A new era was ushered into the Radical Australia Cup on the series’ debut at the all-new ‘The Bend Motorsport Park’ in South Australia, with two ‘rookie’ teams taking top honours - one of them, the round victory after a weekend that presented some of the most challenging weather events in the championship’s ten year history.
Ultimately wins went to 2017 RAC ‘Rookies of the Year’ Brad and Mitchell Neilson and rookie-sensation Chris Perini, whilst for three-time champion and the points leader coming into The Bend - Peter Paddon - it was a weekend of two halves, a weekend where the man who took the win in the Prototype Series support race, failed to finish on the podium in the Cup for the first time in almost 12-months - twice - after electrical issues stalled his progress.
From the outset the overall impression of the new 7.7-kilometre ‘The Bend’ was one of awe, despite the fact that the Radicals - like much of the Nationals field for the weekend - was using the shorter 4.95-kilometre National circuit, but whilst everyone was impressed at just how quickly the new facility had come online to be ready, mother nature was the one element that the organisers just couldn’t control.
High winds and heavy rain played havoc with both on and off track activities, the least of which was the high amount of sand and dust blown onto the circuit which made track conditions a changing brief by the lap.
With Paddon late in to the circuit on Friday, Supercar part-timer and RAC driver coach Tony D’Alberto laid down the benchmark time in opening practice, whilst in session two, Bathurst winner Kim Burke was the pace-setter. By the final practice session though, it was the returning James Winslow - who had been out of a driving seat for months after a huge crash in the Middle East when his prototype suffered brake failure - who showed he’d lost little of his renowned abilities to extract speed from an SR3 to take the top spot.
With day one over, the next step was qualifying first up on Saturday morning with the wind starting to pick up, and rain threatening, but ultimately no-one could stop Winslow who would go on to set the fastest two laps of the session to claim pole position for both races for he and team-mate - ‘The Bend’s’ own Yasser Shahin.
Kim Burke continued on his promising opening round form with the second fastest time for both sessions, whilst Paddon - who hadn’t enjoyed as much track time on Friday as his rivals - was third ahead of title rival Chris Perini.
The returning Simon Haggarty was right in the mix at the front of the field, as was an in-form Chris Medland who clearly loved the flow of the new circuit to be right on the tail of the lead pack ahead of Tony Haggarty, brother Bill Medland, the Neilson’s and Bathurst star Michael Whiting.
By race time the threatening weather delivered, both driving rain and strong winds, making conditions uncomfortable for the RAC regulars as they sat patiently on the dummy grid ahead of the start.
Off the line, Paddon made a great jump in an effort to try and make an early breakthrough on cold tyres, but against the experience of Winslow, he was unable to make it stick allowing the Englishman to lead from fellow front row starter Kim Burke.
With the unpredictable weather, Bathurst sensation Chris Perini made a strategy call and dived into the pits as the field met the starter, changing from wet weather tyres to slicks, the rookie feeling there was enough grip to justify the move, although ultimately a Safety Car intervention and a delayed pit stop would sabotage that plan..
With the wild weather continuing to circle the venue, teams were forced to make a judgment call on what to do during their compulsory pit stops as Perini was comfortably the fastest on track and starting to haul in the leaders. Ultimately some changed, and others didn’t, but it became a moot point with Paddon coming off the circuit on lap four and struggling to rejoin after an electrical failure in the car.
As soon as the pit stop window opened, a number of drivers hit pit lane, including Burke and Michael Whiting who had been making steady progress towards the front of the field.
With Winslow disappearing into the distance, the race seemed to be a foregone conclusion, but ultimately the Safety Car appeared to recover Paddon, with the Englishman unable to effect his stop before the window had closed to hand the car to Shahin. To make matters worse, the race was declared early due to schedule constraints, with the Safety Car yet to pull in and with Winslow unable to effect his stop, ultimately seeing the exclusion of the #7 entry, which to that point hadn’t put a foot wrong.
That handed 2017 rookie stars Brad and Mitch Neilson their maiden Radical Australia Cup victory after a storming drive by Mitch Neilson off position nine to pit without any lengthy additional compensation time and hand father Brad a big advantage he carried through to the final racing lap. Category stalwart Chris Medland finished an equally impressive second, whilst Simon Haggarty’s return to the Cup netted a podium finish.
Michael Whiting’s shorter pit stop compensation time to Bathurst winner Kim Burke allowed him to leap-frog the - now - points leader during the stop, with Burke fifth ahead of Rowan Ross, Tony Haggarty, Bill Medland, Peter Clare and Greg Kenny.
Sue Hughes crossed the line in P11, just ahead of Perini - who like Winslow - had gambled, and lost out on what could have been the decision of the year to pit on the opening lap.
Fortunately Sunday morning’s second race saw a vast improvement in weather conditions for the 8:00am start which again saw the #07 entry at the pointy end of the field. Track conditions were damp, but not damp enough for wets allowing the experienced campaigners to make a quicker start on the run into turn one, second row starters Paddon and Perini making it four wide into the braking point for the right hander, Paddon emerging as race leader.
