Started with a test track, now we’re here

Outline: The pits are halfway there. Photo: Peri Strathearn.
Outline: The pits are halfway there. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

The pit building at The Bend Motorsport Park is only half-complete, but approaching it was still a memorable experience.

This reporter has been fortunate enough to have had a number of stand-out experiences over the past five and a half years: interviewing a Prime Minister and a Premier, driving a monster truck at the speedway (true), having afternoon tea with a Turkish imam, attending a meeting about what could be Australia's first Aboriginal treaty.

But having followed the story of the old Mitsubishi test track throughout my years at The Standard, from the optimistic rezoning of the land by the Coorong council to its sale to the Shahin family and everything that has happened since, seeing the place in the flesh, concrete walls and the outline of a race track, was a fair old moment.

Dr Shahin’s arrival in a fancy Aston Martin and the helicopter buzzing around only added to the sense of theatre.

Coorong Mayor Neville Jaensch was at Tuesday's announcement and shared the sentiment.

"To stand here when a few years ago there were only a few scruffy sheep ... it makes quite a difference," he said.

We remain proud that The Standard was the first media outlet to report on the scale of the Shahins' plans in February 2014.

The family submitted an outline of their ideas to the council as part of the process for changing local planning laws, something called a development plan amendment.

A hotel, a caravan park, an airstrip, a "national-level, multi-discipline motor sport facility" – we were gobsmacked at the ambition, but here was a family with the money to make it happen.

(Adelaide's daily newspaper ran the same details as a front-page "exclusive" almost exactly one year later, when they went through the city-based Development Assessment Commission.)

When we ran the story, then-editor Sharon Hanson and I took the risk of using a photo of a V8 Supercar on our front page; we read between the lines and guessed a Supercars event would be a reasonable goal.

Here we are, less than four years later, with a race announced for next year.

August 24, 2018 is already circled in my diary.

The moment the green flag waves, the lights go off and the engines roar – now that will be an experience.

Peri Strathearn