FORMULA 500 officials will run 17-car heats in response to unprecedented demand for starts in the Jack Willsher Cup.
Class co-ordinator Maria Olsson said the 49 nominations for the cup at Premier Speedway tomorrow night had prompted officials to expand the six heats.
Four of the heats will have 16 drivers, while the other two will feature 17, a scenario few had predicted at the start of the week.
Drivers will still contest two heats but face a tougher-than-usual challenge to progress to the B and A mains.
Olsson said the bumper nominations came after two washed-out rounds of the Victorian Stampede Series last month.
She said spreading the cars between extra heats would have been ideal, but the packed nature of the schedule meant that was impossible.
A field of 72 will also contest round five of the Sprintcar Racing Association (SRA) of Victoria series, a twin feature event which headlines the action.
“If this hadn’t have been the big night it was, we would’ve asked (Premier Speedway general manager) David Mills for a couple more heats,” Olsson said.
“But we knew we wouldn’t get that and to be quite honest we didn’t expect 49 cars. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but wow. I take that as a testament we’re doing the right thing. People want to come and race in Victoria.”
Olsson put the popularity down to the growing prestige of the Jack Willsher Cup, as well as Speedweek starting on December 28.
Some of the best interstate drivers are among the nominations, making the trip south a week earlier than normal.
“I think over the years it’s become an achievement for people to compete in the Jack Willsher Cup and race with some of the best,” Olsson said.
She dismissed claims officials had requested rookies withdraw from the field because of the quality and size of the field.
She said two drivers had withdrawn of their own accord, knowing they would start from the back row in their heats.
Mills said the 72 nominations for the SRA Victoria round proved sprintcar racing was in “a positive state”.
Gates at Premier Speedway open from 4pm, with drivers hitting the track at 5pm.