It would seem the story that has been kicking around for as long as I can remember is finally going to come to a head: Newcastle will be getting a (V8) Supercar race, starting in 2017.
Though not confirmed yet, talk is strong that Australia’s premier motor racing series will arrive in the Steel City following the conclusion of the Sydney 500 event at Olympic Park in Homebush after this year’s event.
While I have no doubt the event will be successful – even in spite of the known fact that “economic benefit” numbers of major sporting events are complete bullshit and devoid of all meaning.
I do not, however, think the race is going to happen on the layout touted today in the Newcastle Herald.
There are a couple of reasons why.
First up, the pit lane. The concept circuit has the pit lane running east along Wharf Road adjacent to Foreshore Park.
In order to get a pit lane in that space, a significant chunk of that green space along the road side will need to be dug up. That is unlikely to happen.
Look at the Surfers Paradise street circuit the Supercars currently (and IndyCar/Champ Car previously) race on. There’s some 20-30m of concrete car park there that runs for a good few hundred metres. It houses the pit lane and garages used during race weekends.
Compare that to Foreshore Park where, sure, there is carpark, but it isn’t continuous. Making it long enough to house the pits will require the removal of a number of trees and green parkland.
That won’t be popular, and it’s guaranteed to raise the ire of the locals.
Speaking of the locals, this brings up the second issue: local response to the plans.
The residents of Newcastle East have a demonstrated hatred of pretty much anything that involves changing Newcastle in any way, shape or form.
There is no way that they are going to accept being closed in by a race track for two or three months while it is built and then removed. It will be even worse on the race weekend itself when for an entire four or five days the roads will be closed completely, meaning there is practically zero chance of being able to drive your car in or out.
That’s not even mentioning that the entirety of Foreshore Park is likely to be closed off for a fair amount of time during the event, with access to Fort Scratchley, Nobbys Beach and the breakwall likely to also be restricted.
Thirdly, there’s the racing line.
The Newcastle Herald’s circuit is fast, flowing and has a reasonable amount of elevation change, with a couple of chicanes thrown in for good measure.
It’s going to be shit for racing Supercars.
Turn 1, Nobby’s Chicane, will be the sort where you don’t so much brake heavily then turn it as you do roll the car’s momentum through the corner. Getting cars side-by-side coming out of the Wharf Road pit straight to effect an overtaking manoeuvre is unlikely to happen.
You might get cars side-by-side along The Esplanade towards Newcastle Ocean Baths, but the right-hand bend in the road as it crests the runs down towards Newcastle Beach isn’t going to be somewhere anyone will be wanting to stick the nose of their car.
Coming past the beach, Church Street is narrow and climbs towards the right-hander at Watt Street, near Newcastle police station. Again, the chances of chucking it down the inside are slim to none.
The Watt Street Chicane (at the intersection of King Street) could be a chance, but that depends on how the chicane is designed. The details of which are not provided.
From there, the circuit continues down Watt Street past Newcastle Station and Customs House Hotel before, once again, turning right back onto Wharf Road to complete the lap.
The final turn also does not look promising as an overtaking spot, as the braking zone will be on the right-hand side of the circuit so the cars can straight-line the slight left kink into the roundabout, before proceeding around it and back onto the straight.
I can see the appeal of this circuit. Harbour on one side, ocean on the other. The helicopter shots alone are enough to get someone excited about how it will look on TV.
But the Supercars need a track you can race on, not one that just drives past things that are interesting. That lesson should have been learnt when the V8s went to Canberra (remember that track? Admittedly it did give up the greatest V8 Supercar highlight even seen) and then reinforced with the Olympic Park circuit.
(I am excluding the godawful goat track that is Winton because it’s a permanent facility, not a street circuit. Still terrible, but permanent).
There is, however, an area of Newcastle that Your Humble Correspondent considers just about perfect for hosting a Supercars race. And that’s Honeysuckle.
I even drew a map.
Indulge me as I explain why
1) Better facilities
The north side of Honeysuckle Drive is largely a barren wasteland. Developing a semi-permanent pit facility would actually help that area. Whatever building is placed there could be used for other activities outside of the race weekend.
This is currently want happens with the Albert Park pit complex in Melbourne. When the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix isn’t on, the building houses the Albert Park Indoor Sports Centre.
Other benefit is a far more picturesque paddock area. It would open out on the harbour and generally be quite a nice place.
Having a number of undeveloped lots would also allow the construction of temporary grandstands, which would you struggle to fit in around the concept circuit.
The Civic Station carpark could be used as a paddock area for support races as well.
2) Fewer disgruntled residents
This one is pure numbers, but the number of people who would be directly inconvenienced as a result of holding the race in Honeysuckle is significantly fewer than the Herald’s concept layout.
Instead of roping off an entire suburb, you’re getting in the way of a few apartments. Sure they already complain about the noise coming from the entertainment precinct they chose to live in, but still. There’s fewer of them.
3) It fits the Honeysuckle precinct better
While Foreshore Park is a lovely bit of green space nestled between the harbour, the beach and Fort Scratchley it is not the area that is ideal to hold a car race.
By moving the race into the Honeysuckle precinct the opportunity exists to create an area that would be much more enjoyable for fans of the race.
The existing entertainment area (bars, mostly) could be utilised to improve the food and beverage offerings that are often present at these events.
By bringing local businesses into the event, rather than trying to compete against them by creating your own, you better place your race to deliver on those always-rubbery “economic benefits” major events proclaim but rarely deliver.
The existing undeveloped lots could also be utilised for race-related events such as car displays, stunt driving and other activities.
Everything will be central, easy to access and do something with an area that is still waiting to be developed into what has been promised by local developers.
4) Circuit layout
Finally, a Honeysuckle-based circuit would be more likely to produce an interesting race, something the concept circuit does not look like it would.
Wider streets, fewer flowing corners and heavier braking zones are what touring cars need in order to best effect overtaking.
This could be purely subjective, but I believe my proposed circuit provides for these things and, thus, better racing.
Moving the race away from the foreshore and back towards Honeysuckle improves the chances of the Newcastle race being an actual success, and not just a “success because every new race on the calendar is a success regardless of how well it really does”.
There’s been another little twist in this story today.
An alternate layout, comprising a square-ish circuit around Hunter Stadium and surrounds, has been proposed by Wayne Russel.
Here it is.
Now, this is interesting for a couple of reasons.
First off, Wayne wants to close three major arterial roads in Broadmeadow for a weekend and that couldn’t possibly go wrong.
Second, the track is a bloody square.
Third, it’s still located within a major residential area.
The fourth point is, perhaps the most interesting.
Wayne Russel is not only a former V8 Supercar driver (his son, Aaren, currently competes in the series for Erebus Motorsport) but also happens to own Go-Karts-Go, which is conveniently located smack bang in the middle of his proposed circuit.
Make of that what you will.