Championship points leader Kim Burke enjoyed a season high 77 points during a challenging weekend at Melbourne’s Sandown Park, to extend his Radical Australia Cup points lead at the mid-point of the season after claiming his second win of the year.
Also enjoying a return to the top step of the podium after a four-year absence was long-time Radical competitor Simon Haggarty, whilst new Radical recruit John-Paul Drake capped off a fantastic debut with a podium finish in both 50-minute races.
Typically Melbourne in late Spring can be a testing place to be, and Mother Nature unleashed a variety of challenges across the weekend, making tyre choice difficult, but ultimately it was points leader Kim Burke who carried his impressive 2018 form to pole for both races, despite the pace being set - unofficially - by James Winslow early in the weekend, the RAC driver coach assisting new recruit John-Paul Drake with his transition across to the mighty SR3RS of Chris Medland.
By the time the grid was set for the two races, Burke emerged the pace-setter, his 1:13.4662 an indication of the track condition, with James Winslow’s 2017 qualifying lap record of 1:11.8149 remaining intact for another year. Behind him, race lap record holder Simon Haggarty was second quickest for both races, ahead of Chris Perini and Tony Haggarty. South Australian top point-scorers Brad and Mitch Neilson claimed a start from the third row despite Mitch Neilson’s impressive pace which was good enough for a front row start, but on combined times, they would kick off from the third row.
With the weather dry but cool for the start of the opening race, Kim Burke charged off the line with the two HRT entries of Simon Haggarty and Tony Haggarty in close pursuit, Tony spectacular off the start to charge to third. Sadly it was relatively short-lived after suffering a spin at Dandenong Road corner having not quite established enough tyre temperature in his control Dunlops, dropping him to rear-of-field as a result.
Tony Haggarty’s misfortune though had handed JP Drake a net gain, with Rowan Ross forced wide to avoid the #6 RSX which was sideways across the exit of the corner, Drake went inside to gain a place to set off in pursuit of Mitchell Neilson and Chris Perini ahead.
Burke was first in once the compulsory pit stop window opened, and with a 15-second success penalty on top of the standard 60-second stop he knew he needed to make a clean getaway, but despite achieving just that he emerged behind Simon Haggarty after the HRT driver had effected his stop having punched out a sequence of hot laps before coming down pit lane.
Sadly, in an almost identical position to his father on the opening lap, Simon’s lead came unstuck with less than 20-minutes to go, losing the tail of his SR3 on the exit of Dandenong Road corner, handing Kim Burke a big lead. Haggarty’s charge back to the tail of Burke was one of the highlights of the closing laps, the #5 entry crossing the line just nine tenths of a second down on Burke, despite having been more than 11-seconds behind at one point.
That fight wasn’t the only one keeping the fans on their feet, the battle between John-Paul Drake and Chris Perini over third too was intense, Drake lamenting a spin at turn two after his stop which allowed Perini to recover the 40-seconds he’d lost to Drake during the pit-stop [by virtue of his compensation time], but in the end JP too prevailed, although by just three one hundredths of a second at the line.
Brad Neilson crossed the line in position five, ahead of the recovering Tony Haggarty who suffered a big off across the top late in the race, fortunately without drama, to claim sixth. Sadly for Rowan Ross, he too suffered an off at the top of the circuit, spinning into the barriers on the damp grass, forcing his retirement on lap three, providing the RA Motorsports crew with some heavy work to do ahead of the second 50-minute race later in the day.
Off pole for the second race of the weekend, Kim Burke wasn’t about to let Simon Haggarty get too close, the points leader charging away at the front of the field as behind him Simon Haggarty once more had his mirrors full of his father’s #6 entry before Chris Perini charged into third by the close of the opening lap.
John-Paul Drake too looked menacing again early, eventually passing Tong Haggarty for fourth seven laps in, before a procession of cars hit pit lane as soon as the pit window opened, Kim Burke forced to endure a much longer stop by virtue of his race one win. That was all the incentive Simon Haggarty needed, although as the laps wound down his mirrors were once more filled with the brilliant multi-coloured livery of Burke, in that menacing Mark Webber-esque yellow helmet.
Despite immense pressure from Burke, Haggarty held his ground to score his first outright win since 2014, with Burke content to be second to card the biggest haul of points for the season and extend his championship points lead. Again - as it had been in race one - much of the late race focus was on the battle for third, with Chris Perini setting the fastest lap of the race on his charge through to the tail of Drake lamenting an off at turn one after trying a passing move under brakes.
As that was happening Mitch Neilson was forced into recovery mode after his own spin on the exit of turn four, fortunately without damage, although a slow run to the pits to check the condition of the #38 entry dropped him to rear of field after being within reach of the podium battle between Drake and Perini.
Despite an epic effort over the closing laps, Perini was forced to settle once more for fourth, this time six tenths down on Drake, although the pair were 16-seconds back from the battle for the lead, with Haggarty weathering all of Burke’s attentions for the win.
Rowan Ross crossed the line fifth with full credit going to the RA Motorsports team who had worked feverishly after the opening race incident to have him ready for race two, Tony Haggarty carding a solid haul of points in sixth, ahead of Mitch Neilson who crossed the line three laps down on the leaders after his spin.
For the Radical Australia Cup teams, next round is one of the most popular on the calendar, an event that regularly shakes up the championship, with a visit to the Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit on the first weekend in June as part of the Shannons Nationals for two more 50-minute races, Phillip Island also recently revealed as the host event of the season finale on 2-4 November to cap off the tenth season of the Cup.
Rnd#3 2018 Radical Australia Cup
Sandown Motor Raceway, Melbourne, Victoria
11-13 May, 2018
Qualifying - Race#1
1. 68. Kim Burke (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RSX) - 1:13.4662
2. 5. Simon Haggarty (Axiom Wealth Radical SR3RS) - 1:14.0607
3. 81. Chris Perini (GWR Radical SR3RSX) - 1:14.9592
4. 6. Tony Haggarty (Axiom Wealth Radical SR3RSX) - 1:15.1923
1. Kim Burke (201-points), 2. Chris Perini (141), 3. Tony Haggarty (122), 4. Brad/Mitchell Neilson (108), 5. Simon Haggarty (92), 6. Chris Medland (87), 7. Peter Paddon (74), 8. Bill Medland (67), 9. Rowan Ross (66), 10. Michael Whiting (61), 11. J-P Drake (60), 12. Peter Clare (55), 13. Nick Kelly (51), 14. Sue Hughes (50), 15. Nicholas Stavropolous (47), 16. Greg Kenny (40), 17. Yasser Shahin/James Winslow (38), 18. Phil Anseline (34), 19. Peter White (27), 20. David Crampton (21)