Surfers race has lost fans, sponsors since IndyCar left MOTOR racing icon Craig Lowndes said the Gold Coast 600 V8 race faced a "critical" test this weekend as the cost-slashing Newman Government weighs up the event's future.
The five-time Bathurst champion said big crowds and a bumper tourism spin-off were needed to help keep the 21-year-old race alive ahead of new contract talks.
Tourism and business leaders fear the event, which costs taxpayers $6.5 million a year, could be black-flagged.
The Government, trying to rein in a massive state debt, has refused to guarantee the race's future beyond next year, when the current contract expires.
Government sources confirmed the performance of this weekend's race would be closely scrutinized in determining whether it continued beyond 2013.
Speaking at a drivers' lunch at Jupiters Casino yesterday ahead of the start of the on-track action today, Lowndes urged fans to turn out in force.
"It's critical that it keeps going," he said.
"This weekend will be a telling factor. I think if we can get a record crowd, it shows it’s got great support."
The "record crowd" Lowndes spoke of referred to the event specifically since it became a V8-only race three years ago following the demise of the Indy cars.
In the Indy's heyday, more than 300,000 fans would pack the Surfers Paradise street circuit, compared with the 180,000-strong crowd tipped for this weekend.
Queensland's biggest event was originally designed to lure international tourists, but the GC600 principally attracts Ford and Holden fans from within Australia.
Tourism leaders admit the event does not have the same glamour - or attract the big-spending international tourists and corporate visitors - as it did when it was the Indy.
But outgoing V8 Supercars series boss Tony Cochrane said Queensland could not afford to lose the event - which injects an estimated $60 million into the economy - unless it had an effective replacement.
"It's a resilient old girl which has survived 21 years for the simple reason that it's an absolutely cracking weekend," he said.
Bathurst champion and Gold Coast resident Jamie Whincup said he was confident the race would continue.
"If someone can come up with something better, good luck to them," he said.
"You can't just criticize something and not have a fix."
Marriott Surfers Paradise Resort marketing manager Ken Duddy said the GC600 may not bring in international visitors like the old Indy, but it was still vital for the tourism industry.
"We're all but full this weekend," he said. "Our room rates are probably a bit softer than when Indy was around, but we've got no complaints."
Jim Beam girls Chelsea, Vivienne, Emily and Lauren get into the swing of things at the Gold Coast 600 drivers' welcome luncheon at Jupiter's Casino. Picture: David Clark Source: Gold Coast Bulletin
V8 drivers press conference ahead of Gold Coast 600 welcome luncheon at Jupiter's Casino. L-R: David Reynolds, Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes. Picture: David Clark Source: Gold Coast Bulletin
Orrcon Steel FPR Racing team member Mark Winterbottom receives some surf life saving tips from Northcliffe SLSC member Shannon Eckstein Picture: David Clark Source: Gold Coast Bulletin