Ahead of the 2023 Supercars season finale and the event’s 25th anniversary celebrations in 2024, we look back on what makes the VAILO Adelaide 500 so special – the history, track and legacy in SupercarXtra Magazine issue #131.
CLICK HERE to purchase SupercarXtra Magazine issue #131.
A new era began for the Adelaide 500 in 2022. Its much-anticipated return saw the event move from the start to the end of the Supercars season. With a champion now crowned in Adelaide, the event took on an extra dimension. This is how the Adelaide 500 became such a success; setting a template that Supercars replicated across Australia and New Zealand.
What we now know as Supercars looked very different before the arrival of the Adelaide 500. The 1998 championship wrapped up on the first weekend of August, with the Bathurst 1000 a non-championship round. And there were no street circuits across the 10-round championship.
The introduction of the Adelaide 500 set a new template for Supercars – a marquee street circuit event combining on-track action with off-track festivities. It was a big step forward for Supercars, with its arrival and the inclusion of Bathurst into the championship both happening in 1999.
Four years after the loss of the Australian Grand Prix, the Adelaide 500 saw the famed Adelaide Street Circuit come back to life. The circuit was slightly shortened, creating what became one of the most challenging corners on the track, the fast sweeper that is Turn 8, and leaving little rest time for drivers.
The format was and remains two 250-kilometre races, one each on the Saturday and Sunday. After the challenge of driving in the heat and humidity for close to two hours, drivers would need to back it up and do it all again the following day.
Driver fitness became crucial, after a number of drivers struggled to cope over the course of the race distance in those early years. Supercars itself also moved to longer races as a result, bringing pit strategy and the teams more into the equation.
The event was well supported from day one and kept growing, from an initial 162,000 spectators over three days in 1999 to 291,4000 over four days a decade later in 2008. The event became the Supercars season opener in 2002 and increased to four days in 2003. After a long off-season, drivers and teams were thrown in the deep end with Adelaide first up.
The event saw some historic performances over the years, with greats such as Craig Lowndes, Mark Skaife, Marcos Ambrose, Jamie Whincup, Shane van Gisbergen and Scott McLaughlin not only amongst the winners but also producing some of their career-best performances in Adelaide.
Lowndes and Skaife both stormed through from the rear of the field to take come from behind wins in 1999 and 2000 respectively. They then crashed into each other in Adelaide in 2001, in the year Lowndes defected from Holden to Ford.
Skaife and the Holden Racing Team were the dominant forces in the early 2000s. In addition to championship and Bathurst doubles in 2001 and 2002, Skaife also went back-to-back in Adelaide in 2002 and 2003.
There was a changing of the guard in the mid-2000s with the rise of Ambrose and Stone Brothers Racing, swinging the pendulum from Holden to Ford. Ambrose won in Adelaide in 2004 and 2005, off the back of two championship wins, before moving to NASCAR.
Who would replace Ambrose as the next dominator emerged in 2006, when Whincup, in his first round with Triple Eight Race Engineering, surprised many with victory in Adelaide. Whincup would go on to win a record-breaking seven championships, often kickstarted with wins in Adelaide. He remains the most successful driver in the history of the Adelaide 500 with four round wins – 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011.
Van Gisbergen also scored a win on debut with a new team in 2013. After a shock departure from Stone Brothers Racing and talk of a premature retirement, he reappeared at Tekno Autosports and claimed the win in Adelaide. His performances at Tekno Autosports led to a drive at Triple Eight Race Engineering, as eventual successor to Whincup with three championship wins and two more Adelaide 500 titles.
McLaughlin took the fight to Whincup in a famous last-lap battle in Adelaide in 2014. McLaughlin was a star on the rise with his performance in Garry Rogers Motorsport’s Volvo Polestar S60, confirming his potential. He became a dominant force in Supercars with DJR Team Penske, winning three championships and two Adelaide 500s before moving to IndyCar.
Broc Feeney became the latest driver to make his mark in Adelaide, with his first win in 2022 a sign of what’s to come for the Triple Eight Race Engineering rising star.
Who will write their own history in 2023? The Adelaide Street Circuit awaits.
The SupercarXtra Magazine-produced 2023 VAILO Adelaide 500 official program is on sale in newsagents in South Australia and will be on sale at the event. CLICK HERE for store locations in South Australia.