5 March 2024

Canberra Festival of Speed confirmed for 2025 after 'overwhelmingly positive' first year

| James Coleman
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The English Ultima GTR. Photo: Matt Tomkins, Photox.

More than 13,500 people went to sleep over the weekend with the sounds of unbridled internal combustion still ringing in their ears.

The inaugural Canberra Festival of Speed, a joint effort by Project Supercars and Canberra Racing Club, was held at Thoroughbred Park over Saturday evening and all day Sunday. Such was the success that the organisers are already “looking to go even bigger and better in 2025”.

“The main piece of feedback was that people can’t believe it was a year-one show,” Canberra Racing Club CEO Darren Pearce said.

“They said the attention to detail to the set-up and the flow truly had a European festival feel. And that’s the biggest compliment we could get because that’s exactly what we were aiming for.”

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Up to 28 per cent of the visitors were estimated to come from interstate, which prompted David Marshal from the Canberra Region Tourism Leaders Forum to name the festival among the city’s “suite of tourism offerings”.

“We look forward to it growing in significance and appeal to Canberrans and visitors to the national capital,” he said.

My two-year-old daughter Elise and I were among the crowd from 4 pm on Saturday to nearly as late as a two-year-old can go. In the lead-up, Darren told me that this would not be one of those shows that you wander through and then leave. He was right.

Entering the ‘Hall of Heroes’. Photo: Matt Tomkins, Photox.

Once you’d made it through the queue for entry, the main driveway opened into the ‘European Village’, with sponsor pop-ups at one end and gazebos crammed with crews busy preparing F1 cars at the other. It was like we’d accidentally walked into the pit lane at Monaco. Cameron Hill was there too, with his hulking great V8-powered, sticker-plastered Camaro.

Beyond this was the ‘Hall of Heroes’, featuring all the poster-worthy greats. Think Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari Testarossa and F40, Lancia Stratos – even the Honda NSX from when the Japanese did a very un-Japanese thing in 1990 and made a supercar. I also left with a deep desire for a car I’d never heard of before – the Australian-built, Ferrari-V12-powered, aluminium-bodied F1-styled Zacaria.

Canberra’s very own V8 Supercars legend Cameron Hill. Photo: Matt Tomkins, Photox.

The highlight, however, had to be the show circuit.

There has always been an element of movement to previous shows by Project Supercars. The past two, for instance, based at Gerhard’s Quality Cars in Fyshwick, started with a ‘show and shine’ but ended with a city cruise. The Festival of Speed took this up a whole new level.

Along with an agreement to host the festival for at least three years, Thoroughbred Park constructed a 500-metre bitumen racetrack to allow the owners to safely give their cars – if not all the beans – many of the beans.

The Lamborghini Aventador in action. Photo: James Coleman.

I have yearned for the day I would see a Lamborghini Aventador in the (very orange) metal. Not only did I see it, I got to hear it. And I can still hear it if I close my eyes. I never thought I would ever see a McLaren Senna either, but there it was, roaring past mere metres from me. The Ferrari P5 and Ford GT40, of Ford V Ferrari movie fame, were also there.

I had a set of ear muffs handy – prepared for all this to terrify Elise – but she only donned them a couple of times. Couple this with a box of chips from the Harmonie German Club food truck for her and a ‘German dog on a roll’ for me, and it’s a tick for family-friendliness.

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“It was a happy crowd,” Darren said.

“We didn’t have even the slightest hint of any safety or security issues. Everyone was just captivated by the action and great cars around them.”

The organisers have made no secret of their aim for this event: the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England. I have to admit I’ve never attended this, but I have spent years studying the photos in magazines by other journalists who have. And this was remarkably close.

The McLaren Senna, provided by Gee Up. Photo: Matt Tomkins, Photox.

There were issues. Darren said ticketing was a learning experience and will be made simpler next year. And rather than people having to wait for the cars to come to a stop before crossing from the track infield to the rest of the grounds, “we’d prefer to have track overpasses”.

But there will also be a next year to take all this on board.

“We’re going to need more car displays and more cars on the track because everyone who went on the track had so much fun,” he said.

This, in turn, “will mean we have to scale”.

Prancing Horses on display. Photo: James Coleman.

Project Supercars co-founder Martin Tanti said “feedback was overwhelmingly positive” but wants “more highlighted vehicles, more celebrity engagement, more activations” and “changes” to the circuit in 2025.

“Every aspect will be bigger and better.”

However, perhaps the proudest moment for me was when Elise and I returned home. She insisted on taking her new Matchbox-sized McLaren 720S to bed, and I as shut her bedroom door, there it was again – the unmistakable sound of ‘vroooooom’, coming from the pillow.

Bring on the next Canberra Festival of Speed (“sometime between February and April next year”, according to Darren).

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From 2025 it’ll be quieter ALL-electric; if not, why not; walk the talk!

It’ll certainly be quieter… as no-one will show up.

And it will be re-named “Sleepfest”

Capital Retro1:26 pm 05 Mar 24

“More than 13,500 people went to sleep over the weekend with the sounds of unbridled internal combustion still ringing in their ears.”

This happens every weekend in GIlmore, Chisholm and Richardson and it is sanctioned by the AFP through their “lack of resources” policies.

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