This is a big week for Supercars.
The 2021 championship calendar is about to be released.
The cancellation of the Adelaide 500 is about to trigger a political bunfight in South Australia, with the opposition leader Peter Malinauskas committed to putting the event back on the state’s calendar of major events.
And a night race on the Gold Coast will become the preferred choice for the annual Supercars grand final.
It’s all happening against a backdrop of Gen3 developments for 2022, the potential for an extra two cars on the grid next year with Garry Rogers and Brad Jones, and the loss of reigning champion Scott McLaughlin to IndyCar.
With so much happening, Sean Seamer reserved some time in his diary for a chat to Race News and this is what he said:
Will there be an Adelaide 500 in the future?
“I think so, yes. We are committed to making it happen. It’s an event of national significance, so we’ll find a way to make it happen.
“We couldn’t put the people of South Australia through the pain that they went through with Formula One. And are still going through.”
How would you score the 2020 season?
“Well, you don’t mark your own homework, but what I can say is we were really happy with what we’ve been able to achieve with the resources that we’ve had available to us.
“You look at what the Victorian teams did, you look at what Dunlop have done, you look at what Race Fuels and BP have done, and the whole eco-system has contributed to us getting away a really good championship.
“And, whilst we didn’t have 200,000 people at Bathurst, that was one of the greatest races we’ve had up there for a very long time. So we ended on a high.
“We’ve used the time wisely. We’ve replaced our naming-rights sponsor, we re-did our broadcast rights – and got a very good outcome, potentially, versus the market.
“I’d argue that perhaps we were under-valued before 2020 and maybe the market has come back to meet us.
“And then, Gen3 is exciting. We did a lot of work, the Gen3 committee, Triple Eight, DJR, John Casey, did a lot of great work whilst we were shut down and we’ve been able to come out and secure a very clear five-year path for the sport and for our fans.
“But I’ll leave the marking out of 10 to you.”
What was the single biggest challenge of the year?
“Trying to predict the unpredictable, in terms of the virus. That was the single hardest thing, and then, from a planning point of view.
“From a people point of view, the hardest thing was seeing how tired the guys were on the road and the toll it was taking on them and their families.
“That said, I hope they feel like the sacrifices they made were worth it. Not just for this year, but it’s set us up to be able to lay down a really good five-year plan.
“They made the short-term sacrifice for the long-term good of the sport. And everyone, the fans and sponsors and everyone, should thank them for it.”
How many things that you were forced to do, like two-day race meetings, will flow into the regulations for 2021.
“A lot of it. I think what we were able to do, and what I think the teams did a really good job of, was letting go of some of the things that they’ve been holding dear in recent years.
“It’s shown in many instances that not only did it have no impact on the product, it improved the product, whilst it reduced some operating costs as well.
“It’s certainly contributed to our ability to navigate this year and get the championship away, and I think a lot of the lessons we’ve learned will carry forward into next year.”
How is the 2021 calendar shaping?
“NSW will be the opening round, through Bathurst. If the grand prix happens, we will be at the grand prix. It will be the second round.
“The finale will be the 21st-22nd of November. Adelaide was going to be the finale. Now it’s the Gold Coast.”
How do you feel about Team Penske pulling out, and what impact does it have?
“Roger said that he was going to do five years down here, that he had a five-year plan, he achieved it and he actually stayed for six years.
“He has been, I think, good for the category. He has certainly been good for me, introduced me to a lot of other people in the US, whether it’s NASCAR or IndyCar.
“So whether it’s been knowledge or whatever, he has been very good and I’m sure will continue to be. He set the team up in a really good position, leaves on a high, and I understand all the reasons for it. Taking over the management of IndyCar, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is a significant task.”
What about the teams’ structure for next year, including Garry Rogers?
“I think we are in a really position with the teams we’ve got at the moment. I spent a lot of time with the team owners at Bathurst and we’re all in a good place. Even after a challenging year they are all excited and looking forward to next year.
“There is a well-worn path to acquire a REC (Racing Entitlements Contract), but we’ll just see what talk turns into action in the coming months.
How many RECs do you hold at the moment?
“There are 26 RECs. We hold two.
“There is always interest in them. It’s very well known how to acquire a REC, should you wish to, so we’ll just have to see if any of the talk turns into material action or a proposed acquisition.”
Manufacturers. Do you care and what would be their involvement?
“As little or as much as they would like. We have removed all of the barriers to entry, so the minimum level of engagement is an IP (Intellectual Property) agreement.
“From there, how they would like to tap-in and leverage the sport with activation, sponsorship, team activation, is entirely at their discretion. But there is no obligation to do any of that.
Do you think you will have interest?
“We do have interest, yes.
“Our number one priority is getting the Gen3 Mustang and Camaro onto the grid in 2022. If we can get another manufacturer in for 2022, in that timeline, that’s a bonus.
“Even getting the two cars done is a tremendous amount of work. Getting the third done would be even more, but we think we can do it. The maximum we would get out there would be three, but the primary focus is on the two.
Supercars is moving away from red-versus-blue, so are you seeing a change in fans?
“I think what’s interesting this year, if I look at – not to single someone out – Nick Percat’s profile, there has been a really interesting evolution of him as a person, and a lot of that was driven by the personality that was able to be extracted through the eSports series.
“Guys have helmets on, they are gladiators in their machines, but when they’ve got helmets on it’s very hard to tease out their personalities. What the eSeries did really well was it brought Nick and his dog, Nelson, into the homes of Australians. And then, all of a sudden Nick’s profile has dramatically increased, particularly with the casual fans. He’s known for his dog and when we returned to racing he was already a character.
“The lesson that teaches us, as a series, is that we’ve got to continue to do a better job to bring the personalities out. They are race-car drivers, they are very talented at what they do, but they are also people, individuals, they are colourful, and we need to show their personalities more, because people bond with people as much as they may do with a machine.”
Are you going to have another eSeries for the drivers?
“Yes, we are looking at that for next year. So what we are doing is having the dedicated ‘pro’ series for gamers, which is in its third year, so this is an evolution of what we’ve been doing.
“What it’s enabled us to do is to get our guys into an eSeries with Covid. This was the platform and we’re considering doing it on a limited basis next year, as well.
Will you use an eSeries to fill the gap between now and Bathurst next year?
“No. We haven’t backed away from it, but we’re just using it differently. Times were different.
“We’ve got another season of the Inside Line coming out next year. So reality programming and new content, gaming, will continue. It’s just part of our media strategy.
What are we going to see on TV next year that we haven’t already seen, particularly with the Seven Network?
“I think what Channel 7 will do a really good job of is helping us to get into more households across Australia. The key thing that we want to do is reach more people in more ways.
“What Channel 7 will do will certainly give us more people, but they will support different ways of reaching them as well. Whether it’s eSeries, reality programming, Sunrise.
“We are already seeing their support on everything that we’re doing, and they will pick up all of our content. Which is exciting for us because it will help us reach more ‘light’ consumers of Supercars and potentially people that have never watched it before.
“Then, for those that want it, you’ve still got the premium coverage with no ads, HD. Kayo, in particular, is doing a great job for our fans. They had the biggest day ever on Kayo at Bathurst this year.
So how different will the Seven coverage be?
“They are keen to take any and everything in our content that they can. And the strength of the 7plus platform actually helps us with that. It doesn’t have to just be linear.
“We are already seeing the integration into their programming and that is good.”