AS journalists we are expected to simply report the facts, usually in a format that suits our readers, but still just the facts. As an editor you can shape those facts to be more or lesss critical to the story at hand but still opinion is not meant to creep into that space.
Sometimes though it’s important to stand up as a fan, and voice one’s opinion, to share the impact the aforementioned facts might have on, in this case, motor sport in this country. Today is one of those days.
If you’re not a V8 Supercars fan you may not know that on February 7 and 8 Sydney Motorsport Park (aka Eastern Creek Raceway) will host a two day, test and season launch event ahead of the opening round of this year’s championship – the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide.
You probably won’t know that this event used to be held on a Saturday, as a one day event, or that this year it will be broadcast on Pay-TV (see separate story). You might also not be aware that this date was supposedly chosen to avoid supposed clashes with the cricket World Cup and wait for it – tennis and soccer.
More significant than all of this are two major factors.
The first of these lies in the fact the V8 Supercars event is being held on the very same weekend as the Bathurst 12 Hour endurance race – an internationally recognised endurance race for GT and production cars race with a global free to air TV audience expected to number in the millions and be shown in more than 150 countries.
The 12 Hour date has been set in stone since last February, many months before management of V8 Supercars chose their launch weekend (in direct contradiction with actions in the past by the Confederation of Australian Motorsport, who would have previously protected the Bathurst 12 Hour date).
The second is a secret rule change, which occurred at the end of last year, with V8 Supercars CEO James Warburton banning contracted full time series drivers from not attending V8 Supercars sanctioned events, with the season launch of course suddenly becoming a compulsory V8 Supercars sanctioned event.
No big deal you might say, except that more than a dozen V8 Supecar drivers were expected to take part in the Bathurst 12 Hour event, with drivers such as Craig Lowndes, Shane van Gisbergen and Rick Kelly in with a genuine shot of winning the event (Lowndes has won it before) – not taking away from the fact we would have been showcasing an immense amount of Aussie driving talent to the world.
There are TV rights thrown into the mix with the 12 Hour being shown live on Channel 7 and Pay-TV provider Foxtel showing the V8 Supercar launch and Super Test, and while there was an attempt to broker some sort of deal for the V8 Supercars to be involved at Bathurst, no deal could be reached between event organisers and the rival TV networks.
Supercars CEO James Warburton is on the record in his claims the date clash was unavoidable due to other sporting events not related to V8 Supercars but has not publicly commented about the rule change that has cut Australia’s best tin top pilots out of exposure on a global scale.
Let’s not also forget the fact that a great many of the volunteer officials who run and support the operation of our motor racing events will be at Bathurst, working tirelessly to make the 12 Hour the showcase it deserves to be.
All this begs the question of why V8 Supercars have chosen to go head to head with the 12 Hour, and why change the rules to cut V8 drivers out of the event?
Truth be told it’s likely none of them would have attended the test, choosing the 12 Hour instead.
And why have CAMS stayed silent? Why have they not stepped in to broker a date change given the two events are in direct competition with each other for a similar audience? Why have CAMS chosen not to protect the Bathurst 12 Hour date?
Is GT racing and in particular GT3 a real threat to V8 Supercars? One wonders, given the 2017 rule changes to the Supercars category (for that will be there new name once they drop V8 from their moniker) and their reported attempts to buy the Australian GT Championship, whether they plan to morph the V8 series into a GT3 style racing class.
And finally, what about the humble fan – left out in the cold and forced to choose between two competing motor racing events. As motor racing fans we need to ask why we should even be forced to choose between two massive events, why we can’t see our favourite drivers do their thing on the mountain, and why we have been forced to take a back seat to TV rights deals, and what can best be described as selfish behaviour by category management.
As a motor racing fan, I have some advice for any category in motor sport who think they are bigger than the sport itself. Ignore your fans at your peril, for one day you may have none (just my opinion – for what it’s worth). Since I don’t have Pay-TV – the Bathurst 12 Hour is looking like a good choice.