After six straight victories across three consecutive years, you could argue that three-time Radical Australia Cup champion Peter Paddon is the likely favourite for the 2018 title, but anyone that witnessed the opening round of the season unfold at Bathurst’s Mount Panorama, might not be so sure that anything is a ‘done deal’ despite the fact that Paddon went on to claim his seventh consecutive victory on the mountain.
The undeniable star of the race though wasn’t Paddon, rather the performance of Bathurst ‘rookie’ and new RAC recruit, Chris Perini, who qualified his SR3SRX second and finished within metres of Paddon’s car at the line after having led the race at the conclusion of the compulsory pit stops.
Perini had started the day strongly, qualifying second to Paddon in the hotly contested 30-minute combined practice and qualifying session, Paddon forced to get within four tenths of a second of his SR3 lap record to fend off the youngster, Kim Burke too taking a big step forward in the session to be classified third a mere seven one hundredths slower than Perini - all three within a second.
With practice and qualifying combined in one session this year, there were no second chances for teams to make any changes to the car, or their approach with just 30-minutes to get the job done. Sadly that meant anyone with a problem would also suffer. Bill Medland was sadly the first casualty with a bolt holding on the exhaust system failing, the team unable to effect repairs inside the allocated time, forcing Medland to start both races from rear of field.
Qualifying order for the opening race would be set by the fastest time of the session, whilst qualifying order for race two would be set by the second fastest lap time in the session, applying greater pressure to the drivers to put in not one, but two solid laps to gain any advantage for the two 45-minute races ahead.
Using his tyres from Highlands Motorsport Park from the end of season 2017, Paddon was in great form, although he admitted afterwards that the cooler conditions meant he wasn’t able to extract maximum performance from them until after the fourth lap, but once at temperature, he was quickly down to lap record pace, but whilst comfortable, he was also aware he was under attack.
Perini - who was one of the strong performers in the NSW SuperSport Series in 2017 - was immediately impressive, the GWR recruit quickly up to speed and second on the timesheets. He and Kim Burke - from whom Perini purchased his 2016 SR3RSX - locked in an epic battle over the final ten minutes that see-sawed between them as they got progressively quicker.
In the end Perini held Burke out, the two of them getting to within a second of Paddon, whilst behind them the returning Peter White - who won the 2015 Bathurst RAC round in an SR8 - was an impressive fourth after three years out of the saddle.
Michael Whiting too was impressive, putting in his best performance at Bathurst to be fifth, separating White from his 2015 nemesis Nick Kelly who was also back behind the wheel of an SR3 Radical having spent much of the time since his last Bathurst appearance behind the wheel of his SR8 in a variety of events around the country.
Behind the lead pack came a number of drivers who had made significant steps forward on their prior visits to the mountain, using personal best times to move up the field and take advantage for the two approaching compulsory pit stop events.
With race one only hours after the qualifying session, teams had little time to effect ‘radical’ change to their cars, one of those looking for a little more pace though was Paddon, who felt that despite falling just four tenths of a second shy of his own lap record, that there was more to come from the #1 First Focus machine.
“I’ve studied the data and found that with the older tyres, and a little more drag from the aero, that I was down up to 12kph on some of the corners compared to my 2017 race two best, but ultimately faster on Conrod despite feeling like I had no pace,” he explained. “When I looked at my 2017 data, I could only put it down to the difference in ambient temperature. Today we were lucky to have seen 20 degrees, whereas last year’s second race was held in temperatures above 40. It was an interesting discovery!”
With Perini looking determined to take the fight to Paddon, the reigning champion knew he had to make the perfect start and he did, leading the field into turn one and up Mountain Straight for the first time.
Up by more than a second across the line first time around, Kim Burke held third behind Perini with Peter White right under Burke’s rear wing - it was game-on!
Sadly turn two on the opening lap saw Michael Whiting spin from fifth, after being forced off line with Nick Kelly making a move to the inside under brakes. Whiting fortunately effected two 360 degree spins without contact with either rivals, nor walls, continuing on, but well down on the field.
Sadly Rowan Ross got caught up in the same incident, making contact with the barriers on the exit of the corner trying to avoid Whiting, the 2017 NSW SuperSport champion damaging his suspension, and forcing the brand new 2018 RSX down pit lane and into retirement.
Up front Paddon continued to push, however unlike previous years, his mirrors were full of the menacing red and black #81 entry of Perini, the rookie closing to within mere tenths of Paddon within a handful of laps, the pair racing away from the pack with Burke starting to fade although now clear of the battle between White and Kelly.
Behind the lead pack a great battle was unfolding between Phil Anseline, Peter Clare, Tony Haggarty and the recovering Michael Whiting who ultimately crossed the line sixth having turned in his best ever performance on Mount Panorama.
With the compulsory pit stop window open at the 15-minute mark of the race, strategy would become the turning point in the race, with Paddon first in allowing Perini clear air to push and try to effect the crossover after his stop.
Perini was quickly down pit lane, effecting a near perfect stop to rejoin as Paddon exited turn one, the two in a drag race up Mountain Straight, with Perini ultimately taking the lead with just 20-minutes remaining.
