Should CART/Champ Car race at Adelaide?


 by Mark Cipolloni
January 20, 2002

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The Adelaide race circuit is in Victoria Park, in the lower right corner of this picture.  It's adjacent to downtown, and a perfect setting.

For locals and residents of the Southern Australian city Adelaide, memories of their treasured Formula One race, the Australian Grand Prix, came back when the ALMS returned in 2000. But that race has since been cancelled and the city begs for a big-time race to put itself back on the international map.  Should a CART race be that event?

The CART product is enhanced by extremely successful races such as Surfers Paradise Australia, Monterrey, Mexico, Mexico City, Toronto, Vancouver, etc.  Take a potential sponsor to one of those races and you are likely to come away with a contract in hand.  Success breeds success.  Everyone wants to be part of something successful.

Contrast that with CART's weaker venues, which portray CART as a 'loser', an undesirable so-to-speak.  CART has shed most of its 'loser' races over the past three years, but there are still a few that must be jettisoned from the schedule.  They have done enough damage.  Nothing is worse than turning on the TV set and seeing empty grandstands.

Street races have been CART's most successful venues, but many complain that street races can be boring because it's so hard to pass.  Those people are right to some extent, and it's CART's fault for agreeing to race on a track that is substandard.  My hats off to the FIA for insisting on wide circuits.

What about Adelaide?

The 3.78 km (2.347-mile) Adelaide circuit  is everything a street circuit should be

F1 made its last visit to Adelaide in 1995. On that day in November an astonishing 205,000 people turned up to see the event – an all-time record only eclipsed last year when F1 returned to the United States.

There were many elements of Adelaide that made it a great venue. It has a party-like atmosphere that got the entire city and its people involved. The circuit snaked its way all through popular streets and city avenues, where people could join in the fun, and businesses could profit from higher than normal patronage, just like they do in Surfers, but with one key difference.  The streets in Adelaide are twice as wide as Surfers (yes, twice) and the racing was always superb because of it. 

Many still say Adelaide was the best street circuit to ever be on the Formula One calendar. See the track map above and to right.  It has a just the right mix of challenging turns, chicanes, and hairpins, with three straights – the longest of which measuring right around 3,000 feet long. Facilities were also first rate.  The pit garages for teams and the FIA were described as some of the classiest, and mechanics relished the workspace, with room to store tires, computers, engines, and the myriad of other bits and pieces teams bring with them.  There is also a plethora of cafes, bistros, restaurants, designer shops, and residential apartments nearby.

Adelaide is over 1,000 miles from Surfers (near Brisbane) so the two races won't impact each other at all.

So why did Adelaide lose its F1 race?  Simple - complacency.  Adelaide’s organizers and government, were convinced that their race was safe, but they were caught with their guard down when officials from Melbourne, Adelaide’s arch-rival, offered F1 Supremo Bernie Ecclestone more money, a lot more money, and successfully stole the event right out from under Adelaide's nose. When this happened, the headlines in one Adelaide newspaper read - ‘Melbourne rat bags poach our race’. 

Melbourne is nowhere near as special as Adelaide. The track is situated quite a distance from the city, which gives the race an almost ‘middle of nowhere feel, ' very much like Michigan International Speedway feels, built out in no-man's land of Michigan.

Melbourne isn't drawing any more people to its Grand Prix than Adelaide; although by world standards last year's race-day crowd of 107,000 was highly successful, it was down substantially on the 154,000 of the 1996 crowd. The final race in Adelaide in 1995 was remarkable, establishing an all-time race-day record of 205,000.

When ALMS went to Adelaide in 2000, over 65,000 fans showed up for the race.  While not as many as the 205,000 that came for the last F1 race in 1995, it was a healthy crowd nonetheless.  However, it wasn't big enough to pay the huge cost to fly the series all the way to Australia, so the ALMS contract terminated early and Don Panoz sued the City. According to Adelaide's The Advertiser, Panoz Motor Sports Australia filed an $18 million suit against former South Australia premier John Olsen, the South Australia Tourism Commission and the Motorsports Board for compensatory damages after the organizers cancelled the event after only one event of a nine-race contract.  Panoz dropped that lawsuit back in November.

Adelaide is a very picturesque city.

The first of the Adelaide race was the "Race of 1000 Years," held New Year's Eve 2000. It was very popular with fans, 144,000 of whom bought tickets over the three-day weekend.  Over 300,000 show up for CART's race in Surfers, over 150,000 just on race day.  By holding CART race weekends at both Adelaide and Surfers on successive weekends, the huge transportation costs will be essentially cut in half because they will be shared by both promoters equally.  That means both races will have a much better chance of turning a profit.  This will make the existing Surfers promoter happy, but it also means the Adelaide government can justify bringing racing back to their town without the risk of losing money.

