Adelaide International Raceway
Adelaide International Raceway (AIR) is probably a case of 'what might once have been', at least in terms of road racing. The oval course and road circuits, while still very much in existence, have now ceased to hold any form of aces. Instead it is drag racing and drifting now the order of the day.
With the advent of the rather grander Bend Motorsports Park and the revival of Mallala, South Australia's road racing community has simply moved on.
It seems a shame that a venue that once hosted the top series in the 1970s and 1980s should fall so far from grace, but as ever politics played their part. There's also a case to be made that AIR's central reason for being had simply been and gone.
Opened on 9 January, 1972 by businessman Keith Williams, who was also the developer of Surfers Paradise Raceway, AIR was envisaged as a direct successor to nearby Mallala, which Williams also owned but had closed the previous November in anticipation of the new, more modern track opening. Located closer to Adelaide in the small town of Virginia (but still some 16 miles from the city centre), AIR featured not only a road course of two varying lengths, but also a half-mile oval and a drag strip.
AIR was very much planned as being the central facility for motorsport in South Australia. Williams even went as far as placing a covenant on the land at Mallala to prevent racing, in order to secure AIR's future unopposed, although this would in fact later be contested and overturned, though not before AIR had ascended the motorsports ladder and attracted some of Australia's biggest categories.
Initially, AIR was rather under-developed, but soon grandstands sprang up on the main straight and it became a bustling local centre for racing. Dominated by the wide front straight which also accommodates the drag racers, the circuit was raced clockwise, save for the oval (known as the Super Bowl) which was run in the more traditional anti-clockwise direction.
Possibly in an effort to preserve spectator viewing of the course, the infield area behind the pit lane is not used as the paddock. Instead this is located behind the timing and scoring tower on the outside of the final turn, with access controlled by a gate which forms part of the retaining wall of the Super Bowl.
In 1979 the circuit was put on the market by Williams and, after a turbulent few years when rumours persisted about the track's future, it was bought by the Bob Jane Corporation, owners of the Calder Park Raceway. The circuit continued to flourish during this time, having something of a monopoly on the South Australian racing scene.
From 1972 through to 1988, the circuit hosted rounds of the Australian Touring Car Championship and endurance races of the Australian Manufacturer's Championship, including the Australian Drivers Championship, Australian Formula 2 and Formula Ford championships; the Australian Sports Car Championship, Australian Sports Sedan Championship and the Australian GT Championship.
AIR also hosted top level motorbike racing, including the Swann International Series featuring riders such as Graeme Crosby, who won the 1980 series race, and Gregg Hansford. An annual 3-Hour race was held at the circuit until the mid-1980s, but once the covenant was lifted on the Mallala Raceway the two-wheeled boys moved back, favouring the protections afforded by the greater levels of run-off.
1988 would prove a pivotal year as it was the last that would see top-level four wheeled action at AIR. Dick Johnson took a clean sweep in his Shell Ford Sierra over team-mate John Bowe in what became the last hurrah for the Australian Touring Car Championship; the series would move back to Mallala the following year, beginning a period of terminal decline for AIR's road racing credentials.
AIR's prospects took a further dive when Bob Jane became embroiled in a dispute with the Confederation of Australian Motorsports in 1991, ensuring neither it or Calder Park would host national-level events. The dispute was resolved in 1994 and a programme of upgrades was put in motion for AIR, including demolition of the ageing grandstands, to be replaced by extended spectator mounds. The die was cast, however, and the major series had moved on, never to return.
Drag racing remained a popular and ever-present fixture, so understandably the circuit began to increasingly cater for these events over and above racing. The entire course was resurfaced in 2008, but by then the staging area at the beginning of the main straight had in effect become a permanent fixture, precluding any significant race events.
More latterly, the venue has also hosted the increasingly popular category of drifting alongside drag events such as Oz Nats Adelaide, which also features the emerging 'rolling drags' format where entrants take the measured course from a rolling start, for which the exit of the Super Bowl provides a perfect platform.