There are three albums of event photos at the end of this blog.
I must admit to a degree of scepticism when Supercars announced the 2019 Perth round would be held at night under lights, I had questions about logistics, in terms of lighting the undulating track, public transport and added expense in terms of feeding corporate guests, along with the general public needing to buy more food (over the longer period of time). I couldn’t work out what nights they’d run the event on – a Sunday night seemed out of the question (and so that proved to be).
When the opportunity came to pre purchase tickets, I discovered the event would be run over three days / nights – Thursday (practice), Friday Practice, Qualifying and Race 11, Saturday, Qualifying and Race 12, plus various support categories, although sadly Touring Car Masters were not coming over. The deal on pre purchased tickets was actually very good – $153.00 per person for the three days / nights, including General Admission and Paddock Access. We’re fortunate enough to be long term guests of great friends who have a corporate box, so we don’t need Grandstand or corporate marquee seats / packages. I wondered how on earth families were expected to pay for one day tickets for the Saturday – the per person Adult price, including Paddock access, was $184.00! Although I’m told it’s just as bad at AFL matches, however from our point of view, $51.00 per day to watch a sport we love was very cheap.
As has become the norm in kicking off the Perth event, there was a Meet the Drivers late afternoon / early evening half hour event in the CBD at Yagan Square. I felt the location worked better than Forrest Place, with bars and cafes around where you could wait and get a drink. All drivers except Lee Holdsworth and Jack Le Brocq were in attendance, Supercars staff handed out posters and novelty gifts to people queuing and there was a replica 2018 Championship Cup on display, where people could have their photo taken holding the cup. A TV crew were in attendance (presumably from Fox), in fact they asked my wife Ann and I to pose with the cup. This event was very well run, however there weren’t the crowds of people that normally attend, whether that was due to the mid – week, late afternoon scheduling, I don’t know. Full marks to the drivers for their collective affability and friendliness to the fans.
We drove to Thursday’s event, planning our arrival for the scheduled 11.00am opening, laughing when we read Scotty McLaughlin’s Tweet re Supercars holding a Track Walk at 10.00am when nobody was around. In the past, it’s been relatively quick to enter the raceway with pre-purchased tickets, but not this time. There was an ever increasing queue, as the gates were not open and there we stood in the heat for 30 minutes, but eventually we got in. Bag screening seemed to be haphazard – some got in with their bottles of water, some had to empty or even discard their bottle. The Programme tent wasn’t open, nor was it open when we left around 7.30pm, indeed buying a programme proved quite a feat, until we finally managed to get one on the Saturday. Others also spoke of how hard it was to get a programme. It’s interesting to note that the City of Wanneroo and the WA Sporting Car Club have disappeared from the programme cover as sponsors. We did discover that the car club had done a dry hire deal with Supercars, the car club having little or no input or control over the event. In that respect, the WA Sporting Car Club failed to properly look after their own corporate sponsors, leaving them to deal with Supercars, who of course, had no interest in them. I also felt that volunteers could have been better looked after, without them, the cost of such events would sky rocket (in terms of wages).
Thursday’s programme commenced with Historic Touring Car practice and went right through until the finish of Supercars practice 1 just after 7.10pm. Other categories included Dunlop Super 2 Series, SuperUtes and Australian GTs, so apart from the missing Touring Car Masters, there was plenty of racing to enjoy, with an excellent field of cars in the GT series and a fantastic turnout of cars in Historics, serving to remind those of us old enough to remember, just how good it was to have different makes and engine capacities racing together. For those looking to meet drivers and get the prerequisite autographs, Thursday is an excellent laid back sort of day to achieve those aims. It was not a big crowd and consequently we drove quickly home in very light traffic.
