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Supercars won't abandon New Zealand return plans

Supercars CEO Shane Howard says his series will never abandon plans to return to New Zealand as the deadline for a 2024 round nears.

Shane van Gisbergen, Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden

The Australian series has had a spotty presence across in New Zealand in recent years with just a single event between 2020 and 2023.

Initially the issue was the pandemic due to New Zealand's strict border controls forcing the 2020 and 2021 events to be cancelled.

The series then returned to NZ in 2022 to race in front of a sold-out crowd, however it proved to be a final fling at Pukekohe thanks to the now-complete decommissioning of the circuit.

With that the only suitable venue within the Auckland city bounds, and funding having come from the city's tourism arm Auckland Unlimited, there was no option for Supercars to race in the country this season.

Supercars is still hopeful a return is in the works, though, with lobbying to the federal government to replace the Auckland funding now under way.

Should it be secured then Hampton Downs, in neighbouring Waikato, is favourite to host Supercars.

Taupo Motorsport Park, also in Waikato, is another option.

"We'll never give up on going back to New Zealand," Howard told the media recently. "It's very important to us. We've got a strong fan base there, we want to be back in New Zealand.

"There's a couple of challenges there. Not having a circuit inside the Auckland shire, now with Pukekohe gone, determines that we need to apply to Major Events New Zealand, it's not through Auckland Unlimited. They've been very supportive, very good to deal with and have driven good results there, but the applications now go through Major Events.

"That process is quite long, their process is extensive. There is certainly an appetite there."

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Photo by: Edge Photographics

For New Zealand to make the 2024 calendar a decision from the national government needs to come before the end of May.

"We would like to be [there next year] but we need a decision from the government as quickly as possible," said Howard.

"If we can get that decision out of government, in line with our calendar development, we'll be going to New Zealand.

"We really need something by the end of May."

May also stands as a soft deadline for the future of the Newcastle 500.

What has become the season-opener is out of contract with Supercars, the City of Newcastle having kicked off community consultation following the 2023 event back in March.

"It provides a fantastic book-end for our series and we want to be back in Newcastle," explained Howard.

"That's a great event of for the championship and all of our stakeholders. If you look at it, it's a tripartite decision, so the [New South Wales] state government, Supercars and the [Newcastle] city need to be aligned. And it has to provide return on investment for all parties.

"But the indications are that what it delivers if significant. It delivers significant economic benefit for the state and the city and we truly value it.

"There's a process now with the government, we'll assess all the KPIs. We'd like to be in a position by the end of May to know where we are with that decision."

Another question mark is the future of the Australian Grand Prix in terms of Supercars thanks to logistical compromises forced on teams this year because of the addition of FIA F2 and F3 to the undercard.

Supercars were allowed to continue using its dedicated pitlane, however transporters had to be parked on the outside of circuit rather than behind the garages.

There have also been rumours that the junior open-wheel categories could be shifted to the pit garages in the future, posing a potential threat to pitstop races for Supercars at Albert Park.

Broc Feeney, Triple Eight Race Engineering, Chevrolet Camaro crosses the finish line

Broc Feeney, Triple Eight Race Engineering, Chevrolet Camaro crosses the finish line

Photo by: Edge Photographics

As it stands their agreement between Supercars and the Australian Grand Prix Corporation ended this year, although there is an option in place for 2024 and 2025.

Full blown negotiations on that are unlikely to start until Andrew Westacott's successor as AGPC CEO is named, although Howard made it clear that Supercars would like to stay on the bill thanks to the current boom in F1's popularity.

"We want to be [there] – it's a big stage, incredible event," he said. "It's a phenomenon, Formula 1 at the moment, and the crowds that it's generating and the new interest in motorsport in general.

"We absolutely want to be part of that.

"With every street circuit there is a lot of compromise. You look at Gold Coast, you look at Newcastle, where we can't have out trucks in behind [the garages]. But they are so important to race at because they just open your sport tip to a such a wide, diverse demographic and big numbers of fans.

"We've got compromise in what we're doing, but obviously F2 and F3 have got some compromise there as well. The AGP came up with a good solution for all parties to operate [in 2023]."

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