Last weekend saw the second running of the Kings of Wanneroo event in Australia and with stars of World and British Superbikes in attendance, the hard-working Western Australia motorcycle club had certainly assembled a grid packed with racing talent. From start to finish the UK riders were treated like ‘Kings’ and whilst the meeting certainly has the classic end of year feel to it, where there’s plenty of partying to be done as well, come race day everyone was out there giving it their all.
The Barbagello Raceway is the only top flight race circuit on the West coast of Australia and having lost their round of the Australian Superbike Championship a number of years ago, the club’s aim has been to create a stand-alone event that can not only rival their domestic series but also go on to better it. Re-creating a concept similar to the old Transatlantic Trophy days seen in England, a mixture of short circuit and road race stars from the UK travelled over to the city of Perth to take on the best Australia has to offer although the event is for individual, rather than team, glory.
Barbagello itself is not too dissimilar to some of the UK circuits. Only 1.5-miles in length, it’s tight and twisty nature, along with an undulating back straight, lends itself to some extremely hectic racing and whilst it’s difficult to compare it directly to a particular British circuit, Jonathan Rea perhaps summed it up best when he described it as “like Knockhill, only on steroids.” The safety features may have left a little to be desired (compared to the straw bales, and recticel barriers in use in the UK, a concrete wall lined Barbagello) but none of the riders seemed affected and all three races served up a treat.
This year, the event lost a number of leading Australian competitors due to a round remaining of their domestic series and with titles still up for grabs, the official Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha teams were reluctant to release their riders whilst on the UK front, it’s still the domain of the Irish (the meeting benefits largely from the input of Northern Ireland’s Raymond Rooney and Paul Lindsay) with a token Englishman – last year it was Karl Harris, this year Simon Andrews.
However, the meeting was still extremely successful with the likes of Rea, Ian Lowry, Alastair Seeley and Andrews taking on Andrew Pitt, 2004 Australian Superbike Champion Daniel Stauffer and Shannon Johnson whilst the likes of Cameron Keevers and Ben Henry, unknown to UK fans, also impressed. Road racers Guy Martin, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor were also in attendance and with Johnson keen to impress on his factory supported KTM and Rea keen to ram home his WSB credentials, there was some added spice to the event with not a lot of love lost between the two. Combine all of that together and some extremely competitive, and entertaining, racing was the outcome.
The event clearly has a main ‘rival’ at this time of year, albeit a road race, with the Macau Grand Prix taking place in less than two week’s time and it’s doubtful that the Kings meeting can overtake it in stature. In an ideal world, it would be great if the same group of riders can contest both but it is very unlikely that will ever happen as the two separate organising parties have their own agendas and whilst that continues, it’s debateable how successful the Kings event will be. Whilst you’re always going to lose out on some riders, if a dozen riders from the UK can be continued to be attracted to the city of Perth and the meeting though, there’s no reason at all why it can’t be a fixture on the calendar for many years to come – Wanneroo can be the short circuit leader and Macau the road racing equivalent.
The event cost close to the region of AUS $200,000 and club president Stuart Campbell estimated that 5,000 paying fans would be needed on race day for them to break even, which first indications suggested had been achieved. The size of the fan base could ultimately be the club’s biggest problem though and marketing and promotion of the event will be crucial to its future success in order for more people to be enticed through the gate – there’s didn’t appear to be any adverts in the local press or in the centre of Perth showcasing the event. The vast size of Australia and the fact that motorbike racing is low down in terms of its popularity (the likes of Australian Rules Football, Rugby League, Cricket and Rugby Union far outstrip any other sport) means that it will always be difficult to get a crowd of BSB proportions so every little extra advertising method will help no end.
However, it seems that the club are well aware of that and they’re not necessarily in it to make money – I got the impression that they’re happy with their lot and the main aim is to put on a meeting that the city of Perth and the state of Western Australia can be proud of. And having seen the three-day meeting at close quarters, they are certainly meeting their objectives. All three days of action were run like clockwork, the Kings event benefitting from a Clerk of the Course who also holds the same position at the MotoGP and WSB races at Phillip Island, and whilst the support races certainly make you realise what an incredibly strong racing scene we have in the UK, it was definitely an enjoyable meeting.
The feature races were as close as any racing I’ve seen in 2009 with battles all the way through the field and even though the Brits were on street bikes compared to the Superbike machines of some of their Australian counterparts, they were still able to go out and defeat them, further emphasising the quality of riders we have in the UK – and getting one over the Aussies is always something worth celebrating!