15 March 2023

Summernats with exotics: meet the men behind Canberra's 'Festival of Speed'

| James Coleman
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Supercars at last year’s Canberra Cars and Coffee. Photos: James Coleman.

There would be exotic supercars lapping a section of closed road, engines roaring and tyres chirping, someone in a distant grandstand calling out the name of each one as it passes. There would be live pit stops and a static display of race cars and one-off builds.

In short, it would be Australia’s biggest motorsport festival here in Canberra. Sounds a lot like Summernats? Yeah, not quite.

The ‘Canberra Festival of Speed’ is the vision of Martin Tanti and Peter Bakavgas, the business partners behind local community group Project Supercars. Where Summernats attracts a distinct crowd, these guys are thinking more along the lines of the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England, or Thoroughbred Park on Melbourne Cup Day. Think more highbrow. Fewer mullets. More Ray-Bans.

“We are bringing a European supercar event to Canberra,” says Martin, the proud owner of a black Lamborghini Gallardo.

“It’s nice to have something a bit more exotic for adults and especially kids, where there’s a real appreciation of the art.”

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It might not be there quite yet, but the first Canberra Festival of Speed kicks off at 9:30 am this Sunday (19 March) at Gerhard’s Quality Cars dealership on Pirie Street, Fyshwick.

It’s based on last year’s pilot, Canberra Cars and Coffee, when more than 50 gleaming cars from revered manufacturers Lamborghini, Ferrari, McLaren, Aston Martin, Lotus, Audi, Porsche and Mercedes-AMG from across south-east Australia descended on the same dealership on 19 March 2022.

From 2 pm, this static display was followed by a cruise across Commonwealth Avenue Bridge lined with Canberrans eager to glimpse the cars, some for the first time.

But there were some problems.

“Pirie Street wasn’t closed to the public so that created some traffic issues, and the café was inundated with orders,” Peter says.

Martin and Peter, who got to know each other while working on each other’s Lamborghinis, have spent the past year pulling together a bigger and better version. They’re going for a fully fledged Canberra summer-style festival with food vans, music and performances (and even a stall where you can buy your own mini diecast model of a supercar and a racing simulator so you can try your own hot lap).

“Closing the road for the duration is probably the biggest thing we’ve had to do,” Martin says.

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Like last time, more than 50 supercars will be lining the street near the dealership. And where funds went to Lifeline Canberra in 2022, this year’s show will raise funds for HeartKids ACT, which supports young people impacted by heart disease.

“They’re going to be there on the day, so we’ll have a public chat with them so people can hear what they do and what it means for the families involved,” Peter says.

This, and other informal chats with race drivers and various supercar owners and builders, will be held in a new section inside the actual dealership.

“We’re going for a Top Gear vibe inside,” Martin says.

“We’re still nutting out the exact details but expect this to take the form of a stage with seats and maybe a screen.”

The rest of the space will be filled with “more than 30 really, really rare supercars no one sees”, including Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari F40, Ford GT40, Ferrari P4, Le Mans race cars from Ferrari and Porsche, and others “hand-built from the ground up”.

Many of these are provided by major sponsor of the event, German motor oil manufacturer Liqui Moly. The Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council (QPRC) has also agreed to bring along Mark Webber’s original go-kart, the very one that helped shoot the Quangers boy to international motorsport legend and brand ambassador for Porsche.

“We’ll also have Michael Schumacher’s race helmet, signed by him, along with other motorsport paraphernalia,” Martin says.

Top it off with live demonstrations of pit changes and car starts, and “there’s always going to be something happening”.

“Sometimes car events can get a little bit boring. We don’t want it to drag on. We want to keep people engaged.”

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As with last year, many cars will set off from 1:30 pm for a cruise along Dairy Flat Road to Duntroon and then along Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, turning around near Parliament House and coming back along the other side.

“We want to drive along Commonwealth Avenue Bridge twice because last year we had so many people waiting to see us.”

And yes, there is a contingency plan in the case of wet weather – “there will definitely still be something,” Martin assures.

Many owners are quite private but love their cars and, when approached “in the proper way”, are more than happy to showcase them. As more come on board each year, Martin describes this first Festival of Speed as the “step towards a bigger vision”.

“Peter and I have goals and at some point, we want to bring something as big as the Goodwood Festival of Speed to Canberra. At the moment, it’s short and sweet, but we’d ideally like to have the whole weekend.”

The Canberra Festival of Speed will be held from 9:30 am to 1:30 pm on Sunday, 19 March, at Gerhard’s Classic Cars, 34 Pirie Street, Fyshwick. Entry to the external display is by gold coin donation. Tickets can be bought at the gate via cash or card, with proceeds going to HeartKids ACT. Visit the Project Supercars event page for more information.

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Ha ha the road cruise of 30+ years ago returns, we’ll sort of, at that time sport/s type cars, race cars cruised with police blessing from Fyshwick to Woden.
Also their was around that I me a closed sprint event for most anything around a section of LBG.
So as great as this for those interested there’s certainly nothing new about it.
I do wish the organisers we’ll but for next year my I suggest there are a lot places possibly better suited to your vision.

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