Against the odds, recovering Radical Australia driver coach James Winslow and team-mate, The Bend Motorsport Park’s Yasser Shahin, have claimed back-to-back victories at Phillip Island during the fourth event of the 2018 season, the popular duo overcoming a huge race two pitstop compensation penalty to claim the round win from mother and son combination Sue Hughes and Jon Collins, and runaway championship points leader Kim Burke.
Traditionally Phillip Island mid-year can throw up all weather conditions, but whilst every day dawned cold to kick of another southern winter, conditions through the day couldn’t have been more perfect, although despite ideal ambient temperatures, no-one in the end could touch Michael Shaw’s 2014 Radical SR3 lap record of 1:30.7320, the teams struggling to get their control Dunlop tyres to optimal working temperature in the cool air.
Winslow set the pace in opening practice, the Englishman showing no outward signs of his 2017 LMP3 crash in the Middle East that saw him bed-ridden for some months afterwards, his 1:32.1473 in the morning’s first session ultimately the quickest of the day as he shared driving duties in the #66 he would drive with Shahin, and the #68 of points leader Kim Burke.
Perhaps the most impressive drive on the day though was former F3 and new LMP3 driver Nathan Kumar, the New South Welshman drafted in by Winslow for the weekend, and like Shahin and Burke, taking valuable pointers from the former Le Mans star.
Making it three former F3 regulars in the top three by the close of practice was Jon Collins, the 2015 Australian Driver’s champion third fastest, having helped mother Sue to an improvement in her performance due to a last-minute seating change to accommodate Collins.
Mitchell Neilson was beaming like a Cheshire Cat after his first laps of Phillip Island, the South Australian round winner and reigning RAC rookie-of-the-year (both alongside father Brad) getting quicker with each run despite a niggling electrical challenge which saw the car crawl back to the pits a couple of times after picking up an engine warning signal.
Whilst Winslow would top the timesheets in the early morning session with a new SR3 qualifying lap record of 1:31.1530, alongside Yasser Shahin, the pair would ultimately start third behind title rivals Kim Burke (1:31.9274) and Chris Perini (1:32.0959) on combined times.
Sadly for Nathan Kumar, a stunning 1:31.5606 - also under the standing qualifying lap record - would ultimately be negated after the rookie was found to be mere grams underweight post-session, forcing a disappointing rear-of-field start. For Saturday afternoon’s opening race all eyes were on the title fight between the two front-row starters, although it was the fast-starting Yasser Shahin who got away best to lead down to turn four the first time around. Much further back Nathan Kumar started his long journey forward, the RAC rookie more than 20-seconds down on the field at the close of lap one after starting from pit lane, but he’d very quickly find himself further forward by the close of the compulsory pit stops.
With Shahin opening a gap over the field ahead of his stop, behind him Kim Burke held title rival Chris Perini at bay, although both very quickly came under fire from a charging Mitch Neilson who ultimately worked his way past both to be second by lap 11, before he ultimately hit pit lane for his stop eight laps later as race leader.
Brad Neilson emerged from pit lane with the lead intact, but with a hard charging James Winslow pumping out a sequence of laps in the low 31s to haul in the #38 machine which was still suffering an intermittent electrical issue. That issue ultimately lost the Neilsons 30 seconds over the final lap alone, dropping them to rear of field before the flag.
In the end, no one could stop the charging Winslow, the Englishman taking he and team-mate Shahin to the win by almost 20 seconds over a fast-finishing Jon Collins, with reigning NSW SuperSports champion Rowan Ross a well deserved third.
Sadly for Nathan Kumar, a record 31-laps in the books saw the rookie weigh in just grams underweight in post race scrutineering, dropping him from the results after crossing the line a brilliant second to Winslow, the additional fuel burn across the final laps bringing him just under the minimum mark.
Kim Burke was a content but disappointed fourth having conceded 25-seconds to title rival Perini during the compulsory pit stop, although despite the setback, he’d actually extended his championship points lead over his rival.
Peter Clare was an ecstatic fifth after setting a sequence of personal bests across the day, the ‘Shared Runway’ driver lamenting a complete turnaround on his 2017 performance which was blighted by contact with the barriers at Southern Loop in qualifying, his lap times this year at times faster than anyone on track!
Sadly for Chris Perini, his opening race ended after contact with Clare at Southern Loop upset the balance of the car, whilst a stalled engine on the entry to pit-lane behind Nathan Kumar (who almost came to a complete stop ahead of Perini as he hit the control line) dropped him 15-seconds as he fought to refire the car and complete his stop.
For Sunday’s second race, James Winslow lamented that he and Yasser Shahin would be in damage control mode, their 125-second compulsory stop (by virtue of Winslow’s driver grading and their race one success) would require a miracle should they manage to make the podium for the second 50-minute journey around the Island - but as they say, you can always believe in a miracle..!
