the sound of the cars would be better. We’d have different camera views, more overhead shots from the choppers, in-car cameras, and people that didn’t follow motorsport would be able to name at least six of the drivers. We saw the racing move from Production Car style racing to the Group C to the international Group A to effectively Holden versus Ford to five manufacturers with racing cars loosely based on production cars.

Now…we have five main channels and a raft of subsidiary channels delivered digitally. We have pay television, we have internet capable access and we have a category so far from its heyday that the impact it once had on a viewing audience and the attraction that once had grandstands full of bums on seats simply don’t exist anymore. Yes, there are the dedicated followers of motorsport, and there are those that can still tell you at least six names, but for the everyday Mr and Mrs Jones, the Supercars, the racing, and the lure of the mountain just aren’t there as they were once.

Australia’s primary non free to air television source is delivering, in the days before “The Great Race”, replays of previous races and highlights of the sport. This gives us a great comparison of what was, what is, and eyes off the “what will be” because in 2018 the rules change again. Holden and Ford, as two of the three manufacturers still making cars in Australia until 2016, when Ford ceased local manufacturing, will have their final Aussie built look alikes on track. Nissan, Volvo, and Mercedes-Benz once raced cars with five litre V8s, as per the category rules, even though two of the brands never released production based cars with that engine.

People knew that and some of the gloss wore off, the appeal waned, and the numbers of bums on seats diminished at tracks. The move towards a non free to air delivery diversified a once captive market audience and for many, the need to pay for access to a product once “live and free” was the stopping point. Advertising for the category seems almost non-existent but, again, for the dedicated follower they’d not need to have advertising because they’d know where to get information.

2018 sees Holden race a car with a design no longer based on an Australian based, front engined and rear wheel drive, V8 optional, production car. Instead they’ll race a turbocharged V6 engine chassis. The category rules have once again changed that having a V8 engine ONLY is now not the norm. The rules now also allow a non four door sedan, and with Ford selling just about every Mustang they’ve imported over the last two years, there’s a fair chance we’ll see that shape on race tracks. BUT, but, the rules stipulate cars MUST be built on a common chassis, effectively making the cars we’ll see on racing tracks in 2018 visually different outside but engines aside, the same (more or less) underneath.Nissan raced a chassis based on a car that wasn’t, in Australia, ever available with a V8. Volvo and Mercedes-Benz withdrew after the 2016 season, and Ford branded cars raced without Ford Australia factory support. So in 2017, at “The Great Race”, we’ll see, for the final time, a fully V8 powered field in Supercars, at Mount Panorama. But where’s the sense of loss, of sadness, of regret, the sense of pondering what was once a broad ranging appeal category?

Talk to anyone with a loose affiliation with motorsport and you’ll get a range of answers. You’ll also get a common theme….the cars that drew us to Bathurst every year are no longer relevant. Large sedans such as the Commodore and Falcon barely ripple the sales charts, SUVs and four wheel drive utes are what people buy and the win on Sunday, sell on Monday mentality that once (no pun intended) drove sales is no longer with us.Sunday the eighth of October, 2017, should be a day of occasion, a day of looking back at of over fifty years of history with an appreciation of what was, and a want for what will be. For me, that’s not the case and judging by the numbers of people that no longer show up at circuits around the country, it will really only be the dedicated and those that work with motorsport that may shed a tear.

Post event note: the 2017 event was won by David Reynolds and Luke Youlden after polesitter and expcted winner Scott McLaughlin and Alex Premat’s number 17 car had engine failureĀ  and retired on lap 72. Viewer numbers weren’t vastly different from the years shown.

2007 1.357 million
2008 1.249 million
2009 1.182 million
2010 1.046 million
2011 1.212 million
2012 1.253 million
2013 1.263 million
2014 1.351 million

One comment

  1. Richard McGee says:

    Get rid of all the aero aids

    October 18th, 2017 at 11:54 am