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Bathurst 1000 crowd numbers capped at 4000 a day

By Tim Robson, 18 Sep 2020 Motorsport

Bathurst 1000

Spectators limited by CoVID-19 for Supercars season finale, despite loosening NSW restrictions

UPDATE - Just 4000 fans a day will be allowed to attend the Bathurst 1000 this year, a move that has left organisers "disappointed".

There will also be no camping at the 2020 Bathurst 1000, while spectator areas at the top of Mt Panorama will also be off-limits to race fans.

Pre-purchased seating only will be available at the bottom of the mountain, including at Murray’s Corner, Hell Corner, Pit Straight East and Pit Straight West.

“Whilst we are disappointed that we can’t have a full crowd at Bathurst, we’re delighted to offer even limited attendance," said Supercars CEO Sean Seamer in a statement.

The news comes as NSW prepares to loosen restrictions on stadiums, with the current 25 percent capacity restriction expected to be lifted to 50 percent at the start of October.

"A racetrack like Mount Panorama is not as easy as a stadium to prepare in a COVID-19 compliant way due to the lack of dedicated seating," said Seamer.

“We thank the NSW Government and Bathurst Regional Council for their ongoing support of the event and for working with us on a plan that will allow fans the opportunity to see a new king of the mountain and championship winner crowned on October 18."

Seamer acknowledged the decision will be unpopular; crowd numbers in excess of 200,000 have been seen at Mt Panorama over previous years.

“We understand a number of fans will be disappointed that camping and normal ticketing opportunities are not available this year," said Seamer. "However, the safety of everyone attending the event is our main concern at all times.”

The series is racing this weekend at The Bend Motorsport Park, where MOTOR test driver and Supercars racer Warren Luff set the venue's first-ever production car record.

UPDATE - Supercars has formally announced that it will push back the Bathurst 1000 by one week.

The 2020 season finale will now run on October 18, moved to its latest-ever start as Supercars juggles fluid border restrictions in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And in a stunning turnaround, it's been revealed that the series will in fact race four times over two weekends at The Bend in South Australia, despite the series snubbing Australia's largest motorsport complex earlier in the year as it juggled a decimated calendar.

The omission of the circuit brought a sharp rebuke from the owner Sam Shahin, who suggested that Supercars "owes South Australia a big apology".

Fences, however, have been mended, and the series will race over September 19-20 and 26-27, before decamping to New South Wales for the final ever Bathurst 1000 that will feature a factory-backed Holden effort.

The announcement of The Bend means that Queensland Raceway misses out on a Supercars round for the first season since 1999.

MORE We set the first production car record at The Bend

The extra week between the final race at Tailum Bend and Mt Panorama will give officials and teams vital time to deal with any issues that may arise out of quarantine requirements.

Currently, anyone who travels from South Australia to NSW is required to self-isolate for 14 days, though this may change on the run-up to the event.

Announcing the final rounds also puts certainty around the 2020 championship, which will award 900 points over three more weekends of racing. Currently, 123 points separate DJR Team Penske's defending champion Scott McLaughlin and Holden Red Bull Racing ace Jamie Whincup.

A marathon road trip through the top end of the country will see drivers, crews and officials on the road and away from home for up to 100 days, and now a new change in COVID-19 restrictions in NSW has thrown plans into disarray.

As travel restrictions wind down, most of us think borders should stay closed

As part of tightening restrictions in the state, Motorsport Australia (formerly known as CAMS) has declared that all state and national motor racing events are outlawed until early October, while travel restrictions across Australia that wax and wane are also causing headaches for Supercars.

MORE What Aussies think of border closures

The six-week ban means some chewing of fingernails for a Supercars team that already has multiple logistics to worry about.

Those logistics include travel for teams, marshalls, officials and other workers needed to host a four-day motorsport event.

It's not so much the hosting event itself that is under threat, though. According to Motorsport Australia, the restrictions don't apply to professional sports.

“These restrictions are specific to community sport for the next six weeks, not professional sports, such as Supercars,” said CEO Eugene Arocca.

“The entire Supercars fraternity has done a fantastic job in working with various State Governments to ensure they have a strong COVID Plan in place for any events they have hosted, or will host in the future.

“Motorsport Australia doesn’t expect these most recent restrictions to impact the ability for us to issue a permit for any planned Supercars events in New South Wales.”

2020 – Annus Horribulus for Motorsport

The 1000 will serve as the finale to a truncated 2020 season that started as planned in Adelaide in February, before the motor racing world ground to a halt at the Australian Grand Prix in early March.

A two-month dry spell was broken by a race at Sydney Motorsport Park… but then it all went pear-shaped in Melbourne, with a coronavirus outbreak resulting in a border lockdown from the NSW side.

MORE Supercars suspends all racing

Victorian-based teams including Tickford and Walkinshaw Andretti United were forced with less than a day’s notice to throw their cars, gear and crews into trucks and essentially emigrate to NSW, with no return date in sight.

