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Conrod, Straight: Issue 9

29/11/2006 9:59 (Michael Shaw) - The international experiment continued last week in Bahrain. After two previous attempts (one successful and one not), V8 Supercars Australia are hoping that two out of three ainít bad.

When V8 Supercars ventured abroad, for the first time in many years, they returned to New Zealand. The chances of a round of the championship being unsuccessful in the land of the long white cloud were quite negligible considering the large fan-base. The people could relate to the cars and, more importantly, had a number of ex-pat drivers and teams to support. The races at Pukekohe were a resounding success.

Unfortunately, as is well known by now, that success has also led to Pukekoheís demise as a round. The championship has grown too big for the venue and they are moving on.

The next step on the international tour was China. The Shanghai circuit was a good idea in theory but was plagued with numerous problems between the tracks promoters and the series. These werenít the only problems; the racing also lacked flair. I would say this was partly caused by the full circuit not having been used. The shortened version knocked off too much and the track just wasnít the same, so the racing suffered. I can understand why this was done, as otherwise the track would have been rather long and the races, under last years race formatting, so few in laps.

Officially put on hold, China has been replaced with a race even further away from home, Bahrain. Bahrain has the advantage of being an outlet for Holden, but suffers from an Australian point of view, from being too many time zones behind. To confuse viewers even more, the racing occurs over the local Bahraini weekend, which leaves us with late night Friday and Saturday broadcasts along with a Sunday afternoon replay in what is the normal slot.

This isnít ALL as bad as it sounds. Even if the V8 Supercar faithful donít agree that itís the best thing for the series, this is a great opportunity to get Europe on board with live racing at a decent hour. I donít know whether this will be done Ė ever Ė but itís something that shouldnít be ignored. ChampCar went through a similar transition when they left their American roots and spread out to Australia, Japan, UK, Germany and Brazil. Even though the only event still surviving outside of Northern America is the Indy, I believe this has more to do with the level of support the Australian event received over the others rather than the entirely the fault of ChampCar mismanagement. If handled properly, V8 Supercars could build to become a legitimate World Championship.

Iím not kidding, it is entirely possible. But is it the right way to go?

It would take many years of expansion followed by stabilisation, growth and then expansion again. To a certain extent this is what has already been happening. The championship was pulled back from the brink of collapse 10 years ago, then expanded to New Zealand. This was then followed by a steady run where everyone got used to how it worked and then an expansion into China.

China was chosen because they had the money and seemingly the will to be in it for the long haul. While this didnít eventuate, I donít believe it was the right move for expansion in the first place. A race in Malaysia, which is closer and cheaper for the fans, may have been a better step into the Asian market. Not having a suitable track wasnít an issue as they also have a Formula 1 quality circuit. It obviously came down to the Malaysian government either not being willing, or not having been asked to back a proposal, and so the leap to Shanghai was made.

With the China deal falling apart, Bahrain stepped up and away we went. If Bahrain stay on board and V8SA donít try to stretch the boundaries even more, then fans can settle down and get used to the idea of having one round a long way from home.

In a motorsport sense, there are links to Bahrain that most people donít know about. For the past few years a delegation of Bahraini motorsport officials has been travelling to the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix to observe how Australian marshals do their work. Australia was chosen because our marshals are seen, the world over, as the best. CAMS have also sent our people over to help out with the Formula 1 race in Bahrain. Iím pretty sure that this link made the Bahrain V8 Supercar event possible and why it is highly likely to go off, from an officialsí point of view, without a hitch.

From here, there needs to be some consolidation. Whether there are plans to expand further or not, the series needs to sit back for a few years and make sure everything it currently has still works; especially as there are already some rather large changes coming for the series. The change in venue for New Zealand seems small but is important. Channel 7 taking over the broadcast rights is going to have a huge impact within the sport, and not just a few viewers taping the wrong channel for the first few rounds. Bahrain will also need to work. It doesnít matter whether it continues beyond the length of the current contract; it needs to be successful as an event. Iím not talking about financial gain, rather the ability for V8 Supercars to travel beyond a couple of countries consistently. There are potential sponsors out there waiting to see if V8 Supercars is worth the cost. If there is a constant chop and change of venue, especially overseas, then the sponsors wonít trust they are aiming themselves at the correct market.

Love him or loathe him, Tony Cochrane has a plan which is only now coming to light. Yes, it is likely driven by making money, but that is the best way to get anywhere these days in business OR sport. Without that money, the series wouldnít exist. Without the constant planning and preparing, the series would have no future.

All of this leads to one simple question. Should V8 Supercars be going overseas?

Itís probably not necessary to head outside of our little region but with modern business as it is, there are always expectations of expansion, and moving into Asia, South Africa and the Middle East is a simple way of, theoretically, increasing the target audience. The new audience may not like the product on offer and the old audience may feel forgotten, but that is a risk that comes with this type of move. What we donít want to see is V8Supercars heading for that great divide that resulted in the ChampCar/IRL break-up, as that isnít good for anyone.

Now that Bahrain has been run and won, we wait and see what happens next.

Release Date: 29/11/2006