It is hard to believe it’s about 20 years since the F1 Tri series first graced our TV screens. The series run successfully under some big name and deep pocketed sponsors brought the best athletes in the world to our shores for a summer of exciting, fast and furious racing. The venues attracted big live crowds, the TV friendly format attracted viewers and sponsors and the big name athletes got some sharp racing in and a chance to earn some decent coin, even new cars for series winners at a time in their calendar that was usually void of decent paying races. I was fortunate enough to witness a few of the events and having the world’s best athletes rolling around on your home soil was a special feeling, and seeing them race flat out inches away from you and each other gave an appreciation of the speed and skill possessed by these athletes. It honed the race skills of a generation of Aussie athletes who would dominate for years to come, some of whom are still plying their trade to this day.
Well if you remember it fondly, or wish you could have seen it, the chance is on to not only watch this racing spectacle again but also participate. F1Tri is back and this time it has an age group category so everyone and anyone can get in and have a shot at being “Welchy” or “The Croc” for a day.
In the lead up to the first event at Penrith we shot a few questions at the man behind the revival to find out what’s going on.
Why bring back the F1 concept?
I used to love watching it in the 90's. A number of people I have spoken to over the years, say it would be great see F1 format back. I noticed a few months ago in the USA that they have started to bring it back with Rev3 Rush concept were they had a race on a car race track and put in a temporary pool. I’m the sort of person that once I have an idea and I want to do it, I won’t sit around for years saying I wish I had given that a go. So here I am today ready for the first race in a few weeks. I really think the timing is right to bring this format back. We are really hoping to have some fun with the first couple of races as we are running these to test the formats and get some momentum and really build the races up coming into the Feb-April 2015 period.
Who are you targeting?
As the old concept really targeted the elites athletes only, we are really want to open this up to everyone from the beginner triathlete to the season age grouper, to the ITU kids making their way through the ranks to the world’s best. We want to produce a model that is sustainable for years to come and help grow the sport of triathlon to mainstream viewers.
What pro athletes are you hoping to have racing?
The very best our sport has to offer including the Royals, Brownlee’s, Gomez etc. Basically the best Australia has to offer and the world has to offer. We hope to tap into the overseas elite athletes whilst they are over here training, or in between ITU races scheduled for Auckland and Gold Coast. We have been getting a great response from many our professional athletes and high performance coaches asking how can we be part of this series. I believe the easy part will be to get the pro athletes competing and ITU juniors. The hardest thing for us will be to get the age groupers (not just the fast ones) to the start line in numbers.
We need to get the support of the age groupers in strong numbers to be able to sustain and build a series like this for the future.
How did you choose the venues?
My initial target was to use car racing tracks and look at bringing in a temporary pool, but my focus changed quickly to try and find some unique venues where we can draw a big crowd and provide an entertainment package.
Finding venues where normally it wouldn't be possible to hold a triathlon because of road closures etc. Places like Cronulla Beach, Glenelg, Rottnest Island, are not easy places to hold a normal triathlon these days.
I'm constantly looking at new venues and approaching Councils every day. It’s getting harder every year for race directors to close down roads for traditional distances, as local residents and businesses are putting pressure on councils and saying we don't want these races closing our roads anymore. Our course design the profile is all about having the race in a smaller area, with multiple laps, so the crowd can see someone swimming, cycling and running from the same spot, while having a coffee or beer. Most of the races I go to across the country the athletes ride out for 90km or so, and then you don't see them for hours.
Have the associations been helpful in getting these off the ground?
They have been supportive in their own way, but at the moment I think it’s a bit of wait and see for them to see how my event company (fairly new company but I have plenty of good people on board) will go. I have come in pretty aggressive with a new concept (or rehashed) and plenty of races rather than just have 1 or 2 races in first year. But that's what you get from me, if I’m going to do this, then I want 1-2 races in every state so why not go for this in year one and not in year 2 or 3. We are trying to build this up from zero base, so the two races we have earlier in the series at Penrith and Coolum are more about test events. Basically getting things up and going and working out how the race day will look once we have bigger list of entrants.
Plus also getting some content to the wider public so they can see what we are going to offer during the main venues from February - April when we really kick our team into action and put our plans into in place. What I see in the future is this won’t be just a triathlon experience for the athlete and there support crew, but a great day out with plenty of entertainment for their children, parents and the grandparents.
Do you find the shorter racing has been a bit neglected of late with the emphasis on longer racing?
I really think that the shorter courses is getting a bit stale. Maybe this concept can do to triathlon what 20/20 did for cricket. I can really start seeing this whole concept really build globally over the coming years. If we want the sport to grow and get some TV time, then this is what the sport needs. I’m still unsure if the sport (or our event) can actually afford to get to the prime TV time slot it wants. But hopefully I and our series can start the process of putting the sport back in the spotlight.
A lot of older athletes were inspired by watching Hawaii on Wide World of Sports, and a lot of the younger generation were inspired by watching the original F1 on TV, are you hoping to inspire a new generation of athletes?
I’m not sure these athletes racing TRIF1 will inspire anyone, as Ironman is such a physical achievement that people get inspired by. But as I mentioned I’m hoping it inspires more people to participate in our sport, grows the sports for everyone, and also helps our athletes become the best they can be, and maybe put some more dollars into their pocket to make a living out of this sport.
Do you have any innovations in mind similar to the original F1 such as the pool at Cronulla or the indoor velodrome Tri?
I’m all about innovations. So yes we have some things that we will introduce, but I’m not sure how quickly we will introduce them. The first year will be all about producing a great event for people to participate in or for people to come down and watch and be entertained. We are just as much about the entertainment of the day, as it will be about the racing. As I mentioned we are not looking to rush into things, but slowly build this series. We will be having all races on live stream via mysportlive.com, so we are hoping to bring a great package with these guys so everyone to watch the races live, or see the action in smaller package at a later date. In the future hopefully we can get the sponsors to come on board and get this sport back on prime time TV. We also want to setup the Elite athletes so they are racing as part of a team, rather than individual. The first year we want to find companies/clubs to purchase 1 of 10 licenses and all athletes will compete under the team for the Elite Cup series. The money received from this license will go directly back into Prize money. Each team manager will then recruit the athletes for their team, pay the athletes travel expenses etc. I guess a similar setup to the F1 car racing, or the European club races.
Check out the racing, the names .... and the fashions from back in the day.
For entry details and more info: TriF1