They were spread across NSW, all congregating back at Eastern Creek for a set of three races, including a night race under SMSP’s new lights, before trekking north to Queensland to set up camp in places as disparate as SeaWorld.

The idea was to keep one step ahead of the travel bans, congregating in a coronavirus-free bubble to enable to show to go on.

COVID-19 strikes again

Then COVID-19 flared up in a few key Brisbane suburbs, throwing plans for certain teams like Triple Eight to head to the Northern Territory for the first of four race days over two consecutive weekends.

While drivers and crews flew from Queensland to NT, team trucks were literally parked up on the side of the road on the border, waiting for permission to cross.

MORE Supercars cancels second Bathurst race

The delays pushed the Hidden Valley double-header back by a week, meaning that six races would be held over four days across two weekends – with one Saturday briefly threatened by state elections in the Territory.

Townsville's double-header

Teams are now packing trucks and heading south to Townsville, which will play host to another two weekends of Supercars racing around the hybrid street/road course in the city’s inner suburbs.

Fans will be permitted to attend both weekends, although all tickets must be pre-purchased.

Tickets will be pretty affordable, too; kids under 12 will get in free, with single-day tickets $35 and a special price of $110 for a four-day ticket across both weekends.

When that double-header winds up on Sunday September 6, teams will then battle border regulations to move lock, stock and barrel to South Australia.

QR no go

While that seems like a logical solution, that has been knocked on the head.

The track was snubbed for a 2020 round before the onset of the coronavirus, so it changed the configuration of its safety barriers that were put in place for its 2019 round.

Will there be a 2020 Supercars champion? 

As it turns out, a return to Ipswich isn’t essential; Supercars must conduct at least six rounds across a minimum of four states or territories in order for the 2020 season to be considered a proper championship.

MORE Can motorsport survive 2020 intact?

So far, the series has raced in once in South Australia and Victoria (sort of, but because the cars qualified at the abandoned AGP meeting, it’s counted), and twice in NSW, Queensland and the Northern Territory.

The Bathurst 1000 – or at least a second round at the Mt Panorama circuit - was originally set down for February 2021, but a change in TV rights between 2020 and 2021 put paid to that plan.

The 2020 Finale - The Bathurst 1000 

The famed 1000km race brings its own issues, though, in the form of out-of-state co-drivers.

Several from Victoria, including defending champion McLaughlin’s new co-driver Tim Slade, Garth Tander and Tony D’Alberto, amongst others, will be required to quarantine for two weeks prior to the event.

Two co-drivers from Western Australia will, if conditions remain unchanged, be unable to return home at all after the event.

The potential for the Bathurst 1000 to become the season decider has also reared its head. Would McLaughlin sacrifice a second Bathurst win after the uncertainty of his first in a quest for a third championship?

Would Whincup give up on the chance of winning an eighth crown over the lure of a fifth win at a place that's given him his fair share of heartache?

As well, underlining the massive logistic effort to move the teams to The Mountain is the fact that many team members will have been on the road for more than 100 days straight by the time the season wraps up.

While back-to-back races and tight turnaround times are a normal part of the championship, this is entirely new.

Away from home

“We’ve got a message on the inside panel which is to our friends and family around the country who we miss so much,” said Team 18 driver Scott Pye, who scored the team's maiden podium as a standalone squad in the first round of the NT double header.

“For all of our crew it’s a difficult time at the moment, none of us wants to be away from our family, but we are doing what we can to keep this sport alive and I hope we can put on a great show this weekend for everyone watching at home.”

Teammate Mark Winterbottom, a father-of-three, echoed those sentiments.

“We’ve got our families riding with us this weekend which is a nice touch for the team to have on the side pillars of the car,” Winterbottom said.

“It’s pretty special to do that for them watching from home, and hopefully they can bring some extra fight and good luck to the team this weekend.”

Racing is the winner

The truncated and transient nature of the 2020 season has mixed up the racing – well, to a point.

Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin has been largely untouchable, but there has been a mixed bag of results from squads up and down the lane.

Albury-based Brad Jones Racing, the tiny Team 18 and even fledgling outfit Team Sydney have all rotated up the order, while traditionally strong outfits like Triple Eight Racing and Erebus Motorsport have struggled for consistency – though the latter gave 2020 first debutante winner in the form of Anton de Pasquale.

Supercars has also taken the opportunity – whether by design or circumstance – to mix up the racing. Fuel stops have been benched, which helps with transport and safety logistics, while forcing teams to use soft and hard compound tyres at different races has also spiced up the action.

The show must go on

Logistics issues have also raised their heads, with the transport and distribution of the BP racing fuel used by the series under pressure, given the sheer amount of time that the teams are on the road.

Tyre supply is not an issue, though, with Dunlop able to supply control rubber to the field thanks in part to round cancellations in places like New Zealand, Perth and Tasmania.

“Obviously we don’t know what is going to happen, but we are prepared to be on the road until Bathurst or even longer,” Dunlop Motorsport operations manager Kevin Fitzsimons told racing site Speedcafe.com.

“It is not the ideal position, but everyone is in the same boat and doing what they have to do.”