The third round of the decimated 2020 Supercars season will go ahead after five Victorian-based racing teams made a frantic dash for the border of NSW to beat the reinstated COVID-19 lockdowns in that state.
Originally set down for the rural town of Winton in northern Victoria, the third round will once again be held at Sydney Motorsport Park, which hosted the de-facto round two event last weekend.
Tickford Racing, Erebus Motorsport, Team 18 and Walkinshaw Andretti United packed up and fled from their Melbourne home bases in record time, while the fifth team, Kelly Racing, has decamped to Mildura.
The decision to close the border caught a few of the teams on the hop, with cars in pieces and crews forced to leave families and friends for a potentially extended stay in NSW.
“I left Western Sydney 18 years ago... found out today that I will be living back there again for the near future,” said Team 18 driver Mark Winterbottom on social media, whose wife Renee recently gave birth to a third child.
“Not sure when I’ll be back to see my wife and the kids, could be months. Tough times,” he said. “A big thank you to the families of team members, allowing your partners to keep this sport alive. It’s a huge sacrifice that is really appreciated.”
The Kelly team was forced to partially reassemble its Ford Mustangs before decamping to a property in Mildura, NSW, owned by the Kelly family.
“When we got the call yesterday, all of the engines were actually out of the cars in the engine shop getting serviced and everything,” team owner Todd Kelly told supercars.com. “The cars were completely in bits, so it was a pretty decent panic to try to get all of that back in the truck. We only got over the border at 11:30 last night, so it was a late night.”
Kelly (below, at the property) paid tribute to his team, who were forced at short notice to make a decision to head north for an indefinite period.
“It was pretty hard on all of the staff to make that call, but every single person that we had at Eastern Creek for the last round was on the coach at 5pm last night,” Kelly said. “We didn’t miss anyone so that’s a massive thing for the crew to do that for our sport and team.”
The Penrite Racing squad will base themselves at a farm owned by Erebus team principle Betty Klimenko in the NSW Southern Highlands. Lead driver David Reynolds has even relocated to his mother’s house in Albury to ensure his availability.
Now that the teams have avoided the spectre of COVID-19 lockdown, senior figures in the sport are urging Supercars organisers to use the opportunity to complete as many rounds as possible by any means.
“Get it done!” exhorted renowned motorsport scion Brett Murray on speedcafe.com. “As proven with the exodus of Victorian teams overnight, everyone has to adapt to reach a common goal of survival.”
Double-header events, an additional Bathurst sprint round and a return to Queensland Raceway are possibilities, he wrote, adding that the Victorian lockdown has “squeezed the financial handcuffs even tighter.”
Murray also suggested that the “writing was on the wall” for a state border lockdown last week – but the fact that each Supercars team is required to foot the bill for its staff and transport costs (unlike the AFL, for example, which has already decamped to Queensland) adds more strain to a system already under pressure.
“The reality is that no one in the sport has signed up for what they are currently facing,” said Murray, “but the job has to be done. There is no alternative if everyone is to come out the other side.”
Round three will be held at Sydney Motorsport Park on July 17-18, with limited crowd attendance permitted on both days.
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