Coming into the final event of the ninth season of the Radical Australia Cup, Sydney’s Oliver Smith needed a perfect weekend to have any chance of claiming his maiden championship title, but against an in-form Peter Paddon on a circuit at which Paddon had been undefeated, it was always going to be a tough ask.
Ultimately Smith would do just about everything right to kick off the weekend, but in the end there was nothing he could do about Paddon’s ongoing domination of the category, the First Focus driver claiming the fastest qualifying lap (new Radical SR3 outright lap-record) ahead of back-to-back wins, giving him a season high nine wins from ten starts!
Smith in the end would finish the championship as runner-up for the second year in a row, whilst back-to-back podium finishes in his new SR3RSX gave David Crampton third outright in the championship, the Vantage Freight driver finishing just two points clear of round ten runner-up, Kim Burke.
Whilst Paddon dominated much of the competition, Friday’s two practice sessions gave his rivals a chance to make up some valuable ground, the two-time champion leaving Sydney late in the day after the birth of his third child forcing him to kick his weekend off in qualifying. The second session though did give driving-standards-observer and Radical Australia driver coach Karl Reindler an opportunity to turn laps in the #1 car to shake it down for Paddon, and good thing he did, the team discovering an oil-pressure sensor failure forcing Reindler back to the pits, something which could have had a big impact on Paddon’s qualifying position.
Ultimately though, despite Oliver Smith topping the opening session times, and Kim Burke the second (Reindler’s time negated), Paddon still managed to top qualifying with a new SR3 lap-record at Highlands - 1:34.089 - mere tenths clear of Smith and Burke, both of whom put in impressive laps to start hot on the tail of the points leader.
In picture perfect conditions, with the surrounding mountains capped in a light coating of spring snow, the field got underway for the first 50-minute race with Smith initially getting the jump on Paddon, but by the close of the lap it was the reigning champ who was running at the front.
Sadly Simon Haggarty’s return to the Cup lasted just half a lap, the #5 Axiom Wealth machine rolling to a stop which brought out the Safety Car and the recovery crew, bunching the field up for another lap, allowing Oliver Smith to close once more on Paddon, but despite the opportunity, Paddon quickly pulled a gap on the restart as Smith put down some of the fastest laps of the race.
Behind the leaders Kim Burke was in a watching brief in third, marginally clear of David Crampton who was relishing the return of the 2017 SR3RSX, whilst there was a terrific battle brewing behind them between the Medland brothers - Bill leading Chris ahead of Rowan Ross, Tony Haggarty and Highlands rookie Peter Johnston.
Paddon was one of the first in for his compulsory mid-race pit stop, leaving Smith clear in front to push with Burke and Crampton in tow.
Sadly mid-race Sue Hughes rolled to a stop at turn five with an ECU issue, ending her solid run inside the top ten whilst Kim Burke’s promising race suffered a setback a couple of laps later whilst third, spinning off the circuit forcing a visit to the pits to remove gravel from the front of the car, in the process dropping back to eighth.
With all the pit stops completed, Paddon held a comfortable lead over Smith, but Ollie was on a mission, punching out the fastest lap of the race on lap 28 (1:35.171) to close to within a second of Paddon at the line. Sadly it wasn’t enough, his only real chance of taking the title fight into the final race of the season was for Paddon to suffer some kind of setback in the opening race, but despite that happening earlier in the year at Phillip Island, Paddon was untroubled this time on his way to his eighth win of the year.
Behind them David Crampton put in a stellar drive to claim third at the line, although he was keeping one eye on the storming Kim Burke who over the closing stages of the race hauled in Rowan Ross, the two Medlands and Peter Johnston to record a fourth-placed finish.
He was however gifted a position after Bill Medland had a late race off, dropping from fourth back to sixth after putting in an impressive effort through much of the race, the RAC part-timer impressing right across the Highlands weekend with his pace.
Peter Johnston ultimately inherited fifth with Medland’s off - making him the highest placed Highlands rookie, with Chris Medland seventh behind brother Bill.
Rowan Ross crossed the line eighth, ahead of Tony Haggarty and fellow rookie Peter Clare as the final classified finishers, after Phil Anseline pulled out in the closing laps with an illness which ultimately kept him out of the car for Sunday’s finale.
The action started early off the line for the second 50-minute sprint, Sue Hughes and Tony Haggarty coming together off the start with Haggarty forced into retirement as a result, ending his maiden event at Highlands earlier than he’d hoped.
That brought about a yellow flag and Safety Car, with the field regrouped behind the Safety Car with Kim Burke - who had gotten the jump on Paddon off the line - leading from Paddon, Crampton and Peter Johnston, Oliver Smith having been swamped on the run down to the chicane.
On the restart Paddon was clearly intent on taking back the top spot, and he was quickly through on Burke as the field worked to get heat into their control Dunlop tyres.
Rowan Ross was one though that suffered, resulting in a spin on the run into the forest, fortunately without contact - allowing him to regroup and continue, albeit a lot further back than he had been.
Oliver Smith was again the big mover, setting a cracking pace as he worked his way past Chris Medland and then Peter Johnston to be within sight of the top three, but sadly on lap six, it all came to an end with a technical issue forcing him off the circuit on the exit of turn seven.
Paddon was again the first to pit once with compulsory pit stop window was open, bringing Burke and Bill Medland down pit lane with him.
