Wakefield Park is a popular circuit in New South Wales, designed from the outset to cater for club racers but also hosting occasional national-level races.
Aside from racing, the circuit operates popular 'Speed Off the Streets' events to allow people to lap the course in their road cars, while an on site racing school has operated since 2009.
Sadly, the circuit is currently inactive due to a court order which placed significantly tighter noise restrictions on it, making it economically unviable to operate. However, new ownership and an investment pledge from the State Government to help overcome the planning difficulties should hopefully lead to a brighter future.
The circuit was the brainchild of veteran racer Paul Samuels and his business partner John Carter, who spotted the need for a small circuit to cater for historic events and club racing in the mid 1990s. With It looking inevitable that both Amaroo Park and Oran Park would close in future years, the pair thought there would be a gap in the market for another circuit alongside Eastern Creek and Bathurst.
After more than a year's searching and with the assistance of Goulbourn Council and the local MP – who was also the then State Premier – John Fahey, land was finally found 10km south of Goulbourn on which permission to develop the circuit was granted. In mid-October 1993 construction began, with completion of the course and associated facilities coming less than eight months later. An informal shake-down meeting was held in May 1994, ahead of an of official opening by Premier John Fahy in November of that year.
While firmly aimed at the club racer, Wakefield Park still put many other contemporary circuits to shame with its facilities. A neat club house and timing tower sat overlooking the pits and paddock, which also boasted modern car port awnings. A hill climb course was also incorporated into the design as were various short configurations of the circuit.
All of the buildings were designed by Samuels and bedecked in Castrol colours, the circuit having won a modest three year sponsorship deal. The oil company's executives were won over by the circuit's name, chosen by Samuels to honour Castrol founder Charles Cheers Wakefield in recognition of the company's support for amateur racers over the years.
The completed course was a good challenge for drivers and riders, featuring a sweeping turn on the main straight which led onto the first corner, then an uphill blast to the top of the circuit. From here the circuit heads back downhill to a tricky complex, which was popularly dubbed 'the fish hook'. The circuit returned to the start/finish via a short straight and a negatively-cambered final corner.
New owners build revised layout
In 2000 the circuit changed hands for the first time, with Rob Hodgkinson and Paul Phillips taking over. Soon after this change, the circuit was re-profiled with modifications to the fish hook area and the final turn onto the main straight. Both of these changes improved the flow of the circuit, the new fish hook area in particular allowing for a faster run onto the back straight.
The changes attracted the V8 Supercars to bring a round of the development series to Wakefield Park from 2001 to 2008, while Australasian Superbikes and the Shannon's Nationals have been the recent season highlights.
There has been continual investment in the circuit infrastructure, from the addition of permanent garages catering for up to 70 vehicles, alongside the existing car ports. Following the Sydney Olympics, Wakefield Park acquired some of the cabins used to house competing athletes and these have been erected overlooking the final turn. They are available for hire and over an unusual way to see the action in complete comfort!
Ownership changes again
In January 2007 the circuit was bought by the Benalla Auto Club, the owners of the Winton Motor Raceway. At the end of 2008 a major re-surfacing of the circuit took place, leading to faster lap times, while an innovative caution light system was installed around the whole course in 2010.
Plans for a major upgrade to facilities, including a new multi-storey pit facility replace the current single-storey structure, were unveiled in 2020. It would include corporate facilities and more modern work areas for circuit operation, race control, medical crews, and media, while some existing buildings would be demolished.
The local council conditionally approved the plans in July 2021 but set new noise restrictions on the circuit, effective from 2024. These would see the track limited to 30 days per calendar year with noise not to exceed 95 decibels, and a further 100 days with noise not to exceed 85 decibels. Circuit bosses said the new limits would fundamentally threaten the viability of the track and announced their intention to take the matter to the New South Wales Land and Environment Court.
After an initial hearing, both parties agreed to enter conciliation talks, with the hope that greater understanding of the issues on both sides could lead to a resolution. The impasse became something of an election issue when seats on the council went to the voters in December 2021.
Court decision delivers a hammer blow
In July 2022 the circuit's case was heard before New South Wales Land and Environment Court. In a shock ruling, the court restricted the circuit to no more than 30 days’ worth of race meetings per year. This was less than half of what Benalla Auto Club had been seeking as a compromise and also was less even Goulburn Mulwaree Council had sought.
In reaction, the circuit imposed a four day per month limit on itself so as to not trigger the new rules, however this proved economically unviable. In September 2022, the BAC announced that all track operation was to cease until further notice.
"Unfortunately, we cannot operate economically under the current restrictions, which has left us with no alternative but to cease all activity at the track," explained General Manager Stephen Whyte. "Further reaching will be the economic loss to Goulburn and the surrounding community."
A 'Save Wakefield Park' group was formed by supporters of the track, gathering nearly 29,000 signatures pleading the track's case, which was presented to the State Parliament in October 2022. However, the State Government told the campaigners it was unable to overturn the court's decision, leaving Wakefield Park in limbo.
Campaigners did however win the support of NSW Opposition Leader, Chris Minns, who pledged $1 million for noise abatement measures to enable the track to resume operation, should he win power in State elections in March 2023.
“An elected Labor government will work with the local council and stakeholders to resolve these issues and get this important facility back on track,” said Minns as part of his announcement.
New owner seeks to reopen Wakefield Park
In March 2023 Benalla Auto Club announced that Wakefield Park had been sold to Steve Shelley, the owner of the nearby Pheasant Wood Circuit. In a demonstration of how much of election issue had become, the deal was facilitated with the assistance of local Liberal MP Wendy Tuckerman. The State Government pledged $5 million towards a long-term solution at the site, covering investigative and planning work, as well as future noise mitigation works. The deal signals the potential return of motorsport, driver training and safety programs at the venue.
Speaking of the acquisition, Steve Shelley said: "I am passionate about Wakefield Park and have competed there on many occasions. The opportunity to continue our track ownership along with investment in the local community of Goulburn is something that we believe is critically important for the future of motorsport in the region.
"I’d like to thank Wendy Tuckerman for putting myself together with Stephen [Whyte] and the Benalla Auto Club Group, and for being so passionate about a Motorsport Strategy that gives us the confidence to commit to this wonderful opportunity.
"I look forward to working closely with the neighbours of Wakefield Park and The Goulburn Mulwaree Shire Council when planning and securing the future of Wakefield, and especially avoiding any repeat of mistakes made in the past."
- Wakefield Park Raceway, 4770 Braidwood Road, Tirrannaville NSW 2580, Australia
- +61 2 4822 2811
- Email the circuit
- Official website
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