Motorsport fans have launched a petition to lobby the Victorian State Government to give heritage protection to Melbourne's Sandown Raceway amid rumours that it may be sold off for development by its owners, the Melbourne Racing Club.
The Australian Financial Review recently reported that MRC had submitted confidential plans to the state government for residential, commercial and retail developments at Sandown and the Caulfield horse racing course, which it also owns.
It is also not clear if the submitted proposals involve parcels of land around Sandown Park or total redevelopment of the entire site. However, horse racing insiders believe Sandown – which is used mainly for low-key mid-week meetings – will be sacrificed by the MRC as part of a reorganisation of its horse racing tracks in Melbourne.
Although no official word has been received, the MRC has confirmed that it is reviewing the operations of its venues, including Sandown, but insists no firm decisions have yet been made
In response, a new campaign - 'Save Sandown Raceway' - has launched a Change.org drive to petition the State Government for heritage listing status, which would afford the facility protection from future development and retain its status as a sporting venue. As of September 15, the petition had topped 1,000 signatories, being two-thirds of the way towards its total target of 1,500.
"Sandown has a long history with motorsport and horse racing," the petition reads. "More recently it has been used for bicycle events, driver training and other community gatherings. Sandown is simply a great space in the heartland of Melbourne.
"We want to save Sandown raceway from being redeveloped and lost as a community facility.
"We would like the government to act to protect this site and to commit to providing funding to develop a true multi sport facility that can cater to the needs or motorsport, cycling, driver training and horse racing.
"We lost a car industry - let's not lose another piece of the puzzle," the petition adds.
It's the second time in recent months that an attempt to obtain heritage status for Sandown has been made. Former Victorian Senator Ricky Muir announced in July that he would lobby for the circuit's inclusion on the National Heritage List as part of his re-election campaign. However, the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party candidate was defeated in the Federal Elections that same month.
Australian Supercars has joined the calls of concern about Sandown's future, ahead of the circuit's blue-ribband event, the Sandown 500, which is taking place this weekend. Series boss James Warburton told the Sydney Morning Herald: "The whole of motor sport needs to fight to keep Sandown as a motor racing venue," he declared. "We will fight hard to retain such an iconic track, as will CAMS (Confederation of Australian Motor Sport)."
A three-year contract to host the Sandown 500 up to 2019 was recently signed with the MRC, indicating that the immediate future of the facility could be secure, but beyond this the warm-up event to the classic Bathurst 1000 could be in danger.
Adding fuel to the fire, a bid by former Sandown 500 promoter Jon Davison to reinstate the popular Easternats performance street car gathering - backed by the local council as an organised alternative to illegal street racing - was rejected on the grounds that Sandown's sale was "imminent".
Motorsport began at the facility in 1962, on the site of the abandoned Sandown Park horse racing track (originally opened in 1888 as Oakleigh Park). The new horse racing facility opened in 1965, since when the circuit has gone on to host a range of races, including the famous Tasman Series in the 1960s, and has hosted the ATCC/Supercars Championship more times than any other circuit, with 46 appearances.
To sign the 'Save Sandown Raceway' petition, visit www.change.org/p/victorian-state-government-save-sandown-raceway