That allowed first David Crampton to run at the front, then Peter Clare as one-by-one the field streamed down pit road, Paddon though regaining the lead after all the stops were completed, as he set a string of lap record-pace 1:34 laps (on used tyres) to open up a 13-second lead over the trailing Kim Burke before a late race Safety Car intervention to recover Bill Medland from the barriers on the main straight.
Having been one of the stars of the final round, Bill Medland was working his way through the field after a tough start and was on the tail of his brother Chris. They were locked together coming to the line to start lap 21 and touched on the run through the fast right hander that constitutes the start line, sending Bill into the wall and retirement.
He was unharmed, and Chris was able to continue, but it brought to an end one of the best runs of the weekend. Frustratingly for Paddon, the return of the Safety Car also allowed Kim Burke to close down his big lead, but after the restart it was clear Burke had nothing for the new champion, Paddon charging away again over the final few laps to cross the line more than eight seconds clear for his ninth win of the season.
Burke was a comfortable second with David Crampton’s Vantage Freight SR3RSX close behind, with Peter Johnston in tow for his second top five of the weekend.
Chris Medland was fifth, whilst Simon Haggarty completed his second start at Highlands in sixth ahead of Peter Clare, the recovering Rowan Ross and Sue Hughes.
So that concludes the 2017 Radical Australia Cup season, with teams now turning their attentions to the opening round of the 2018 season at Mount Panorama in Bathurst as part of the annual Bathurst 12-Hour event scheduled next year for 2-4 February.
For more information, please visit the Radical Australia website; www.radicalaustralia.com.au or www.ramotorsports.net
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Highlands Motorsport Park, Cromwell, NZ - 11 November
1. 1. Peter Paddon (First Focus Radical SR3RS) - 1:34.089
2. 86. Oliver Smith (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RSX) - 1:34.342
3. 68. Kim Burke (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RSX) - 1:34.411
4. 3. David Crampton (Vantage Freight Radical SR3RSX) - 1:36.532
5. 52. Bill Medland (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RSX) - 1:37.193
6. 17. Peter Johnston (PJS Air Radical SR3RS) - 1:37.610
7. 9. Chris Medland (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RS) - 1:37.822
8. 88. Rowan Ross (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RSX) - 1:38.207
9. 5. Simon Haggarty (Axiom Wealth Radical SR3RS) - 1:38.389
10. 16. Phil Anseline (WT Partnership Radical SR3RS) - 1:39.526
11. 6. Tony Haggarty (Axiom Wealth Radical SR3RSX) - 1:40.331
12. 47. Peter Clare (Shared Runway Radical SR3RS) - 1:40.370
13. 32. Sue Hughes (Hughes Motorsport Radical SR3RS) - 1:43.982
1. 1. Peter Paddon (First Focus Radical SR3RS) - 30-laps
2. 86. Oliver Smith (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RSX) +0.736
3. 3. David Crampton (Vantage Freight Radical SR3RSX) +58.020
4. 68. Kim Burke (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RSX) +1:13.135
5. 17. Peter Johnston (PJS Air Radical SR3RS) +1:19.843
6. 52. Bill Medland (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RSX) +1:23.350
7. 9. Chris Medland (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RS) +1:32.564
8. 88. Rowan Ross (Radical Australia Radical SR3RSX) - 29-laps
9. 6. Tony Haggarty (Axiom Wealth Radical SR3RSX)
10. 47. Peter Clare (Shared Runway Radical SR3RS)
DNF. 16. Phil Anseline (WT Partnership Radical SR3RS) - 22-laps
DNF. 32. Sue Hughes (Hughes Motorsport Radical SR3RS) - 16-laps
DNF. 5. Simon Haggarty (Axiom Wealth Radical SR3RS) - 0-laps
1. 1. Peter Paddon (First Focus Radical SR3RS) - 29-laps
2. 68. Kim Burke (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RSX) +8.525
3. 3. David Crampton (Vantage Freight Radical SR3RSX) +10.111
4. 17. Peter Johnston (PJS Air Radical SR3RS) +13.197
5. 9. Chris Medland (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RS) +37.749
6. 5. Simon Haggarty (Axiom Wealth Radical SR3RS) - 28-laps
7. 47. Peter Clare (Shared Runway Radical SR3RS)
8. 88. Rowan Ross (Radical Australia Radical SR3RSX)
9. 32. Sue Hughes (Hughes Motorsport Radical SR3RS)
DNF. 52. Bill Medland (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RSX) - 21-laps
DNF. 86. Oliver Smith (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RSX) - 6-laps
DNF. 6. Tony Haggarty (Axiom Wealth Radical SR3RSX) - 0-laps
DNS. 16. Phil Anseline (WT Partnership Radical SR3RS)
Championship Points (after round five of five)
1. Peter Paddon (380-points), 2. Oliver Smith (263), 3. David Crampton (219), 4. Kim Burke (217), 5. Rowan Ross (180), 6. Chris Medland (179), 7. Tony Haggarty (170), 8. Peter Johnston (157), 9. Sue Hughes (138), 10. Michael Shaw (127), 11. Peter Clare (103), 12. Greg Kenny (89), 13. Michael Whiting (86), 14. Bill Medland (72), 15. Brad Neilson/Mitchell Neilson (66), 16. Simon Haggarty (47), 17. John Morriss (46), 18. James Winslow (34), 19. Nicholas Stavropolous (32), 20. Phil Anseline (30), 21. Simon Meade (28), 22. Richard Bloomfield (17), 23. Shane Barwood (16), 24. Gary Walker (12)