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Supercars championship starts next month... but at what price?

By Tim Robson, 18 May 2020 Motorsport

Supercars calendar 2020

A season like no other awaits the Supercars fraternity, but it could mark the beginning of trouble for the struggling category

Supercars will fire up its compromised 2020 championship in front of empty stands next month, but that appears to be the least of the sport’s problems as it looks towards next year.

A draft calendar of 13 events has been released, with Sydney Motorsport Park the first after a three-and-a-half-month break - but missing from the draft is two of the sport’s crown jewels.

Both the Gold Coast 600 and the season finale Newcastle 500 street races have been dropped, with Supercars citing logistical uncertainty and the risk of crowd-free events as the reason.

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Street races off the Supercars table for 2020

The young Newcastle event has served as the 2020 championship’s grand final for the last three years, with a five-year deal set to expire after next year’s event.

The Gold Coast race, meanwhile, was slated to hold the first-ever night race at a street circuit before it was benched. Its contract was extended by five years early in 2020.

However, with huge economic impacts expected to ripple through the Australian economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic slowdown, it remains to be seen whether the costly events will ever return to the ailing championship.

“They're marquee events for Supercars for NSW and Queensland," said Supercars CEO Sean Seamer in a statement.

“We've worked with our partners in state and local governments, and over the past two weeks, and the discussions that we've had, we've taken the decision to exclude them from the remainder of this calendar for a range of reasons – notwithstanding the disruption that the residents of those cities have already been through this COVID-19 crisis.”

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Both are sponsored in the main by the respective state governments, which will come under huge budgetary pressure in the next twelve months to two years.

Supercars TV deal is under the spotlight

Complicating the issue will be the issue of television rights for the sport, which are also up for renewal at the end of 2020.

Government-sponsored events are required by law to be broadcast on free-to-air (FTA) television, but Supercar’s current FTA broadcaster, Ten, has publically stated that it wants out of its limited deal at the end of the 2020 season.

Seamer has been quoted as saying that the reports are "pure speculation."

Former Supercars broadcaster Seven is unlikely to try and pick the sport up if Ten does depart, with an expensive array of sport already on the books of the cash-strapped network.

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If a pure cable television model is signed off, then government sponsorship will likely decrease, potentially making the street events uneconomical to pursue.

Incumbent broadcaster Foxtel is under its own budgetary pressures, too, with the decimation of mainstream sport and a resultant slump in subscriptions resulting in staff layoffs.

Two Bathurst events for season 2020

The cancellation of the Newcastle round brought an added wrinkle – Supercars was obliged to find a replacement 2020 season finale in NSW, as part of its deal with the current Liberal Party. The solution was to add a second round at Mt Panorama.

The Bathurst 1000 is still set to be held on its now-traditional early October date, but it will be joined by a second sprint round in February 2021, on the same weekend as the Bathurst 12-Hour endurance race.

Early reports that the 2021 Bathurst 12-Hour is cancelled were wide of the mark. Supercars bought the rights to the Bathurst 12 Hour four years ago, so it has the ability to use the Bathurst race weekend – a rare commodity – for both categories.

It will, however, present logistical challenges for the teams in the V8 Supercars championship, as the 2021 season could start as quickly as three weeks after 2020’s final race.

2021 Bathurst 12-Hour still on - for now

The 12-hour race is also under pressure, with international travel likely to incur 14-day isolation for arriving travellers for months to come.

International freight forwarding is also under huge pressure, thanks to the contraction of the worldwide aviation industry, with a knock-on effect on sea freight logistics.

Other events on the provisional 2020 Supercars calendar include traditional events at Winton in Victoria, Wanneroo in Western Australia, Symmons Plains in Tasmania and the Townsville semi-permanent circuit in north Queensland.

The latter may be under pressure, though, with the Queensland government indicating that it may keep its borders closed until September.

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An endurance event at The Bend in South Australia will precede the Bathurst 1000, while a single event is set down for New Zealand in January – another potential logistic hot spot ahead of the Bathurst sprint round.

Supercars teams trying to weather 2020 storm

Meanwhile, one team won’t be returning to the 2020 Supercars Championship. After the departure of its primary sponsor, Team 23Red will exit the championship, with renowned racer Will Davison losing his drive in the team’s Ford Mustang.

The racing entitlement contract to run the former 23Red car will remain with Tickford, with James Courtney bringing Boost Mobile sponsorship to run the Mustang as part of the team's the four-car squad.

The sport also faces an existential crisis as Holden departs, taking with it one of the great sporting rivalries of the last 30 years.

Key meetings to decide the shape of the sport’s next set of regulations are currently being held, with cost savings reportedly at the top of the agenda.

Finally, the sport will most likely need to replace its series sponsor, Virgin, when the current deal expires at the end of 2020. The COVID-19 slowdown will make this a very difficult task.

2020 Supercars calendar (provisional, remaining rounds)

 

Sydney Motorsport Park

June 27-28

 

Winton Motor Raceway

July 18-19

 

Hidden Valley Raceway

August 8-9

 

Reid Park Street Circuit

August 29-30

 

The Bend Motorsport Park

September 19-20

 

Mount Panorama Motor Racing Circuit

October 8-11

 

Wanneroo Raceway

October 31-November 1

 

Symmons Plains Raceway

November 21-22

 

Sandown Raceway

December 12-13

 

Hampton Downs or Pukekohe Park

January 9-10

 

Mount Panorama Motor Racing Circuit

February 5-7