Is The Gold Coast In IndyCar’s Future?

The hot rumor in the IndyCar circles for the past couple of weeks has been that talks may be underway for the IndyCar Series to return to Surfers Paradise in Gold Coast, Queensland in Australia as early as the 2020 season. Is that a good thing?

From a fan’s perspective, I would answer that with an emphatic yes. Watching the race on television always made me want to be there. Keep in mind that the race used to take place in early to mid-March, when it was usually still rather chilly in the US. It would also be some late Saturday night viewing with the time zone difference. I’m not much of a napper, but I would usually get in a nap sometime on Saturday afternoon in anticipation of a very late night that evening. There was something almost magical and tantalizing about watching a race after midnight when it was still bitter cold outside, with bikini-clad sun worshipers in every other camera shot.

The first race at Surfers Paradise was won by John Andretti, driving for Hall/VDS, on March 17, 1991 – the season-opener. In fact, Surfers Paradise served as the CART season-opener from 1991 through 1994. The 1995 opener was at Tamiami Park and Surfers was moved to the second race. By 1996, it was the third race – after Homestead and Rio. By the 1998 season, the race at Surfers Paradise was moved to mid-October – between Houston and the season finale at Fontana.

The race stayed in that same basic slot from 1998 until the final points-paying race in 2007. When Champ Car and IndyCar merged prior to the 2008 season, Surfers Paradise was a casualty and I never fully understood why. There was one final non-points exhibition race that was run on October 26, 2008 – almost two months after the IndyCar season finale at Chicagoland took place on September 7. That was the final appearance for American open-wheel racing in Australia.

It doesn’t hurt that Australian native Will Power won the Indianapolis 500 this past May.

I can’t say whether or not the teams and drivers would be in favor of a return to the Gold Coast. I would imagine the drivers would be mostly in favor of it. From what I recall, it was usually one of the favorite stops on the schedule for the majority of the drivers. As far as the teams, that may be a different story.

The fly-away races are a different animal. The transporters that serve as weekend headquarters for the teams on race weekends are not able to go for obvious reasons. The cars, tires, engines, spare parts and all of the tools have to be packed up and flown over a week or more in advance. Formula One does this several times a year, but I don’t think IndyCar has done it since the days of Twin Ring Motegi in Japan in 2011 and São Paulo in 2013 – the last time the IndyCar Series packed up and flew anywhere. It’s hard to believe that as recent as 2011, the IndyCar Series had four international races. Now it’s down to one – Toronto.

I’ve never been to a fly-away race (and doubt that I ever will). I’m not quite sure what the teams use on site in place of the transporters they use, say at Road America. The transporters not only carry the cars and the tools from the shop to the race – they also give drivers and team members an escape place away from fans and pesky journalists. But whatever they use cannot be as good a substitute as what they are used to at most other races.

From an owner’s perspective, it might be a tough sell for a lot of the sponsors who do no business in Australia. Some may balk at the thought of paying for an eighteen race budget, when one of the races takes place where they can get no return on investment except for US television exposure. Some owners may get aggressive and actually do some one-race sponsorship shopping in Australia to replace a company like ABC Supply, who would probably get no benefit from an Australia race.

But as a fan, I see little downside to this. But if they are going to do it, my personal preference would be to open each season at Surfers Paradise. The teams can have plenty of time to prepare properly and it serves as almost an appetizer for the bulk of the schedule that’s soon to follow. The race could run live late Saturday night on NBCSN, then either show it as a repeat on the same channel or possibly fit it into big NBC’s programming during the day on Sunday. Then let St. Petersburg serve as the domestic season-opener a couple of weeks later.

At that time of year, I was always so eager to see any type of IndyCar racing that it didn’t matter where it was or when it was – I was going to stay up and watch it. When they moved it to October in 1998, when football had started back and the championship was down to a handful of drivers – I generally would just watch the replay. I had moved since the early nineties and I can never recall watching the race live in the middle of the night in the new place. It just didn’t seem as special then as it did when it was the season-opener.

IndyCar CEO Mark Miles seems determined to add a couple of fly-away races to the schedule. So long as it makes financial sense and the teams don’t take a hit, I’m OK with the idea. If you are going to go halfway around the world to race, I can’t think of a better place. Surfers Paradise sounds a little more appealing than the other international locale I’ve heard mentioned – Uruguay. I know there are a couple of regular readers here that are in Uruguay, and they have their own open-wheel racing history. It may be a great place to hold a race, but Surfers is a known quantity. So before any fans of a race in Uruguay gets upset, the fact that I’m much more familiar with Surfers Paradise is the only reason I said that.

If I had to bet money, I think the odds are slightly greater than 50-50 that IndyCar will be racing at Surfers Paradise in 2020. I have no inside scoop or knowledge – it’s just more of a gut feeling. So if you have the time and the money to get there, you just might want to start some rough planning now.

George Phillips

13 Responses to “Is The Gold Coast In IndyCar’s Future?”

  1. BrandonWright77 Says:

    I’d love to see it. Shame they won’t be able to use the same layout since construction has taken over part of it, it was one of the best street course layouts in my opinion. Seems like a no-brainer for the fans and drivers but as you mentioned, sponsors may not be as gung-ho about it since they won’t get much out of it. Hopefully they can figure out a way to make it happen.

