ASTC: Macau Grand Prix Date May Replace Eastern Creek

SUPER TOURERS MAY RACE IN MACAU TOCA Australia considers BOC Gases championship round overseas MONDAY, MAY 24: The final round of this year's BOC Gases Australian Super Touring Championship may be held during the annual international ...

SUPER TOURERS MAY RACE IN MACAU

TOCA Australia considers BOC Gases championship round overseas

MONDAY, MAY 24: The final round of this year's BOC Gases Australian Super Touring Championship may be held during the annual international Macau Grand Prix in November.

Kelvin O'Reilly, Chief Executive of championship organisers TOCA Australia, said the move to race in Macau was under consideration following a sudden decision by the Australian Racing Drivers Club to make it's Eastern Creek circuit in Sydney unavailable for the scheduled fifth round on July 18.

"I've had discussions with the organisers at Macau over the past months and they're extremely keen to have our cars race there as part of the championship," said O'Reilly. "They've offered an attractive package for up to 18 cars to attend the race."

"Unfortunately Eastern Creek is no longer an option with the ARDC making the circuit unavailable after previously agreeing to be part of the championship. I'm very surprised by this decision because the ARDC stood to make guaranteed money from the Super Touring round."

O'Reilly said replacing the Eastern Creek round with races in Macau had benefits for the growth of the Super Touring category in Australia.

"It gives our drivers a chance to prove themselves against top overseas competitors, and it would fit in with Super Touring's international flavour and add prestige to the championship," he said. "A number of our teams raced in Macau last year and subject to FIA (Federation International de l'Automobile) and sponsor approval it is a logical progression to make it a championship event."

The Macau Grand Prix has been held annually in the oldest European settlement in China since 1954, and includes two races for Super Touring cars, the same number as in Australian championship rounds. This year's Macau event is scheduled for November 21, and as usual includes the FIA Intercontinental Cup for international Formula 3 cars, a motorcycle event, and support races.

O'Reilly said interest from organisers of the Macau event in having its Super Touring races included in the BOC Gases championship had been heightened by the performances of Brad Jones and other Australian drivers who had raced there in the past three years.

Jones, a dual Australian champion, raced a works Audi A4 at Macau in 1996, finishing second, and again in 1998 when he was third. International drivers at Macau in 1998 included former British Touring Car Champions Frank Biela in an Audi A4 and fellow-German Jo Winkelhock in a BMW.

O'Reilly said if the final Australian championship round was held at Macau, international drivers in the event would not be eligible for the points in the series.

"Everyone would be racing for outright honours, but only the Australians could score points in our championship," he said. "In a sense it would be a race within a race."

Jones said today he supported a championship round in Macau and added the 6.2km street circuit would be a demanding test for Australian drivers and teams.

"It's a real drivers' track - you're working hard across the top section and the surface is bumpy." said Jones. "There's one high-speed kink in the straight which is about 240km/h and there's virtually no run-off so if you make a mistake you're in big trouble. The track is narrow, barely two car lengths wide, so you have to be really committed if you make a pass on someone. It would be good promotion for the championship to race at Macau because it's something different."

O'Reilly said he had been advised by Chris Hones of the ARDC on May 13 that Eastern Creek would not be made available for the championship round which had been included with its (ARDC) approval on the 1999 calendar announced by TOCA Australia on December 2, 1998.

"Both parties (TOCA Australia and ARDC) had worked through the various commercial and promotional issues and as far as I was concerned we had an agreement," said O'Reilly. "Then all of a sudden, we were told that the circuit was unavailable, and we were further informed we could not hire the circuit to promote the meeting ourselves."

"What is even more astounding is that the ARDC have themselves stated that their decision is 'regrettable for motorsport'. They are a motor racing club - surely their priority must be to organise and promote motorsport events."

O'Reilly said he was later informed by ARDC Director Allan Moffat that the decision may have been influenced in part by the introduction of the proposed 'New Millennium Auscar' category, which is scheduled to be part of the championship support event program later in the season.

The 'New Millennium Auscar' category is also scheduled to be included in this year's Bathurst 1000 on October 3, according to promoter Advantage International.

O'Reilly said he had made a commitment to the ARDC not to include any 'New Millennium Auscar' event on its Super Touring support event program at the Eastern Creek championship round in a bid to ensure it went ahead as scheduled, but the offer was declined.

"I told the ARDC if there was a problem with 'New Millennium Auscar' we would not include it on the program at Eastern Creek," said O'Reilly. "Steve Frazer (of Advantage International) informed me that wasn't a problem because the main target for this class was the Bathurst 1000 in October."

O'Reilly said he had written to the NSW Minister of Sport and Recreation Mr John Watkins on May 18 to protest about the decision by the ARDC. According to O'Reilly, the ARDC is understood to operate at Eastern Creek under a lease arrangement from the NSW Government.

"My understanding is that the ARDC is supposed to try and get as many national or international events at Eastern Creek as possible," said O'Reilly. "This is an opportunity to promote an Olympic Games venue in a pre-Olympic year through our race telecasts which are televised throughout Europe, the United States and United Kingdom, and the Asia-Pacific region."

"I believe the taxpayers of NSW and the motorsport public have a right to know what is happening."

Mike Porter mikep@qldnet.com.au

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Series General
Drivers Frank Biela , Brad Jones , Allan Moffat , John Watkins