Iconic sports cars racing up a hill climb, a moving motor show of the latest road cars, world-famous drivers mingling casually with tens of thousands of enthusiasts… We could be describing the UK’s annual Goodwood Festival of Speed, but these are set to be future scenes from Australia’s own Bathurst 12 Hour.
England’s four-day “motorsport garden party” is providing some of the inspiration behind Supercars’ plans for the endurance race event, after it bought the rights in 2015. The grand plan is to create a full-blown, week-long festival, with a range of attractions as diverse as the nationalities competing in the increasingly popular half-day GT race.
It’s 25 years since the first 12 Hour and 2016 was a further evolution of an event that was discontinued after just four years in 1995, revived in 2007 and then morphed into an internationally established race with the introduction of GT3 and GT classes.
Supercars’ management this year ramped up the television product for Channel 7 with extra cameras and technology. Big-name brands including Audi, Bentley, BMW, Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz and Nissan also stepped up their investment in on- and off-track activities.
John Casey, Supercars’ marketing boss and the 12 Hour event director, says “festival” is a great description for its vision for the event.
“The 12 Hour race will always be at the heart and core of this event and I think the opportunity we’ve got is to grow it into an event which has a bunch of other dimensions and propositions that are interesting to people who love cars.
“The race might be interesting to some, but not for 12 hours and they might be interested in other aspects of the festival.
“If you think about Goodwood, it is a wonderful piece of inspiration as to what’s possible. I’m not conceited enough to say we’re going to turn the B12 into Goodwood … we need to think carefully what’s right for this market, what’s right for Australian fans.
“[But] move in that direction? I can’t think of anything better on this planet. The ideal inspiration is if we could combine the Spa 24 Hour with Goodwood.”
Ferrari Australasia’s CEO, Herbert Appleroth, is a passionate supporter of the festival approach, acknowledging there are some perfect synergies between Ferrari’s legendary cars and the fabled bitumen of The Mountain.
“Just seeing the reaction of our clients who have driven some of the great tracks and roads of the world … to see their faces on Mount Panorama while driving across the top, you could see boyhood dreams being fulfilled,” says Appleroth.
“2016 was great for everyone to experience. People were there for the love of cars not just motorsport – and that’s what appeals to us.
“I think like Goodwood is for Europe and the UK, Bathurst has the opportunity to build itself into an automotive cultural event rather than a one-off race. It has all the hallmarks of a legendary location with great myth behind it and gives a chance for people to do things on and off the track. We’re not really into motor shows as such.”
This year, Ferrari had a small display of models ranging from a 246 Dino to the latest 488 and Appleroth said the company would love a future B12 to incorporate a Concorde D’Elegance-style “tailgate party” similar to Goodwood’s Cartier display. Next year he’s also hoping to take a large, 100-plus Ferrari cavalcade through the streets of Bathurst before converging on The Mountain.
With an Australian motor show, either in Sydney or Melbourne, now a seemingly permanent no-show, Ferrari isn’t the only manufacturer that recognises the potential for a far more dynamic version, albeit with fewer cars.
Goodwood refers to its version as the ‘Moving Motorshow’, which was introduced in 2010 and last year attracted 18 manufacturers. It included opportunities for punters to drive around a specially constructed course. The chance to hit the Bathurst circuit without worrying about its usual 60km/h limit was the big drawcard in 2016 for many customers.
Audi, BMW, Ferrari and Mercedes were particularly notable for significantly stepping up their investment in hospitality and signage, as well as buying drive days for customers either side of the main event.
Audi used the event to promote its new R8 supercar, while Mercedes unveiled its new AMG GT3 race car and brought 200 customers along to the event as part of its Festival of AMG driving experience that also includes the Australian Grand Prix and Queenstown Snow Challenge.
The supercar spin-off division of Formula One team McLaren is also keen to use the 12 Hour to help grow its profile in Australia. That would have been helped by an overall victory for its factory-backed Tekno team and the company is likely to return next year.
“The 2016 edition of the Bathurst 12 Hour was the best yet and was an advertisement for all that is great about endurance racing,” says McLaren’s marketing manager, Geoff Tink.
“With a passionate crowd in attendance, a truly competitive race and a festive atmosphere, I know many people walked away with the belief that it had been one of the best weekends of Australian motorsport in a long time.”
It will be joined by a works team from compatriot brand Aston Martin, which will enter a car with drivers that will include the company’s boss, Andy Palmer, behind the wheel.
Nissan is the only manufacturer of the prominent brands in 2016 to be keen to race in both of Bathurst’s major annual races, though the German and British brands clearly see a greater affinity with the race that doesn’t have a long history associated with domestic Fords and Holdens.
They will be encouraged to hear that Supercars wants to ensure both events retain their own different personalities – while no longer preventing Supercars series drivers from competing in the longer enduro, as it did controversially in 2015 before it acquired the 12 Hour rights.
“It’s different manufacturers and a different crowd,” says Casey. “The people who come to this event are not the people who are coming to the 1000. The worse thing we could do is turn them into the same kind of event for the same kind of people – then you’re putting people in conflict.
“The crossover is relatively small. Of course there’s a group of people who are total enthusiasts and it wouldn’t matter what event is.”
For now, it’s difficult to see the GT3-based event outgrowing Australia’s biggest motorsport spectacle, The Bathurst 12 Hour attracted a record attendance of 37,079 in 2016. That’s a strong 14 per cent increase on 2015, though put quickly into perspective by the Bathurst 1000’s 200,000-plus figure (similar to the number of people who attend the Goodwood Festival of Speed). Television ratings are also superior for the 1000, which is run in October – eight months later than the 12 Hour.
However, with continuing grumbles from fans about Supercars coverage being restricted to pay- TV (Foxtel) and the future of the Supercars category facing question marks after Volvo’s withdrawal and Holden’s delay in committing to the series for 2017, it’s the Bathurst 12 Hour that’s currently the more likely to be in a partying mood.