by Mark Furler
IN pouring rain, it didn't take long for the crash chaos to unfold at the Gold Coast 600.
We had barely taken up our prime positions in race sponsor Vodafone's corporate suite when the bone-jarring sound of cars crunching right in front of us went right through us.
The Aussie Racing Cars were battling almost zero visibility on the Surfer's Paradise strip, ahead of the main V8 Supercars race, when the huge crash in race two unfolded.
One of the drivers, Scott O'Keefe, spun out of control.
With other cars speeding down the straight near the finish line, we could only watch and wait for the inevitable.
The hapless car, frozen in the wrong spot, copped not one but two direct high speed hits, one of which completely removed the back of his vehicle.
Metal and debris were flying through the air.
O'Keefe is reportedly recovering from liver and kidney injuries.
He spent Saturday night O'Keefe in Gold Coast University Hospital after the crash but by all accounts is okay and will soon be back behind the wheel.
Watching the view from inside the car on TV screens at the track, I couldn't help but think it takes a certain kind of insanity to be a driver in such conditions.
As machines whiz past so quickly they can be barely caught on camera, you can see how people get hooked on the high octane sport.
The roar of V8 supercars in close succession is thunderous.
Just below our suite, the frenetic activity as cars coming in for tyre and fuel changes is a sport in itself to watch.
What is even more amazing is the level of access hard core fans are given to their heroes.
Just moments before the V8 race began, hundreds were able to walk the grid, wish their favourite driver luck and have a photo taken with them or the grid girls.
Drivers like James Courtney, Todd and Rick Kelly, Garth Tander, Michael Caruso, James Moffat, Chaz Mostert, Jamie Whincup, Shane Van Gisbergen, and Craig Lowndes are more than happy to engage with fans right before the race.
Obviously you pay for the privilege, or be lucky enough to be invited to a corporate suite of a major sponsor, but to be able to be get so close to the action right before the race is something unseen in many other sports.
Supercar officials, taking us on a behind the scenes tour of pit lane, say it is all about giving their biggest supporters an experience that goes well beyond just watching cars fly by at 250kmh.
Even young fans were mesmerised as they learnt of the fine-tuning that goes into setting up a car, from ensuring the tyres are just right for the conditions to monitoring every conceivable variable during the race.
With just seconds between podium glory, racing teams agonise over ensuring a perfect combination of great driving, a well set up car, and great strategy to win a race.
For major companies like Vodafone, the Gold Coast 600 is a great way to connect with their major partners, from top retailers to Chinese phone giants like Huawei and Oppo.
And of course, it's a way to promote themselves as a fun, exciting company with a growing future in Australia, particularly given its plans to enter the high speed NBN internet market.
Vodafone Consumer Business Unit director Ben McIntosh said earlier this year that partnering with Supercars gives the company the platform to further expand its brand in Australia and globally.
"Supercars is a truly national sport with a significant and extremely avid fan base right across Australia," Mr McIntosh said.
"We are also a fast-paced, high performance brand which is passionate about its people and its customers, just like Supercars.
Vodafone has the naming rights for the Porsche safety, course and medical cars.
Remarkably, despite the rain on Saturday, the safety car was not needed as much as you would have expected during the V8 Supercars battle.
For the Gold Coast 600, the expansion of suites to cater for corporates is a big part of the planning for success in coming years.
About 7800 corporate tickets were made available this year with some of the 'money can't buy' experiences including hot laps on the track ahead of the main races.
A group of us took a spin in the Vodafone safety car on Sunday morning. Talk about an adrenaline rush - even at speeds well below what the V8 drivers are doing.
Roaring down the straight before braking hard ahead of the crazy twists and turns, the Porsche handles every part of the course so well that you barely move in your seat.
Our weekend experience also included a helicopter flight over the high rise buildings of the Gold Coast, as well as the Supercars track itself.
For race fans, of course, there's much more than just the entertainment on the track with colourful and sound-pumping displays, as well as some incredible looking cars from the past, adding to the atmosphere.
All in all, it makes for a hell of a weekend, come rain or shine.
GOLD COAST 600 BY THE NUMBERS
-2.5 tonnes of chicken
-6 tonnes of fruit and vegetables
-8 tonnes of ice
-7500 corporate guests
-3000 accredited contractors employed
-8500 hours of local security labour
-5500 hours of local catering labour
-17.5km of fencing
-6km of concrete barriers
-6 week construction period
-3 week deconstruction period
The writer was a guest of Vodafone at the Gold Coast 600.