In another era of my life, I was an avid V8 Supercars fan. I knew all the drivers and their cars, I was visibly upset when Craig Lowndes switched the Ford (not sure I’ve actually forgiven him) and I insisted on doing a whole research assignment on Peter Brock when I was in primary school. In our house, almost an entire day was blocked out for Bathurst each year and it was a crime to walk in front of the television.
Gradually, I seemed to have lost interest (maybe due to the gaping Lowndes wound in my heart) and I haven’t actually engaged in the sport for years. This month, however, I was given the opportunity to take some of my students to Albert Park in the days leading up the Melbourne Grand Prix.
The Grand Prix street circuit runs through Albert Park which is a suburb and an actual park so there is a lake and large fields surrounding the track. These field are set up with grandstands, merchandise stores, food trucks, sponsor displays, and an “Industry and Innovation Precinct”. It was under this pretence that schools are able to make an ‘educational experience’ out of going to watch racing cars. The displays were actually quite good – RMIT demonstrated some research into heat-proof clothing, drones, and 3D printing, Swinburne brought their Formula SAE team, and the Defence Force showed off a few of their vehicles. Students were able to attend short seminars explaining various engineering and technology advances in Formula 1.
On the other side of the track was the Fan Zone where various sponsors had set up displays and experiences such as the pit stop challenge where people were able to test their tyre changing abilities against the clock. A stage was set up for autograph sessions with drivers and people were lining up to meet them. We only had a few hours so our group avoided the huge lines. My colleague and I did manage to spot Australia’s favourite son, Daniel Ricciardo walking back from his autograph session though. Beyond the lake was the Kids Zone which sounded like stacks of fun. I personally couldn’t be bothered walking that far though so I will have to leave that to the imagination. Some students also found the V8 Supercar Paddock and saw some of the drivers there. I couldn’t figure out how to get there so I was a little jealous to have missed it.
Most students did a quick tour of the precinct and fan areas, but really, we were here for the track action. Since it was only Thursday, we didn’t get to see any practice sessions for Formula 1 cars. Instead, we were first treated to an historic Formula 1 demonstration with cars from past eras and their owners. Then the Shannons Australian GT Qualifying practice session started up. We’d been given ear plugs on entry, but this was the first time I actually wanted to use them. A few of us were sitting across from pit lane at this stage, with the permanent structure above it. I think all that extra concrete and glass amplified the sound! We got to watch the Porsche Carrera Cup practice session from a different part of the track and saw a driver lock up his breaks coming into a corner and slide into the gravel pit.
The main event for me, though, was definitely the Coates Hire Supercars Challenge practice session. While Albert Park wasn’t a points round for the main championship, the drivers didn’t hold back. I had watched a lot of races on television but this was the first time I’d seen V8s in full force in real life. What a thrill! Again, it was pretty noisy but a much more deep, rumbling tone rather than the high pitch of the GTs. It definitely got my heart racing and I began to remember why I liked Supercars so much! We were standing towards the end of the straight after pit lane so they were belting past us pretty fast. I took some video on my phone and the frame rate could barely keep up with them – they look like they jump from frame to frame. This was the last thing we got to see and we were supposed to be rounding up the students to start heading home. It was a bit of a struggle to pull myself away from the track!
Once again, I am reminded how incredibly lucky I am to live in the sporting capital of Australia where we get to jump on a train mid-week and experience world-class events like the Grand Prix. I’ve lived here for years and never really considered going to the event, but I would like to go back another time now that I have. On the Sunday, I was in the South Melbourne and saw part of the fighter jet display as they flew back and forward over Albert Park. That would have been an awesome sight from the Grand Prix venue. The whole experience was definitely worth it; we didn’t even feel like we had missed out having not seen the Formula 1 sessions. I probably don’t have the time or energy to return to my former days in the V8 Supercar fandom but my love for motorsport was definitely reignited.