For over 60 years, the Australia Racing Drivers Club (ARDC) has hosted a variety of events both local and international, and now caters to about 3,000 club members and thousands of enthusiasts at its home for the past 25 years, Sydney Motorsport Park
Before arriving in Eastern Creek in 1990, this not-for-profit organisation started iconic Australian motorsport events such as the Bathurst 1000, and called famous tracks like Amaroo Park and Catalina Park home before its current permanent location. The track itself existed before their arrival, but the ARDC made it the popular attraction that it is today.
“We had the one racetrack to start with, which is the Grand Prix (GP), a near 4-kilometre track that is very, very fast,” says ARDC Media and Marketing Manager Samantha Stevens. “In particular, our turn one is pretty much the fastest turn on a permanent racetrack in the Asia Pacific region; particularly loved by [motor]bikes.”
With its growing popularity, the ARDC saw further improvement in 2011 when it received a $12-million upgrade, mainly on behalf of the New South Wales government. “Because we’re not-for-profit, everything we make goes back into the track, and we amassed enough money to expand the track. So, with the closure of another Sydney racetrack, we had too much demand that we could not meet.”
2012 marked the opening of the new and improved Sydney Motorsport Park, formerly known as Eastern Creek Raceway. The revamped park now has four different track configurations, with a second pit complex that enables two tracks to run simultaneously – a very beneficial feature for the ARDC.
“We can have two race meetings on the same day, and that helped a lot with demand. We also have our traditional GP circuit, and we have what we call the extended or ‘Brabham’ circuit, which is an even bigger circuit and utilizes the 800-metre extension that we put onto the track to create both the south and the extended track.”
The facility itself is “quite complex,” according to Stevens. In addition to the four tracks, there are two pit complexes; close to 100 garages and carports; and a variety of food outlets, including a licensed bar and café. Sydney Motorsport Park is also home to one of the largest wet circuit pans in Australia for drivers to practice training with slides, skids, and drifts. A figure-eight circuit also exists for driver training, and a four-wheel-drive track caters to buggies and off-road vehicles. “It’s very important for us to be able to offer this park to as many people and motorsport categories as we can.”
Guests can also experience a V8 Supercar, a Ferrari, and a Radical Sportscar to gain a sense of each one. “If you don’t have your own car that you want to bring to the track, you can use one of ours,” says Stevens.
In addition to the smaller racing events and experiences, the ARDC also has a grade two FIA/FIM license, which allows them to host some renowned international events at the park. The club has become a regular host of the V8 Supercar Championship, as well as World Time Attack – a great international event. “It sees drivers and cars from almost every continent coming to Australia – to Sydney – for a two-day race meeting to find who is the fastest in the world,” says Stevens. “It’s very well-attended.”
For all luxury car owners and fans, the Porsche Rennsport Motor Racing Festival is returning to Sydney Motorsport Park for its second year; and, at the other end of the spectrum, the twelfth year of Muscle Car Masters will showcase a multitude of Bathurst cars from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.
The park will also hold the Shannons Nationals Racing Series, which Stevens says is “a really good, high-level grass roots motorsport racing series,” as well as the New South Wales Motorsport Championships and Supersprints.
One of the main goals of the ARDC is to appeal to personal types of motoring enthusiasts, from the beginning of motorsport right up to the elite competition. “We’re very much entrenched in grass roots motorsport; it’s where the club came from. It’s why the club is so strong.”
A newly developed Australian motor show, MotorWorld Sydney, will also be coming to Sydney Motorsport Park this year; it will be a mobile re-imagining of the old-school motor show, with proceeds going towards Paralympic athletes.
“It’s on wheels this time,” says Stevens. “So, people can actually test-drive and taste the cars as well as see them. In league with Motorworld, the Australian Special Olympicsis running an event called Dream Ride. It’s still in inception, but it’s going to be a major event that’s actually coordinated with MotorWorld to raise awareness and funding for our Special Olympians.”
Stevens herself was a motoring journalist and is a motorsport enthusiast. About five years before she started managing at the ARDC, she worked as an instructor at Syndey Motorsport Park; this helped her gain knowledge of the circuit, its people and practices. When a management position became available, she went after it right away.
“I’m a Tarmac Rally Champion, so being able to work at a racetrack, have a racetrack in my backyard, and go to a racetrack every day was a definite positive for me,” she says. “I was a member of the club, and when a door opens to let you come to a racetrack every day for work, you think, ‘Well, that’s not really work. Off I go.’”
While there is some high-octane fun to be had, the emphasis on safety is one of the top priorities at ARDC. Guests must sign disclaimers upon entry, and response crews are constantly ready in case things do go wrong.
“We need to make sure that we create the safest environment possible. So, we constantly have the motorsport governing body, CAMS, and FIA and people out to check the track to make sure that the track and all of our facilities – from our fuel bund to our garages; all of our fire safety; our emergency response vehicles – are all up to par. We couldn’t keep our license without it. We also have exceptionally well-trained staff who are constantly undergoing new training initiatives.”
The ARDC’s latest safety equipment is designed to separate the roof of a roll-caged car in order to extract a driver in two minutes. Simulations have been conducted in order to test the accuracy of response in emergency situations.
While such instances are uncommon, the club’s emergency crews must be ready for anything. Stevens recalls an incident last year where team preparation was put to the test. “A young driver ended up on his roof with an exploded gas tank and the fast response of our emergency teams definitely saved his life, and he credits us with that, which is fabulous. Accidents like this are very rare, but when it does happen, we want to make sure that we get the best result possible and that was one of them.”
Another approach to safety and conservation from the ARDC is the effort to reduce its carbon footprint. “Motorsport, as you know, burns fossil fuels,” says Stevens. “So, we are very aware of it. In recent times over the past year, two of our initiatives have been to plant trees – we’ll be planting trees all over the venue as a little bit of a carbon offset – and we’ve also put in solar panels on all of our major roofs, and any new roof painting has been a light colour to try and cut down on the need for air conditioning in some of our, particularly metal, sheds. We’ve got a lot of big storage sheds around the venue, and trying to keep everyone cool can be difficult with our black colour scheme.”
There are some natural circumstances beyond the ARDC’s control, especially rainstorms, but Stevens remains confident in the park’s prosperity; currently, their track bookings are full and the turnout is sufficient.
“The major mission statement of our club is to further motorsport interests, and having the interest of the enthusiast at heart and at mind. It’s also the reason why we’re a not-for-profit. We put everything that we earned back into the space to make it safe, to make it fun, to make it enjoyable, and to make it world class.”