  2. As long as it’s economically sound, I think they should go wherever there’s a demand–Australia, Mexico, Japan, Canada Twice? In these days of the dwindling racing audience it doesn’t make sense just to keep it a domestic series. But it would have to make sense money-wise. As far as sponsors, more and more cars have multiple sponsors anyway, so I like the idea of picking up a local sponsor for that race. Midnight madness…

  3. INDYCAR is going in the wrong direction. Trying to recreate CART. A series that went bankrupt twice. Still trying to be F1 Lite. Still too much influence from the bigger team owners, and you know who I mean.

    Wish they would make as much effort to run again at Milwaukee, Kentucky, Chicago. Or go back to Phoenix and actually market the race. But why do that? They are still going after drivers with no oval experience. See recent announcements. And no requirement to get any such experience. And then they say ovals are too dangerous.

    Where is Tony George when you need him?

    • BrandonWright77 Says:

      In order to go back to those tracks, those tracks would have to want them back, and right now they don’t. Can’t race at a track where you’re not wanted, no matter how badly the fans want it.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    The series runs on money, so if the money is there they will go and they probably should. But the money hasn’t been there much if at all for fly-away races in a long time and the series and sport have been burned on several occasions in recent years when they took the word of a promoter that the money would be there (heck, this has happened domestically too).

    Fortunately, the series doesn’t have to bet on big international paydays simply to survive the way Champcar did in its final few years. I welcome new races in general, Surfer’s in particular, and I expect the series to have learned enough to get the money necessary if and when they agree to a fly-away race. If not, shame on them.

    • Bingo. I’m in favor of any international race where the promoter and/or sponsors of that race can cover the costs for the teams for the weekend (both the transportation to the race and the operating expenses). If that happens, there is no additional financial burden on the teams, and they don’t have to ask their domestic sponsors for any additional cash, anyway. If the teams can make a profit on an international race (or races), all the better.

      Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of candidates out there, so it’s liable to be a moot point, as much as I’d love to see these types of races added. Fingers crossed something works out with one or more (Surfers, especially, because I loved watching those races for all of the reasons George mentioned…watching a race next to the beach from your couch, when it’s still blowing snow outside your window in the middle of the night was always fun), but I’m not holding my breath.

  5. Wednesday’s post is about shrinking sponsorships, Friday’s is about making an expensive cross planet trip for a parade of a race on a tight circuit; makes sense. I am teasing a bit but seriously, Australia makes no sense to return to, Cleveland should be the top target, not another tight street course with no passing.

    And even funnier is NASCAR acting like a Cup race there would be great, oh man that would be fun, NOT!

  6. From the distinctly European perspective I used to have when I got into US open wheel racing in the mid-90s when they showed it on TV on a station called EuroSport, I remember Surfers as an IndyCar race that I liked watching. However, I only ever watched the replays because the time zone difference from my location in Germany is way worse than the night race from Texas Motor Speedway.

    It’s great for IndyCar that it still has got enough Australian fans to be asked for a comeback of this event.

    However, it might not be such a good idea for IndyCar to try to return to a circuit which has changed so much since last time around: Phoenix also had a major change in layout and turned out to not really be suitable to these cars anymore. I guess neither would Michigan.

    At this point, it’s great for IndyCar that they have found proper replacements for the two events that left the schedule after the end of this season. COTA and Laguna Seca will be interesting to watch, even if it were just for a while.

    The Milwaukee Mile and Kentucky Speedway at Sparta/KY are currently missed the most by this TV spectator, though I’m not too sure about if I really miss Kentucky because from what I’ve heard, they’ve also done some reconstruction with the goal of making the track more suitable to stock cars (and thus less suitable to open-wheelers). Montreal would also be very exciting but at this point, it doesn’t seem likely. And Baltimore was always exciting but that one is unlikely to return ever.

    A few recent appearances which I don’t miss include NOLA, Houston’s Reliant Park and Fontana which should not return unless they fix those seams by renewing the surface.

    Watching IndyCar from Germany, the one IndyCar event which I would go to if I could make it to a race would actually not be the closest venues that one of the split series raced at, Lausitzring or Assen, but Milwaukee instead because those flat one-mile ovals provide racing that is just so interesting to watch with all those lapped cars in the mix. IndyCar needs more short tracks these days.

  7. I would think Mexico is the untapped market that could swiftly build a new fan base . I am good with Gold Coast as a opening the season . Indycar only has a three year TV contract so that leaves little time to increase ratings . Lose the NBC contract and it will be all down hill for the series .

  8. Bruce Waine Says:

    You have a product.

    Yet, you squander your product and its success by not broadening your sales territory or by increasing your consumers.

    Sounds like a plan for………………………….. ?

    So just continue the same old, same old …… schedule within the confines of USA and perhaps Canada.

    A proven plan for success and longevity …..

  9. “You have a product.”
    which no one will finance.

  10. Bernie said that he didn’t give a hoot if anyone showed up for an F1 race as long as it was on television.

    And if the American fans are watching on tv, that’s GOOD for ABC and why wouldn’t ABC be willing pay to be on national TV wherever the race is held??

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