An impressive field of entries assembled for the opening round of the eleventh season of Radical Australia Cup, with no less than three former champions holding seven titles between them entered, alongside a rising star, a part-time racing driver - who holds one of Australia’s most coveted entertainment awards - and one of Australia’s next great international hopefuls, all lining up for a chance to do battle on arguably the world’s greatest circuit.
Ultimately despite some spirited laps during qualifying, a pole advantage of just five one hundredths of a second, and some great promise from a number of Radical rookies, the season opener would be marred by Safety Car interventions, technical issues and a number of post-race penalties which only served to mix up the result and keep everyone on their toes. In the end, victory was delivered to the team who weathered the challenges best, with a bit of experienced logic aiding the journey, Brad and Mitchell Neilson prevailing over Chris Perini and former champion Neale Muston.
Unlike 2018 which saw a combined practice/qualifying session of 30-minutes ahead of the opening race of the year, 2019 saw two 20-minute sessions provided for teams to dial themselves in, with the starting order of the opening race set by the fastest time set by each team’s amateur driver from both sessions, whilst the race two grid would be set by the second fastest time of that driver.
12-months ago Chris Perini had put the established stars on notice during his maiden Bathurst event in Radical Australia Cup, the former Superbike rider pushing reigning champion Peter Paddon all the way to the line in the opening race, before suffering an off in the second race whilst leading.
Keen to impress upon his rivals the experience he gained across the 2018 season, Perini was intent on taking the fight to Paddon and all comers, the 2018 series runner-up battling lap after lap in the second 20-minute session, trading places with Paddon at the top of the timesheets before finally claiming the top spot with just minutes to go - the margin in the end just five one hundredths of a second.
“Honestly it didn’t feel fast, so I was surprised when the team sent me a message saying I was quickest,” Perini admitted.
Like his rivals, Perini was forced to contend with a new tyre for the weekend, with the 2019 season adopting the new Hankook Ventus F200 control tyre, a product that outside of limited testing, teams had little data on.
“It’s a slightly harder but more predictable compound,” Peter Paddon explained. “I tested with it briefly, and will be interested to see how it compares under race conditions with the outgoing Dunlop which took about 3-4 laps to work up to optimum temperature.”
As it turned out, qualifying times were short of the 2:12.6212 pole time set by Paddon in 2018, but Perini was still able to record not just pole for race one, but two-from-two with team-mate Paddon alongside.
Third for both races was former champion Neale Muston in the SR3RS used to great effect by Nick Stavropolous at Bathurst over the last two seasons, the three-time champion though unable to get to within 1.7-seconds of Perini and Paddon on his best lap.
The returning Simon Haggarty was fourth fastest overall, with Radical rookie Grant Denyer fifth, the part-time racer and media personality admitting that he was impressed with his debut run in the open-cockpit formula where he would drive alongside fellow local Brad Shiels who dominated the opening practice session in the Pennells family team entry.
Michael Whiting was one of the stars of the 2018 Radical round at Bathurst and he was again right in the mix in qualifying, setting the sixth fastest time ahead of Phil Anseline for race one, and Brad Neilson in race two, the latter having effected the save of the day in the Esses after coming over Skyline slightly off-line, the former Rookie of the Year explaining that he was more than a second up on his previous best in his first RAC event on The Mountain.
Fortunately he was able to gather it up, but his lap time was negated, leaving him seventh.
Phil Anseline was eighth on his Bathurst return, the long-time Radical driver having taken on the SR3RSX that Ollie Smit had put to such good use over past seasons, interestingly he pipped 2011 champion Ed Singleton by the best part of a second on Singleton’s return to the category in Anseline’s previous car!
A 7:00am start was a shock to most as the field assembled on the dummy grid ahead of the opening race of the 2019 Radical Australia Cup, a race which would deliver one of the most challenging Bathurst’s in recent years.
Off pole position for the rolling start, Chris Perini led the field into turn one with Peter Paddon locked in just off his right rear wheel, Perini though prevailing in the drag race to turn two.
Behind them Neal Muston held out Simon Haggarty, whilst Brad Shiels held out a three-wide battle between Phil Anseline, Ed Singleton and a fast-starting Greg Kenny, but it was further back where trouble would strike after Michael Whiting locked a brake as he turned into turn one, sandwiched between Rowan Ross and Joey Mawson, the ultimate result of which was déjà vu for Whiting as he spun on the exit dropping to rear of field (a similar result to Whiting’s opening race at Bathurst in 2018).