Friday, we decided to have my son drop us off at the track and then use the free public transport (bus and train), to get home. After Thursday’s queueing debacle, we timed things to arrive at 11.30am, which proved the correct decision, virtually no queue. Interestingly, the crowd was still light and we weren’t directed to Flynn Drive, heading straight to the normal entry. It still wasn’t possible to find a programme, however our hosts had found a box of programmes in the WA Sporting Car Club rooms downstairs and asked if they could have / buy one. The answer was yes, but they were like hen’s teeth, so not to lose it! Incredible, there’s money to be made selling programmes, fans love them as souvenirs, often asking drivers to autograph them, which does rather segue into the curious business of merchandising at Barbagallo raceway. Granted the track, by its design, separates into two areas, but all the merchandising is on the western side of the track, to buy anything, you have to walk over there. It’s mostly a rough path, often covered in ankle twisting honky nuts and uneven sand and there is no reward for going there, all the action – pits etc is on the eastern side. Yes, there are excellent viewing points of the esses on the grass hill, but nothing else. If I was marketing team products, I’d want my stall close to the action, where the crowds are, where they’ve just come from pit lane. I know from our own decisions that we only went over once, as it was just too far and I’m sure the food stall owners must suffer as well. The race programme itself, was constant and well organised , with the first of the Supercars races starting at 6.45pm, by which time, it was well and truly dark.
The track lighting far exceeded my expectations, it was brilliant (excuse the pun), there were pyrotechnics in action and a couple of hundred Supercar members were ushered on to the starting line. The atmosphere was excellent. They had gone to the expense of installing large very high definition big screens and I appreciated that for once, they didn’t have the public address system at ear piercing level.
The race started and it was a spectacle, really, really great to watch. Some cars were easy to distinguish – the two Red Bull cars stood out the most, the dark cars – the Monster Mustang and the two Penrite Holdens were the hardest to spot and surprisingly, unless they were right in front of you, it was quite difficult to pick out the two Shell cars, although the Pony grill emblems were lit up, so you could pick them that way. Many of the cars had under floor lighting and that looked good, but what was the best, in terms of lighting effects, was the floor pans scrapping along the raised curbing on pit straight. The effect was spectacular, with sparks flying from under the cars, sometimes trailing like red – embered rooster tails. The only downside was trying to photograph the cars racing at night, I gave up, realising you had have to be down near track level, with the track flood lighting shining on the vehicle’s side, as the accredited photographers pics demonstrate.
The Supercars race finished around 7.50pm and we left the track about 8.20pm, catching the free bus to the station. There were plenty of buses waiting and leaving every five minutes or so, really well organised. The bus trip was relatively quick, although it is about a twenty minute journey to the station from the track, however at the station, we’d just missed a train and it was another twenty five minutes before the next train came along. Unfortunately, it was scheduled to stop at every station, which we quickly figured out, would make for about a forty minute journey to Perth, then we’d have a ten minute walk to the central station and quite possibly, another twenty five wait until a Midland train came along, with a twenty minute journey to our stop at Bassendean. All in all it was going to take us two and half hours for what was a forty minute journey by car. We rang my son and asked him to pick us up from Stirling Station – he drove from Bassendean to Stirling, arriving just five minutes after we got off the train. We decided to take the car on Saturday.
The final day, Saturday. Traffic wasn’t really heavy, in the way that I remember it from the golden days of the 1980s and 90s, when the queue of cars would stretch for miles and we found we still weren’t directed to Flynn Drive, but straight to the old track entrance, although there were a lot more cars than on the Friday, (this was at 11.30am). Certainly by qualifying time (around 2.45pm), the carpark looked very full and there were a lot of people at the track. What was very noticeable, was that drivers had become more accessible during this event. In recent years, driver signing sessions have been very limited and inter action between drivers and fans has bordered on non-existent. Somebody’s obviously realised that such enforced separation was not good for the sport. It must be a pain in the neck to sit there and have to smile and keep signing, but fans are the foundation of any sport and deserve some time with their teams and drivers.