Less than half a lap in though Paddon lost the lead back to Shahin, the three-time champion clearly not happy in the car, and just a lap and a half later he was back into the pits and retirement with an electrical problem that was affecting his gear shifts.
That allowed Shahin to run ahead comfortably, whilst behind him Perini was looking for a way past Kim Burke so that Shahin didn’t get too far ahead, Perini - and the rest of the field - aware that the track owner would be in the pits to hand back to Winslow who was keen to make amends for the frustration of race one.
Shahin’s lead though quickly evaporated with the appearance of the Safety Car to recover Michael Whiting and Rowan Ross who had come together mid-lap in a battle for position, the pair forced to join Paddon in retirement.
With the Safety Car finally off the circuit the field charged away again, and with the pit stop window opening soon after, a number of cars dived down pit lane to make their stops, Burke from P2 enduring a stop some 20-seconds longer than Perini who stopped behind him, but ten seconds shorter than Winslow who would take over from Shahin by lap 12.
Sue Hughes had been working away mid-pack to gain a stronger position after the compulsory stops, the brilliant green and white SR3 pitting from the lead as the final car down pit lane, rejoining in position eight.
By that stage Perini was through to the lead and charging away, knowing full well that he had Winslow closing in with every lap, the Englishman setting the fastest sportscar lap of the weekend across all classes to put down a 1:50.5111 on the final rotation to cross the line second just six seconds in arrears from an elated Perini who went on to deliver on the promise he had shown during the season opener at Bathurst.
Kim Burke crossed the line third for a great haul of championship points that would ultimately deliver him the top of the points table with a very handy lead, whilst Simon Haggarty completed a solid return to Radical competition with fourth.
Brad and Mitchell Neilson’s fifth place also handed them the round victory, whilst Chris Medland’s sixth gave him third outright for The Bend’s maiden event behind Simon Haggarty who was second overall.
Tony Haggarty came through for seventh ahead of Bill Medland and Greg Kenny, whilst Sue Hughes crossed the line in position ten, clear of Peter Clare who had recovered from an early spin.
For the Radical Australia Cup teams, a return to Melbourne’s Sandown Park will be their next chance to continue on the title battle, with a great fight brewing between runaway championship points leader Kim Burke, race two winner Chris Perini and three-time champion Peter Paddon who has it all in front of him at an event notorious for inclement weather.
What the driver’s had to say;
Mitchell Neilson (Race#1 winner)
“Tailem Bend is an amazing circuit, it's a high speed, high commitment track which suits the Radicals really well. Overall the complex is really impressive and has to be right up there with the best in Australia and it is a great asset for Australian Motorsport. For us it was fantastic to get our first race win and round win at The Bend's first ever event, which makes it just that little bit more sweet. Moving forward we are looking to carry that momentum into the next round at Sandown in three weeks and hopefully bag some solid points towards the championship.”
Chris Perini (Race#2 winner)
“That was a fantastic result after the frustrations of race one. I have to say a massive thank you to GWR for their support and perseverance both on and off the track to give me a car that was capable of taking the fight to some pretty serious competition. The circuit was fantastic, I can’t wait to come back, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to chase down Kim Burke at Sandown!”
Rnd#2 2018 Radical Australia Cup
The Bend Motorsport Park, South Australia
13-15 April, 2018
1. 7. Yasser Shahin/James Winslow (The Bend Radical SR3RSX) - 1:52.9470
2. 68. Kim Burke (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RSX) - 1:53.8231
3. 1. Peter Paddon (First Focus Radical SR3RS) - 1:54.2994
6. 9. Chris Medland (Radical Australia Radical SR3RS)
7. 6. Tony Haggarty (Axiom Wealth Radical SR3RSX)
8. 52. Bill Medland (Radical Australia Radical SR3RSX)
9. 56. Greg Kenny (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RS)
10. 32. Sue Hughes (Hughes Motorsport Radical SR3RS)
11. 47. Peter Clare (Shared Runway Radical SR3RS) - 22-laps
DNF. 88. Rowan Ross (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RSX) - 3-laps
DNF. 33. Michael Whiting (Taylor Collision Radical SR3RS) - 3-laps
DNF. 1. Peter Paddon (First Focus Radical SR3RS) - 2-laps
Championship Points (after two rounds of six)
1. Kim Burke (124-points), 2. Chris Medland (87), 3. Chris Perini (86), 4. Tony Haggarty (78), 5. Peter Paddon (74), 6. Bill Medland (67), 7. Brad/Mitchell Neilson (64), 8. Michael Whiting (61), 9. Simon Haggarty (57), 10. Peter Clare (55), 11. Nick Kelly (51), 12. Sue Hughes (50), 13. Nicholas Stavropolous (47), 14. Rowan Ross (42), 15. Greg Kenny (40), 16. Yasser Shahin/James Winslow (38), 17. Phil Anseline (34), 18. Peter White (27), 19. David Crampton (21)