For 35 years, Adelaide’s streets have reverberated with the noise of high-octane motorsports.
We cheered on the late great Ayrton Senna when he stood on the podium for the last time in 1993, and held our breath when Finnish driver Mika Hakkinen was rushed to the old Royal Adelaide Hospital after a high-speed crash at Brewery Bend at our last Grand Prix in 1995.
The Grand Prix put us on the global map and as a young backpacker travelling in Europe and Asia, it was always a thrill when people knew Adelaide based on their love of Formula 1. The only other experience that compared was international cricket fanatics excitedly speaking about the hallowed turf of Adelaide Oval.
In 1995, Adelaide’s decade-long bond with the Grand Prix ended when Melbourne took the event from under our nose and the recriminations began. State pride took an enormous hit and our streets fell quiet for four years until Sensational Adelaide – the V8 Supercar series – found a home in Adelaide in 1999.
While it may not have been global the event was instantly a winner, playing into our Holden-Ford rivalries and bringing Adelaide’s streets alive once more.
Combined with huge live music acts and in more recent years, a focus on families, it has been a spectacle that has attracted interstate tourists to our city and injected even more madness into Mad March.
While not a serious motorsport enthusiast, having worked at Holden in Elizabeth during school holidays in the 1980s and with a father who spent most of his career at GMH, going to the Supercars was always entertaining, whether in a corporate box or cheering on from general admission, while the concerts have been legendary.
But in recent years, numbers have dwindled and corporate facilities shrunk. Holden is no more and running such an expensive, infrastructure-intensive event in the uncertain era of COVID appears to be no longer viable.
For Adelaide to lose motorsports completely from its streets would be a tragedy, especially when we’re so good at embracing them as they take over our entire city.
Just as we sought new options in the 90s, the time has come to turn our attention to a new kind of street race – and Formula E could hold the answer.
While it is unlikely to appeal to die-hard motorsport enthusiasts who thrive on the heady smell of petrol fumes and the deep rumblings of V8 engines, those who love the spectacle of cars travelling at speed through city streets (similar to the V8s at up to 280km/h) will no doubt rejoice.
It also signals the way of the future, complements our state’s reputation as a leader in renewables and will once again put Adelaide on the global map alongside other current and former Formula E hosts such as Berlin, Mexico City, Santiago, New York, Beijing and Hong Kong.
Already a group of local business people has been working to lure Formula E to Adelaide, hosting organisers at the start of the year, and say that if we don’t hurry up, another Australian city will grab and run with the opportunity.
They say they have already lined up numerous sponsors for the event who are keen to capitalise on the environmentally-friendly brand. Set up is simple, meaning little disruption to traffic before and after the event and the addition of a Festival of E-Motion will allow our State to celebrate and showcase developments in batteries and renewables.
Formula E shouldn’t completely replace Supercars. With a purpose-built circuit at Tailem Bend, there’s no reason why we can’t keep the sport alive here in South Australia.
But with a new and futuristic kind of global motorsport waiting in the wings, perhaps the time has arrived for Adelaide to start writing the next chapter of its motorsport history.
Jodie van Deventer is Committee for Adelaide chief executive officer
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