V8Supercars in Canberra - so cool, it's freezing!
Canberra - boring one day, bloody freezing the next. Yet once a year, even the Prime Minister can't resist the urge to stick his head outside the Lodge for the biggest event to hit the city since, well, ever. Thousands will actually be enticed to Australia's bureaucratic heart this week when the Parliamentary Triangle reverberates with a familiar roar. Move over Johnny, the four-wheeled circus is coming to town!
Pic: Nicole Rogers
There's something to be said for a sport presumptuous enough to paralyse the National Capital, and then parade it's wares round the federal parliament building. But that's the plan when the V8 Supercars storm Canberra for the second annual GMC 400.
It's the most unique race on the Shell Championship Series calendar, and unrivalled on the world stage. It's the only race in the world, aside from the Monaco Grand Prix, that takes place on the streets of a nation's capital city. And not even Monaco can boast its federal parliament building as a backdrop to the racing action.
Like it's F1 counterpart Monaco, the paddock is a comprimise, but the spectacle it provides is worth the sacrifice.
Pic: Shane Rogers
Like Adelaide, though not to the same extent, Canberra has embraced this event - and the sport has embraced the city. More than 109,000 filed through the turnstiles over the three-day carnival last year, for an event that wasn't without its organisational dramas. Race organisers have addressed those concerns, on both sides of the fence, and promise a "bigger and better" show this time around.
The logistics of transforming 3.9km of inner city public road into a world class racing circuit are mind boggling. Construction began on the circuit and trackside infrastructure a month ago - including some 2200 concrete barriers (weighing 4.5 tonnes each), 20km of safety and demarcation fencing, 40 demountable buildings (many perched on temporary scaffolding), three over-track bridges and six grandstands. 150 construction workers have worked with race organisers around the clock to bring the GMC 400 to life.
Roads within the racing precinct are already closed (they closed on June 1), and will reopen on the Monday night following the race. Even with Walter Burley Griffin's methodical road scheme, suspending such a large chunk of the inner city for over a week is a major undertaking. Traffic is calmed with an integrated transport management system throughout the event.
James Service, Chairman of the Canberra Tourism and Events Corporation, explains the massive enterprise. "Our aim is to build the track with the least possible disruption to Canberra residents and to restore the area to as good or better condition than we found it," he said. "The construction period is two weeks shorter than last year and track works have been approved by the National Capital Authority and Federal Parliament. All safety design for the track is in line with international motorsport (FIA) safety regulations."
Both spectators and drivers are promised a better deal from this year's event. Organisers have listened to the concerns of V8Supercar drivers - particularly Mark Skaife, who was instrumental in the circuit's initial design - before making modifications this year. Turn one has been widened to improve traffic flow as the 32-car field rumble down the main straight on the first lap. Modifications have also been made to turns 10 and 12, and the widening of Flynn Drive, to improve visibility and encourage passing.
Spectators have been promised better access to all parts of the circuit, with the moving of the Flynn Drive pedestrian bridge to Kaye Street. Extra grandstands have been placed at the Kings Avenue-Queen Victoria Terrace junction and in front of the Treasury building, while the merchandising area has been moved to the western side of Commonwealth Avenue.
Spot the racecar competition? Canberra's tight layout made spectator viewing difficult in 2000, but track alterations to Flynn Drive and other improvements will help in 2001.
Pic: Shane Rogers
These days, a race meeting is about far more than the on-track activity. While the Nation's Cup, GT-Performance cars and the Formula Holden machines support the V8 Supercars on the circuit, the GMC 400 is a three-day, city-wide festival of speed and spectacle. Stunt shows, air displays, beauty pageants (where Mr and Miss GMC 400 were crowned), rock concerts and driver meet-and-greet sessions are all part of the carnival.
It's a major investment, and not just economically, for any government to commit to. But the prestige that comes with hosting such a unique event - worth some $13 million to the ACT economy last year - ensures the outlay is worthwhile.
Look out, Canberra, Here they come!