A huge crowd estimated at 60,000 people turned up for the second day of Newcastle’s Supercars debut as the championship turned on a first-lap calamity for series leader Jamie Whincup.
The day began on an ugly note when two spectators were injured by a tyre which jumped the safety fence near Nobbys beach during qualifying for the V8 Ute championship.
A man was taken to the Mater Hospital with a suspected broken leg and a woman suffered a minor ankle injury.
Supercars will not release official attendance figures until Sunday night, but early estimates put the crowd number at about 60,000.
The bumper turnout put a strain on some transport services, and private operator Keolis Downer had to call on standby buses to relieve a long queue at the Stockton ferry.
Transport officials were urging racegoers to delay their journey home and forecast significant delays as thousands left the track.
"We are expecting heavy delays so we're encouraging everyone to be patient and delay their journey," a Transport Management Centre spokeswoman said.
The crowds also put pressure on food and drink vendors in the race precinct, including businesses who had lost a lot of customers in the lead-up to the event.
By 11am a line was snaking around the corner just to get into the Grain Store, and long queues were the order of the day for drinks, ice creams and toilets on another hot, sunny day.
The race precinct and transport services are expected to be busy again later in tonight when Cold Chisel could attract as many as 30,000 people to Foreshore Park.
The early crash in V8 Ute qualifying set the scene for a difficult day for the drivers.
A big pile-up near Parnell Place claimed about nine in the first Toyota 86 race, and the safety car clocked up plenty of miles as the day wore on.
Local hope Aaren Russell was one of the victims, crashing into the wall at the entrance to Scott Street on lap 31 and coming to rest in Parnell Place.
But the most telling incident was a seemingly innocuous touch between Whincup’s Triple Eight Commodore and Michael Caruso’s Nissan on turn three leading into Shortland Esplanade.
The contact broke the Holden’s right-front steering arm and lower control arm. Whincup limped back to the pits but did not rejoin the race until lap 14.
He had started the day 30 points in front of Scott McLaughlin but ended it 78 points behind after the young Kiwi worked his way up from fourth to win the first half of the inaugural Newcastle 500.
“Far from ideal, sitting in the pits,” Whincup said after returning to the pits. “We’ll dump a bunch of points today and it’s going to be tough from here.
“I thought we could go two wide with car 23, but he shut the gate, broke the steering and that’s the end of us. Unfortunate, it is what it is, we’ll push on.”
Fears of a boring procession on the tight street circuit proved unfounded as the safety car compressed the field in the last 15 minutes and the drivers scrapped for points.
McLaughlin, however, was supreme, pulling away from the melee behind him to win by almost 2.5 seconds.
He hailed the Newcastle 500 as one of his favourite events of the year and said he was “pumped” for the final day of the season on Sunday.