It’s been a while since the 110 year-old walls of Adelaide’s iconic Stag Hotel have reverberated to the sound of a Formula 1 racing car.
But this was once an annual occurrence, as the old pub is situated on the corner of East Terrace and Rundle Street, which also happened to be Turn 9 (or Stag Corner) of the old Formula 1 grand prix street circuit.
Patrons at the Stag could sit and sip their beer in the upstairs terrace and look out over the track as the fastest racing cars in the world sped down what on most other days was a normal Adelaide thoroughfare.
Adelaide played host to the first Australian F1 grand prix, in 1985. Winning the rights to run the race (after years of failed bids from various promoters in NSW and Victoria) was for the South Australian government a coup akin to securing the Olympics.
To put on a Formula 1 grand prix using public roads around the city was a huge undertaking. But the South Australians didn't disappoint. The inaugural event was a major success, attracting sell-out crowds. It was rated by the international racing fraternity as the best grand prix of the year.
The last Adelaide F1 grand prix was run in 1995. The race had been ‘stolen’ from under the outraged Adelaidians’ noses by then Victorian premier Jeff Kennett. It’s been held in Melbourne’s Albert Park every year since then.
Meanwhile the Adelaide street circuit was reborn in 1999 as an abridged version of the original layout (bypassing the Stag Hotel section) to host a new event for V8 Supercars, the Clipsal 500.
The Clipsal 500 has proven hugely popular – it’s become one of the marque events on the V8 Supercar calendar. In fact, the Clipsal, now in its 17th year, has become such an institution all its own that it’s easy to forget that F1 cars ever raced here at all.
But this November we’ll get a reminder of the days when world champions like Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet chanced their luck against Adelaide’s concrete walls in their brutal 1000 horsepower turbo F1 machines, with the second running of the Adelaide Motor Festival.
It’s an event that pays homage not only to Adelaide’s F1 grand prix history but also South Australia’s substantial motorsport heritage. To that end the festival features a speed competition (the Victoria Park Sprint) run on a shortened section of the Clipsal/F1 street circuit. Heading the entry of 200-plus drivers and cars for the Victoria Park Sprint are three former F1 stars, all of whom raced here in the ‘80s – Stefan Johansson, Pierluigi Martini and Ivan Capelli – and their F1 cars.
Johansson will drive the same Ferrari 156/85 model as he did when he finished in the ’85 AGP, while Martini and Capelli will drive their 1989 machines (a Minardi and Leyton House respectively).
Clearly this is a fun event – none of these retired F1 stars has anything to prove, and they’re all aware that they’ll be custodians of machines which are much more valuable today than they were back in the day. But, once a racing driver always a racing driver – you can bet there will be a competition going on between these three at least on some level over the course of the sprint. It would truly be a sight to behold if any of them chooses to turn up the wick…
The event itself is part competition, part festival, and probably the closest thing in the southern hemisphere to the world-renowned Goodwood Festival in the UK. But while there are similarities, event organiser Tim Possingham stresses that the Adelaide Motor Festival shouldn't be compared with Goodwood. It’s not about replicating the British retro motorsport extravaganza, he says, and in any case, Adelaide has its own motor sport heritage to celebrate.
One thing the Goodwood and Adelaide events do have in common, Possingham says, is the level of access to the cars and the drivers that eventgoers enjoy.
“The philosophy behind the event,” Possingham explains, “is to get people engaged with the cars up close, with no barriers – financial or visual. It’s $30 to get in, but from there on, the only extra thing is if you want premium trackside viewing, where you’ve got elevated viewing and it’s licensed, and there’s an additional $10 cost.
“You walk straight in, and almost straight away, right in front of you as you arrive, is the Formula One pavilion. You will literally be able to get up so close to the Ferrari 156/85 that you could stick your fingernail into the front tyre. There’s no barrier, no extra cost, to get that close to the cars.
“The cars are right there, the drivers are right there. Once they’ve been out onto the track and they come back in, they drive though the main spectator area at walking pace. So you can literally be sitting in what we call the refuel food and wine zone, and Stefan Johansson will roll past in the Ferrari, or Ivan Capelli in the Leyton House will roll past…”
Just like they used to do at the Stag back in the ‘80s.