Behind Whiting it was mayhem as cars took avoiding action, Mawson, Chris Medland and Aaron Love lucky to avoid contact, although Medland was forced down the grass losing wholesale positions to have to work his way back through the field.
Perini held Paddon at bay as long as he could, but was ultimately forced to relinquish the position to his rival, and then very quickly Brad Shiels who was charging through the field, the local driver working his way to the front, but with co-driver Grant Denyer unable to make the circuit due to on-air commitments, Shiels would be faced with a number of time penalties post-race by virtue of completing the distance alone as a Pro driver.
Unfortunately the team would be excluded post-race for a weight infringement, overshadowing an epic drive by the local star, who on the way he had also reset Peter Paddon’s 2017 lap record to a 2:12.0, the time though ultimately disallowed after the penalty, but for the local PMF Motorsport team of David and Stuart Pennells, they had shown they would be serious challengers for the win in race two.
Teenage rookie Aaron Love was having a great start to his maiden event in an SR3, the West Australian at one stage up to fifth before an intermittent electrical issue saw the car drop down the order, before being part of an incident with Michael Whiting at the final corner at the end of lap four. After passing Whiting for position, Love had dramas again with the electrics shutting things down as he came into the final corner, at the same time Whiting had a lurid spin on the exit and stalled sideways across the circuit. Love managed to refire the car and continue, whilst Whiting became the first retirement of the race.
That brought out the Safety Car, but the field lost just a lap before they were able to continue, and with the pit stop window now open, and under immense fire from Shiels, Paddon elected to immediately pit, as did Brad Neilson who would hand over to son Mitch who amazingly had arrived at Bathurst at 3:00am that morning after returning from overseas.
It was at this stage of the race, that returning 2011 champion Ed Singleton had a drama at the top of the mountain whilst holding down sixth position, the - now - heritage touring car competitor coming unstuck at the Dipper, damaging the right front of the car.
Just prior, Rowan Ross had suffered his own technical troubles coming down the mountain, the series veteran pulling the car to the inside of the circuit on the exit of Forrest’s Elbow, leaving officials two vehicles to recover.
With Paddon and Mitch Neilson having conducted their compulsory stops, and the bulk of the field left to complete theirs the lap after the second Safety Car period, they were the two teams in a box seat to take home a podium result, with Paddon the one most likely to add another SR3 victory to his already impressive tally of seven wins.
Sadly though fate would soon intervene despite Paddon driving comfortably off into the distance, a broken hose clamp on the cooling system dumping water which saw the engine temperature rise forcing the ECU to shut down the engine, handing a surprised Mitch Neilson an incredible lead of almost 60-seconds over Chris Perini.
With just a couple of laps to go, Perini charged gaining on Neilson at more than five seconds a lap but time was against him, although he initially crossed the line believing he’d won, having not realised the #38 had made the decision to stop immediately after the first Safety Car..
Neale Muston was ultimately classified third on his return to the Cup, although lamenting that a lack of recent miles in a Radical kept him from attacking the leaders, although he promised to make amends in the second race, whilst for Radical rookie Brenton Griguol, he started the event in fasntasic form, taking an impressive fourth place despite having to pit twice, the first time by mistake, outside of the pit window.
After his early setback avoiding Michael Whiting, Chris Medland turned in one of his best Bathurst performances to be sixth ahead of Greg Kenny, whilst Simon Haggarty’s eighth was as a result of a 60-second penalty for pitting outside the window, a radio failure on the grid, and a subsequent setback with a backup system to advise him to pit, seeing him drop from inside the top four.
Bill Medland was ninth, a good recovery from a rear of field start which came as a result of being underweight at the end of qualifying, whilst Peter Clare and Joey Mawson were tenth, a result more reflective of the play of Safety Cars than the real pace of the #47 Shared Runway entry.
Despite his setbacks, Aaron Love was classified 11th with the fifth fastest time of the race, with the second of the PMF Motorsport entries of David Pennells and Matthew Windsor 12th, whilst Anthony Davis was classified 13th after coming down pit lane on the roll-around lap with a technical issue, losing almost a lap to the leaders in the process.
The second Bathurst race will be contested at 9:45am on Saturday, 2 February with the expected battle between Perini, Paddon and Muston likely to be the highlight, whilst Grant Denyer’s return will allow he and Brad Shiels to make a big impression on the Series regulars.
Saturday’s race will be streamed LIVE, with details available on the Radical Australia Facebook pagewww.facebook.com/radicalaustralia or via www.bathurst12hour.com.au