Hordes of people at the 1995 F1 race at Adelaide.  This is the sort of the scene that jumps right out and says 'success'!  Compare this with the 35,000 or so people at Milwaukee or Chicago.  This is success, that isn't.


The V8 Supercar folks know how to put on a colorful victory podium celebration.  CART doesn't have a clue in this regard.  Most CART tracks don't have a proper victory podium and they don't know how important it is to let the fans join in under the victory podium.  Note the flags waving......and you know the air-horns are blaring.

The V8 Supercars still race at Adelaide, but the race doesn't draw the kind of crowds a joint weekend with CART would.  Australia’s premier motorsport category V8 Supercars have extended their contract with the South Australian Government and event organizers Clipsal 500 for a further five years. The confidence shown by the South Australian Government guarantees the Clipsal 500 race remains in Adelaide until 2008. 

However, our Australian contacts tell us that V8 Supercars don't like sharing the top-billing with CART as they are hugely successful in their own right. 

So my suggestion to make a CART doubleheader work in Australia? Stick with the October dates with the races separated by one week. This will give the drivers a chance to relax and holiday for a few days in Australia, fans to recover from one weekend to prepare for another and a chance to have driver's be interviewed by local media to promote the series. Maybe even a promotional go-kart event could be organized in Sydney or Melbourne with some CART driver's attending to meet the younger fans and future stars of the sport. This event would be a great showcase for the CART organization and would raise the profile of motor racing in general and show young kids just how professional race car drivers got started in the sport. 

As for support races I would leave Surfers Paradise with its existing complement of V8 Supercars and GT-Production racing, as well as the Young Guns concept introduced by Honda at the past two Surfer's Indy. 

For Adelaide I would look at Formula Ford, Formula 3, Young Guns and a GT-Production Enduro race, to be held after Indy Qualifying on Saturday night. My suggested hours are from 6:00-9:00 pm so the race would start at twilight and finish in darkness giving it the feeling of a mini Le Mans, while leaving plenty of time for people to still go out and party afterwards. 

Adelaide even has elevation change, unusual for a street race.  Note the wide streets in this photo taken from 1995.
Photo: Pascal Rondeau/ALLSPORT

CART is making a serious mistake by not racing in markets that can generate this sort of enthusiasm.  CART still prefers to cater to the 30,000 or so fans that may show up at Houston, Chicago  or Milwaukee.  Even though each CART race broadcast reaches some 100 million eyeballs, regardless of where in the world CART races, catering to the 30,000 fans at these ventures is important to CART because many of its sponsors have budgets paid for out of USA marketing budgets and they have told CART they want more US races.  CART's sponsors are telling CART how to run its business.  The tail is most definitely wagging the dog.  

The challenge before CART's marketing team is to talk to the international marketing folks (or the holding company) of these firms to help them understand that CART reaches a lot more people worldwide than the 30,000 or so sitting in the grandstands at some of these USA races.  Meanwhile CART is forced to overlook key venues like Shanghai, Adelaide, Monza or Imola (all would have huge attendance) and potential new sponsors see all the empty grandstands at the weak USA venues and ask themselves, why would I want to be involved with an organization that appears to be a loser with all those empty seats? 

Perception is half the battle.  Sponsors perceive NASCAR as successful because all their grandstands are full.  When they see a CART race and all those empty seats, the perception sends the marketing folks at potential new companies for CART running for the door. This is one example where the tail wagging the dog is holding the dog back while the vultures circle overhead.

The final word on Adelaide's event goes to the recently deceased senior statesman of Grand Prix racing, Ken Tyrrell. Interviewed in the United Kingdom after electing not to attend the Melbourne race, and reflecting on his 30-year career in Grand Prix racing, Tyrrell said he had never had any favorite circuits, adding that this subject was a matter for the drivers. Then he paused and said there was one exception. "It was always very pleasant when we finished up the season in Adelaide, where we got a wonderful reception from the people there," he said. "And it was very, very nice setting in which to wind up the season and have a party."

Melbourne, Australian race fan Christopher Skinner backed that up with this quote, "being Australian and a huge fan of open wheel racing I would also love to see a CART race in Adelaide and have often thought to myself that it would be a hugely successful event. I attended the last three Adelaide Grands Prix and every Melbourne Grand Prix and despite being from Melbourne I enjoyed the Adelaide events considerably more."

Should CART race at Adelaide someday?  We think so....for all the obvious reasons.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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