By Josh Farmer, IndyCar Reporter
Author’s note: This is part of a 10-part series discussing tracks around the world that I feel would be a good fit for the Verizon IndyCar Series. The opinions here are expressed solely of the author and not necessarily of the Motorsports Tribune.
International races and street races in the Verizon IndyCar Series have often been hit or miss, but one of the surefire hits was the street circuit in Surfer’s Paradise, Australia.
Surfer’s Paradise was a mainstay in the CART/Champ Car calendar from 1991-2007 and was easily the series’ most successful international street race, drawing crowds in excess of 252,000 people throughout the weekend and nearly $761 million to the local economy.
The track also played host to one of the most infamous and wettest races in CART history on October 27, 2002, when a X-car pileup was triggered at the green flag. The cars of Jimmy Vasser and Alex Tagliani got airborne while the rest of the field piled in. Despite the madness, Adrian Fernandez was the only driver that was injured and would miss the final two races of the season. The race eventually got started, buy only seven laps were run under green due to the deteriorating conditions and in the end Mexican rookie Mario Dominguez was left standing at the top of the podium.
The following year, future IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay would claim his first career win as Paul Tracy claimed his only series championship.
The track survived CART’s rebranding into Champ Car and continued until the series demise in 2007. The race was absorbed into the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2008 and was held as a non-championship event on its traditional October date. It was held as a non-championship round because Chicagoland Speedway had an agreement to host the season finale before the merger took place.
The local crowd had something to cheer about as Aussie Will Power won his third straight pole at Surfer’s and looked like the dominant horse early only to crash out just 16 laps in. Fellow Aussie Ryan Briscoe then picked up the lead and held on to claim the win.
Why did they leave?
Following the exhibition show in 2008, talks between IndyCar boss Tony George and the promoter slowly fizzled out as neither side could come to an agreement. Rumors have it that the two sides were a few million dollars apart in sanctioning costs.
As IndyCar moved out, the A1GP series signed a contract to replace IndyCar as the headline event. A1GP soon fell into bankruptcy and the Virgin Australia V8 Supercars moved in as the headliner event after running as the undercard series since 1994 and have since been the headliner race, albeit on a modified version of the IndyCar circuit.
Why go back?
Earlier this year, a private consortium was given the green light to negotiate with IndyCar to bring the series back to the Gold Coast. The series soon after released a statement saying that they would not reveal details about a potential return to Surfer’s, or any international event for that matter. The memo hinted that the series has not said yes or no to the deal.
With the race’s reputation to draw out huge crowds and there being local government support, the chances of those crowds returning are actually good. Think about it this way, Road America saw a massive fan turnout in this year’s return and it was said that it was a case of IndyCar should have never left. Surfer’s has that same kind of vibe to it.
There is also something to sell to the public with two of the sport’s biggest stars, Will Power and Scott Dixon, being from Down Under.