In the unusual position of attacker, rather than attackee.. Paddon stepped up his pace , the pair trading fastest sectors and fastest laps as they fought for any advantage. Paddon was trying everything in his playbook to close Perini down, going deep under brakes and trimming every apex he could to try to close the gap, a number of times going over the limit allowing Perini to pull away just a little more as the laps wound down.
Just four laps from home though they started to catch lapped traffic, ultimately coming across the Anseline-Clare-Haggarty-Whiting battle heading up the mountain, the one place Paddon could assert his experience, the three-time champion able to effect a pass on the battle-pack and Perini to take back the top spot with two laps to go.
Ultimately that allowed Paddon to extend his winning streak at Bathurst to seven-straight victories, with Perini given a rounding applause from his rivals on the team’s return to the pit garages, Paddon admitting that after taking back the lead, that he’d slowed to allow Perini to close in again over the final laps because he had enjoyed the battle so much.
Third across the line was Kim Burke, the experienced campaigner admitting that he hadn’t had the pace to stay with the leaders, but vowing to fight back in race two.
Peter White was a distant but well deserved fourth on his return after a three year hiatus, the SR8 regular admitting that he had felt every one of the final laps, lamenting a lack of race fitness for his return, although delighted that he’d taken the fight to his long-time rival Nick Kelly who was fifth.
Michael Whiting’s recovery from his opening lap spin would have been the highlight of the race had Chris Perini not stolen that mantel, the RAC veteran turning in a brilliant drive to work his way from last to sixth by the chequered flag having caught and passed Chris Medland within sight of the finish.
Peter Clare was classified eighth behind Medland, having finally gotten the better of Phil Anseline over the closing laps, the Shared Runway driver wearing a broad smile after his best ever run at Bathurst, whilst Tony Haggarty was tenth having watched the fight between Anseline and Clare unfold from a safe distance.
Nick Stavropolous turned in another solid performance on his return to Bathurst, the man who stunned the field with an epic performance in race two last year unable to find that form, instead suffering a big off at turn one whilst holding down seventh, before a number of spins during his recovery, eleventh his ultimate reward.
Greg Kenny, like many of his rivals, returned a 12th place finish, his best on the mountain, with a three second improvement on his best lap time from 2017, with Bill Medland lamenting a lack of practice laps to be 13th at the line, one place ahead of Sue Hughes and her team-mates David Crampton and Anthony Davis.
Hughes was all smiles (not unusual) post-race admitting she’d enjoyed a much better time after what she declared was a heart stopping experience in qualifying after she’d decided to tackle the mountain for the first time with reduced aero (and therefore reduced drag). “The race was much nicer, and I really started to enjoy the way the car moved around.”
For Crampton and Davis though they were looking for a little more, although with double-duty on the cards for the weekend, with the third-placed finisher in last year’s championship also contesting the Bathurst 12-Hour enduro for the first time in a GT4 car, Crampton explained that he was looking for points and a co-driver capable of supporting him and bringing the car home in one piece. Mission accomplished!
For the teams, there is little time to relax, with the second race of the season underway at Bathurst at 1:50pm on Saturday afternoon (3 February). The second race will be streamed LIVE on www.bathurst12hour.com.au with live timing also available.
What the drivers had to say:
1. Peter Paddon (First Focus Radical SR3RS)
“Chris [Perini] has really got some serious speed, it was a really fun race - I made it difficult for myself in a couple of places, but it was enjoyable. I got him in the lapped traffic, and I think he was a bit unlucky, I went left around them and he went right around them and my line was moving a bit quicker, so I managed to get past him and then make the best of the traffic. Before that I’d gotten a bit frustrated that I wasn’t in front, so I made a few moves and was a bit ambitious in a couple of spots and pinched the front brakes a couple of times, so it was right on the edge.”
2. Chris Perini (GWR Radical SR3RSX)
“That was fantastic, I really enjoyed the battle with Pete [Paddon] but in the end, it was all ruined by lapped traffic and a lack of blue flags, it would have been good to take the fight all the way down to the line. To finish so close to someone who has dominated the category so much over recent years was a great way to start my RAC career, and fortunately, we have another chance to do it all over again tomorrow, with Peter on P1 and me alongside him!”
Rnd#1 2018 Radical Australia Cup
Mount Panorama, Bathurst, NSW
2 February, 2018
1. Peter Paddon (First Focus Radical SR3RS) - 2:12.7644
2. Chris Perini (GWR Radical SR3RSX) - 2:13.9915
3. Kim Burke (Radical Australia Radical SR3RSX) - 2:14.0107
4. Peter White (First Neon Radical SR3RS) - 2:16.3663
5. Nick Kelly (Industries Radical SR3RS) - 2:18.7589
6. Michael Whiting (Taylor Collison Radical SR3RS) - 2:19.1985
7. Nicholas Stavropolous Radical SR3RS) - 2:19.7814
8. Phil Anseline (WT Partnership Radical SR3RS) - 2:21.0183
9. Tony Haggarty (Axiom Wealth Radical SR3RS) - 2:21.5174
10. Chris Medland (Radical Australia Radical SR3RS) - 2:21.5352
11. Peter Clare (Shared Runway Radical SR3RS) - 2:21.9972
12. Rowan Ross (Radical Australia Radical SR3RS) - 2:22.0477
13. Greg Kenny (Radical Australia Radical SR3RS) - 2:23.1484