More than a few people in the Izod IndyCar Series lament the loss of the event in Surfers Paradise, Australia that featured America's top open-wheel series from 1991 to 2008. Now a handful of Indy car drivers from present and past alike are getting the chance to return and race down under.
After a failed one-year experiment in which Gold Coast organizers attempted to replace Indy cars with the now-bankrupt A1GP open-wheel series, the Surfers weekend has been rebooted and rebranded as the Armor All Gold Coast 600, an endurance race for the Australian V8 Supercar championship on Oct. 24.
AP Photo/Mark BakerThe last time the IndyCar Series raced at Surfers Paradise, in October 2008, Ryan Briscoe hoisted the trophy.
The twist: the inclusion of 18 international drivers, including current IndyCar Series stars Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Ryan Briscoe, Will Power and Alex Tagliani. Five other drivers who raced Indy cars at Surfers also will compete, topped by series champions Sebastien Bourdais and Jacques Villeneuve and 1997 Surfers CART race winner Scott Pruett.
"There are so many of us who seriously missed not racing on the Gold Coast last year, and it's great news that the event has survived last year's drama and will move forward with this unique format," Power said.
Each of the international stars has been paired with one of the 18 V8 Supercar teams that compete in the series' endurance races. They'll race on a shortened version of the legendary Surfers Paradise street course. Other changes include a new family-friendly focus that includes an average 20 percent reduction in ticket prices and the addition to what is being billed as "a massive three-day music extravaganza featuring some of the world's biggest acts."
The Australian race was perhaps the most popular in the series among Indy car drivers, who appreciated the warm welcome from the local fans and the impressive promotion of the event. V8 Supercars were added to the Indy car bill in 1997, and over the next decade, grew into the role of co-headliners.
"The Gold Coast event is one of the most special in world motorsports and to have the chance to go back down there and race -- in no less than a V8 Supercar -- is going to be something pretty special," said Franchitti, who won the 1999 CART race at Surfers. "When I was first contacted about the idea, I thought it was fantastic, and when the opportunity came up to join James [Courtney] at Dick Johnson Racing, it was the icing on the cake.
"I have always been a fan of V8 Supercars, and I've been bugging a few friends in Australia for a drive at Bathurst for a few years, but dates have never fallen in my favor," Franchitti added. "To win at Surfers Paradise in both a Champ Car and V8 Supercar would be something pretty special."
Australian stars Briscoe and Power and Australia-born New Zealander Dixon are excited for the opportunity to compete at home after spending most of their careers racing in Europe or America.
"I'd say 90 percent -- no, 110 percent -- of the drivers always loved that race," said Dixon, who will team with the Kelly brothers (Todd and Rick) in a Jack Daniel's Racing Holden Commodore. "It was the best race that we went to and everybody looked forward to it. Everybody would fly in a week before the race. A lot of the races here in America you fly in the Thursday night before it starts on Friday.
"It's a shame that we're not back there in the IndyCar [Series], but to obviously go back in a V8 is going to be even cooler."
"My parents are happy because they don't have to pay for an international airfare," joked Briscoe, who will compete for Toll Holden Racing. "I guess I am the defending international champion after winning the final IndyCar race in 2008, and I would like to keep that record intact.
"It will be a lot of fun racing all the other international drivers that don't race V8 Supercars for a living," he said. "There will be a lot of talent, but also a lot of inexperience in those cars. It's a daunting track with fast sections and close walls so there could be a bit of carnage along the way."
Jamie Whincup is dominating the V8 Supercar Series this year, with six wins in eight sprint races. After winning his first two titles driving a Ford, Whincup's team, Triple Eight Racing, has switched allegiance to rival manufacturer Holden this year.
The V8 Supercar championship consists of 15 race weekends, including four multi-driver endurance events. The most prestigious and popular event in Australian motorsport is the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, staged at the Mount Panorama road course on Oct. 10.