As with the previous days, the racing programme was constant, with some fabulous racing, whatever took your fancy, in terms of Historics, GTs, SuperUtes and Dunlop2, but it was the final Supercars race (12), that became the piece de resistance. This was entertainment on an AFL scale, pyrotechnics and crowds waving lights and the best driver intros (on the big screens), I’ve ever seen. And we loved the Indigenous ‘Welcome to Country’, visually exciting at night, it was far better than the normal standard singing budgies murdering the National Anthem,
The race started and immediately it was a promoter’s dream – McLaughlin on pole, stuffed up his start (just as he’d done the night before) and Whincup passed him. The race was on! Now as I wrote earlier, it is quite difficult to pick which car is which until they’re passing you, but the big crystal clear screens were a huge help. Hint! Take binoculars to read the vertical info bar on the left of the screen, in case you can’t hear the commentary and let’s face it, during day time races, you have to keep referring to the big or little screen to find out who’s where at any point after the first stop.
I won’t go into minute by minute race details, however suffice to say the crowd favourite, Scotty McLaughlin, won, Jamie Whincup was second and Cam Waters a well-deserved third. The other big winner, of both Friday and Saturday night, was Simona De Silvestro finishing 12th each time, moving up five and four places respectively from her starting positon. The losers were Chas Mostert with his Mustang dropping a piston, (very unusual) , Scott Pye with a DNF after an altercation with Andre Heimgartner and Rick Kelly, who came out second best on pit straight, taking out almost every corflute sign on the grass and finishing his own race, way down the back, in what could best be referred to as the Nissan Cup. And you have to feel sorry for James Courtney, a superb driver, absolutely nothing seems to fall his way of late, his day must be coming!
In corporate terms, the big winners were Ford, Shell, DJR Team Penske and Pirtek. Strangely, from a marketing perspective, I saw nothing branding the event as sponsored by Virgin, even the official programme has no Virgin ad, other than small titles on the top front cover and the bottom of each page. However the big loser has to be Holden, not because of Red Bull’s struggles, but because Supercars constant nobbling of the Ford Mustangs sends a very strong subliminal message that Holden engineering is nowhere near as good as Ford’s.
As McLaughlin crossed the finish line in first place, the pyrotechnics along pit straight went off, as did the crowd, then as soon as the trophies were presented and the champers cracked, there was an excellent, though reasonably short fireworks display on top of the hill. It was a fitting finish to a fantastic few days of racing. Full credit to Supercars, they got this one right, night racing at Perth, is a wonderful spectacle and well worth keeping, I suspect even non motor racing people would enjoy the night, albeit with earplugs and the kids that were there, all seemed to love it and be very excited. There’s an added bonus, to the night format, in that more often than not, the Perth round falls on Mother’s Day, which makes things difficult for many people, this way, the Sunday will be free and mums everywhere will be very happy – they might even agree to go to the racing on the Saturday night!
Here, the WA State Labor Government deserves credit for their support of the event, people tend to forget the financial commitment of governments to host big sporting events. The Hon Bill Johnston, Minister for Mines and Petroleum, Energy and Industrial Relations and more importantly, a great motor sport fan, was in attendance and presented the winner’s trophy. I suspect he would have seen the inherent value and future possibilities of night racing.
As a long term motor racing fan – I used to watch Jim Richards in a Falcon at Pukekohe more years ago than I care to remember – I’ve become more and more dismayed at the policies of Supercars in recent times. The seeming abandonment of grassroots fans, with spiralling attendance costs and the virtual demise of free to air coverage of most races in favour of high cost pay TV strikes me as wrong in terms of long term support. Add to that the demise of the Falcon and Commodore and perhaps inevitably at some point, that great, wonderful, tribal battle of the red and blue armies, plus an apparent lack of interest in participation by other manufactures and young people no longer fixated on car ownership or driving, let alone motorsport, one wonders what the end game is.