Winslow was outstanding off the line, charging from the second row to split Burke and Perini on the run down to Southern Loop to open out a three second lead on the first rotation before ultimately pitting with the lead out to almost 20-seconds.
His pit-stop timing was impeccable and a lap earlier than originally scheduled, but just as he pulled down pit entry, the field came under the control of the Safety Car to recover the stricken #88 entry of Rowan Ross who had gone into the tyre barriers on the outside of turn two.
Ross appeared to have clipped the inside kerb on the run into Southern Loop, forcing him wide and off-line on the exit and into the gravel trap at speed. He managed to wash off some of his pace before contact with the tyre barriers, but was able to extract himself from the car and walk back to the medical car with officials. Shaken but no stirred, the RAC veteran was an immediate retirement, but officials allowed the field to contest a handful more laps to allow the race to be declared with time allocated to repair the fence ahead of the next race.
Sadly for Jon Collins, who had worked his way into second and ultimately the lead as Winslow hit pit lane, he hadn’t effected his stop before the Safety Car intervention, so was forced down pit lane the lap the Safety Car pulled in, ultimately losing his advantage and track position to everyone else in the field.
As a result of their timely pit stop, Winslow and Shahin not only negated their 45-second pit stop compensation penalty, but they also gained a lap on the field as all but Collins had hit pit lane ahead of them. That message was relayed to Shahin who on the restart had pounced on the pack ahead of him, to ultimately start putting them a lap down, but in the end, he backed off to ensure the team’s comfortable victory, with Nathan Kumar finally making good on the promise he’d shown since opening practice, to claim second.
Chris Perini too was rewarded for his renowned 2018 pace with third, whilst a smiling Kim Burke was “satisified” with fourth, and a minor extension in his points lead heading back to Sydney Motorsport Park in September. Peter Clare was all smiles with his career best weekend, claiming fifth for the second race, ahead of Mitch and Brad Neilson who likewise couldn’t wipe the smiles from their faces after what had been an outstanding weekend on their debut at Phillip Island.
For the Radical Australia Cup teams, the next round sees a return ‘home’ to Sydney Motorsport Park on 21-23 September, the home-base of Radical Australia, at a circuit that much of the field knows intimately, with a strong local field expected to add to the RAC regulars as they all look to make an impact on Kim Burke’s almost insurmountable championship points lead.
What the driver’s had to say;
1. 66. Yasser Shahin/James Winslow (Radical Australia Radical SR3RS)
“I feel great in the car and the Radical has obviously got good aero, so it was a good test for me and my fitness levels. Yasser did a great job in the car, especially yesterday where he was able to open out a 12-second lead before he handed me the car which made my job a lot easier.”
“Sometimes lady luck turns your way. We both did a great job off the start, without that we wouldn’t be here, so all good, I’m very happy and thanks to James for all his help.”
2. 32. Sue Hughes/Jon Collins (Hughes Motorsports Radical SR3RS)
“To accommodate Jon we had to move the seat back, and that turns out where it was best suited to me too. We had a great time, he pushed me all the way, it was a fantastic weekend.”
“It was an awesome weekend, it was good to be back in a Radical. I haven’t driven an aero car in a bit over a year so it took a little while to get back into the swing of things. Unfortunately things didn’t work out with the Safety Car, but aside from that it’s been a fantastic weekend.”
3. 68. Kim Burke (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RSX)
“Obviously a good weekend overall for us, I don’t really think I drove my best this weekend. The car was excellent by the end of the weekend, but I guess I did what I had to do. Full credit to the team and the mechanics who did a super job with the car. Now we go to Sydney Motorsport Park with the pressure off and we can try to win some races.”
Rnd#4 2018 Radical Australia Cup
Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, Victoria
1-3 June, 2018
Qualifying - Race#1
1. 68. Kim Burke (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RSX) - 1:31.9274
2. 81. Chris Perini (GWR Radical SR3RSX) - 1:32.0959
DNF. 88. Rowan Ross (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RSX) - 14-laps
Championship Points (after four rounds of six)
1. Kim Burke (255-points), 2. Chris Perini (193), 3. Brad/Mitchell Neilson (150), 4. Tony Haggarty (122), 5. Yasser Shahin/James Winslow (122), 6. Sue Hughes (105), 7. Peter Clare (103), 8. Rowan Ross (96), 9. Simon Haggarty (92), 10. Chris Medland (87), 11. Peter Paddon (74), 12. Bill Medland (67), 13. Michael Whiting (61), 14. J-P Drake (60), 15. Jon Collins (55), 16. Nick Kelly (51), 17. Nicholas Stavropolous (47), 18. Greg Kenny (40), 19. Nathan Kumar (35), 20. Phil Anseline (34), 21. Peter White (27), 22. David Crampton (21)