Supercars has declared that it is postponing the first half of its 2020 season, with just a single round in the books.
Tasmania, Auckland and Perth will have their respective rounds rescheduled until later in the year, mirroring other race series around the world.
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Supercars CEO Sean Seamer said in a statement that the sport had examined the idea of running without crowds, but decided against it.
"Our sport is a visceral experience and rather than run without crowds, we have decided, along with our key broadcast and government partners, to delay any further racing until June," he said in a statement.
"Tasmania, Auckland and Perth events will all be postponed until later in the year, not cancelled. Fortunately, our calendar this year enables us to do this."
Huge crowds at the Bathurst 1000 last year
The series' hand has been forced by onerous restrictions on travel across the world, including a ban on international travel and compulsory self-isolation periods on both arriving travellers and people travelling to New Zealand.
While the Adelaide 500 race went ahead as scheduled, the second round of the series at the ill-fated Australian Grand Prix was cancelled after Thursday qualifying.
Seamer said that the series still aims to present 14 rounds of the championship in 2020. It may need to take a leaf from F1's book and run abbreviated race meetings, which may take the form of double-header weekends or single-day events.
Queensland Raceway's owner John Tetley told speedcafe.com yesterday that he was willing to work with Supercars, despite the fact that his track was dumped from the 2020 championship.
Teams practised and qualified at Albert Park before the meeting was abandoned
"Supercars’ priority is to deliver the 14 round 2020 championship for our fans and partners, irrespective of the dates," said Seamer. "Bathurst will obviously proceed on its scheduled date. We have a plan for how we can make that happen and will begin discussions with all of our stakeholders over the coming days to lock this in."
Team owners concerned over late scheduling
Team 18 owner Charlie Schwerkolt says it's "one of the most incredible situations I’ve ever seen in my whole working career or for anyone at the moment. These are certainly uncharted waters.”
“First and foremost we have to look after all our staff and the team. It’s a family here and we are going to look after them as best as we possibly can," he said.
“I can’t believe we’re not going to race for three months, but we have a big gap now so we just have to work out how we logistically manage the remainder of the year. We’ll still go over to Auckland, we’ll still go Tasmania, Perth and Bathurst and all of those rounds but it’s going to be a massive back end of the year."
Schwerkolt said that working out how to juggle the back end of the season is at the front of his mind at the moment.
“With the potential of back-to-back races we’ll be doubling-up truck drivers and changing how we go about our regular processes to make sure we make these events happen and put our best foot forward in every race," he said.
Charlie Schwerkolt (r) with drivers Mark Winterbottom (l) and Steve Richards
“We have an incredible fanbase and I appreciate all the messages of support from all of our partners and sponsors that are involved with the team. We are all so thankful for everyone’s support going through this period but we’ll do our best to look after everyone and come back firing when the cars roll out again.”
DJR Penske thanks fans for understanding
"We have taken direction and advice from Supercars management, government and health experts and we look forward to being able to return to doing what we love soon," said Dick Johnson via a statement from DJR Team Penske.
"As we take this break, we wish nothing but good health for all of our members, Supercars fans and the wider Australian community. Please listen to the authorities, and do everything they ask as we try to slow the spread of this virus.
"We are proud of the way our fans have responded on the many social media platforms in recent days, and we appreciate your patience and support while we work through this extraordinary situation. For now, look after yourselves, your families and your communities."
Supercars eSport virtual series announced
In the meantime, the championship is looking towards online racing to keep fans engaged, via a e-sports series that will star its principal drivers and be broadcast on cable TV. An official Supercars series is already hosted on US racing platform iRacing, with many of the series' active drivers taking part.
"We are unique and fortunate in that we are able to simulate our racing via eSports,' said Seamer.
"So, between now and late June, Supercars will host, via Twitch, Fox Sports and Kayo, an eSeries Championship where fans will get to see our stars battle it out in a virtual world while we wait to go racing again for real."
Meanwhile, the travel bans have cast doubts on the Indycar future of Supercar champion Scott McLaughlin, who was set to tackle some races this year.
Shannons Nationals postpones Bathurst 6 Hour
In late news, Motorsport Australia (formerly CAMS) has finally decided to postpone the opening two rounds of the Shannons Nationals, which covers TCR and S5000 amongst other categories, amidst frustration from teams and competitors about the lack of a decision.
"A new date will be announced [to replace round one at Sydney Motorsport Park in late March] in due course, with Motorsport Australia and ARDC to work closely together to find a suitable option for all categories scheduled to be part of the opening round of the season," read a statement.
"For the HiTec Oils Bathurst 6 Hour, the decision was made to restructure the event, the second round of the Shannons, which will now be part of this year’s new Bathurst International event in November, 2020."