Then there is the ongoing debacle over the Mustang engineering, I find it disgraceful, none of the explanations wash with me. In recent years, one team has completely dominated the sport, Red Bull, they were always one step ahead of every other team, aided by brilliant drivers, but rightly, nothing was ever done to noble the Red Bull cars, other teams were openly told to get over it and lift their respective games. But this season has seen the Ford backed Mustangs dominate, in the way that Red Bull has done previously, the famed Red Bull team is struggling, although if DJR Team Penske were not there, Red Bull would be dominating as usual, so it’s not their drivers, Whincup and van Gisbergen are brilliant racers, it’s patently obvious the problems are in their engineering / suspension development, at a guess, this is the first time they’ve really missed Ludo Lacroix, yet the Ford teams have now been penalised three times and one suspects, after the Perth round, there will be more nobbling. The taste is sour and the look is dreadful, it’s all a bit under arm bowling. If I was another manufacturer, I’d be looking at the shenanigans and thinking “No thanks, this series is set up to ensure Holden success.” Which segues into marketing.
I suspect the only game in town for Supercars, is Pay TV. As good as the spectacle was over this Perth weekend, my many years of marketing experience, tells me Supercars are not that interested in fans attending the races, rather far more interested in numbers watching at home on pay TV. But assuming (and hoping) that I’m wrong, there are then some puzzling holes in Supercars marketing.
I had the opportunity to talk briefly with quite a few of the drivers over the weekend, some are blessed with an outgoing personality, some are naturally reserved – think Peter Brock and Allan Moffatt, or Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coultard. I hasten to add being quiet and reserved bears no reflection on driving ability! The lesson anyone following the sport over the years has learnt, is that outgoing charismatic drivers are a marketing dream – the Brocks, Lowndes and Richards are relatively rare. Currently, Supercars is blessed with four drivers any sponsor would kill for (read throw money at) – Scott McLaughlin, Chas Mostert, Dave Reynolds and Simona De Silvestro. They should be the faces of the sport, taking Supercars to a wider audience across Australia and New Zealand – while I’m at it, surely it’s time for two race meetings whilst they’re in Aotearoa?
In these days of conspicuous equality and acknowledgment of women as major purchasers and influencers of car sales, I’m at a loss as to why Supercars doesn’t make more use of De Silvestro, a superb multi skilled driver, a very attractive woman, with a warm, fun personality. If I were her manager, I’d have done a deal with Supercars and Myer two years ago; she’d be a great ‘Face’ for Qantas or Virgin, or any other airline. A Ladies Day marquee at the track on the Friday, sponsored by Myer, Virgin or Qantas and Mumm champagne would be a great success.
A reasonably priced dinner with Scotty, Chas, Dave and Simona would be a fabulous event, perhaps held on the Wednesday night, it would bring great pre – race publicity. Oh hell, I could go on. I guess what I’m trying to say, is “Supercars, you got things spectacularly right with the night racing in Perth, you got it spectacularly wrong with the ongoing nobbling of the Mustangs and your lack of old school marketing utterly baffles me. I hope you get our much loved sport back on track”.
Supercars May 2019
Apart from the first three or four photos of Scotty McLaughlin's car - he did win the weekend and we're long term fans, having followed him since his Volvo days with GRM - The photos are in no particular order, taken over the three days of the event, the day time pics were taken during qualifying runs.
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/supercars-may-2019/thumbs/thumbs_l1140923.jpg]00This guy's there every Perth round, same hat, dedicated fan!
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/supercars-may-2019/thumbs/thumbs_l1140911.jpg]00End of the first lap, Jamie in the lead, Scotty following
GT3s Early May
I missed a lot of the GT3 action, which was a pity, as it's fabulous racing, with magnificent cars, but there are some photos here that hopefully are worth looking at.
Historics Perth Early May
There's a lot of photos here, simply because the local racers don't often get pics taken, there's too many to put in orders, so they appear as they were uploaded.