Two first-time winners dominated the third round of the Radical Australia Cup on the championship’s return to Sydney Motorsport Park. Even though both teams had seen victory in the Cup in past seasons, Sydney opened both their winning accounts for season 2019, whilst second overall for the round was taken by a driver who was making just his third Cup appearance.
After setting the pace in both practice sessions and topping the timesheets in both legs of qualifying, Chris Perini claimed a flawless victory in race one to set up his maiden round win in the Cup, whilst in race two, Phil Anseline claimed his first victory in the Cup in more than ten years, aided by former RAC#2 Ollie Smith, the pair taking Anseline’s SR3RSX to a comfortable win, although they fell a single point short of a round podium result..
Ultimately the consistency of Brad and Mitch Neilson gave the father-and-son combination third for the round, and with that - the championship points lead, whilst Radical rookie Max Medland drove with a cool head to claim second overall.
Three-time champion Peter Paddon endured arguably the toughest round he has experienced in more than five years, the winningest driver in the Cup suffering two technical failures in his primary car before stepping into Kim Burke’s 2018 championship winner, the ‘First Focus’ driver continuing to strike trouble in qualifying, forcing a rear-of-field start for both races, whilst in race one heavy contact prematurely ended his race handing title rival Perini the points lead.
Paddon recovered from rear-of-field in race two, but despite a storming drive, he was unable to breach the gap to long-time rival Ollie Smith who crossed the line well clear for a return victory in the Cup.
The big news of qualifying was not so much the impressive pace of Chris Perini, but the failure of Peter Paddon to record a meaningful lap after a rare suspension failure in Kim Burke’s championship winning RSX. That left the three-time champion without a competitive time on the board, forcing a rear-of-field start for both 50-minute races, a situation not alien to the local driver, but one he had hoped to avoid in what is becoming an increasingly tight title race.
The pace at the top of the timesheets was impressive, Perini ultimately setting the fastest two times of the session to claim pole position for both races, his 1:29.2288 and 1:29.3614 pole times both faster than Paddon’s pole time from March, suggesting that without problems for the former champion, the battle for the top spot would have been epic.
Peter Clare [1:30.3864] was impressive in qualifying, the ‘Shared Runway’ driver continuing to benefit from the experience of driving alongside rising international star Joey Mawson at Bathurst to card the second fastest time for race one, Mitch Neilson’s faster 1:29.9056 was also combined with Brad Neilson’s best to give them a starting position on the third row, elevating Clare to the RAC front row for the very first time.
Ultimately though there were more surprises to come, NSW SuperSports front-runners and Sydney Motorsport Park regulars Stephen Champion and Paul Braico were next, setting the third and fourth fastest times for Q1 which became the second and third fastest time for Q2 after both went faster than Clare with their second fastest laps.
Behind the front two rows, Kostinken Pohorukov and the Neilsons were closely followed by Michael Whiting who at the last minute was joined by JP Drake, whilst the returning Ollie Smith helped Phil Anseline to a top ten start for both races, the pair campaigning the SR3RSX that Smith took to second in the championship in 2017.
The first big surprise of race one was the inability of Peter Clare to take the start after falling ill ahead of the opening race. That left a big hole on the front of the grid, which allowed Chris Perini to fire into turn one off the start unchallenged, whilst behind him things were brewing as the field streamed down to turn two.
Paul Braico had managed to sneak through on Stephen Champion on the run down to the slow left-hand 180 degree corner with Brad Neilson up the inside of Pohorukov, but as they came into the braking zone, Bill Medland who was close behind just tagged the rear of Neilson spinning the #38 Radical into the pack, Neilson in the end catching Medland in the process with both facing the oncoming traffic.
Ollie Smith managed to stop the #16 to avoid contact, whilst Peter Paddon - who was already halfway up the field despite having started last - and Greg Kenny were forced to go bush, allowing the lead group to pull away.
Fortunately both Neilson and Medland were able to continue, albeit well down the pack, as up front Chris Perini was turning in a Paddon-esque performance to storm away from the field and open up a comfortable early lead, a lead which he would retain until the flag.
Behind the leader the two big movers were Ollie Smith and the recovering Paddon, both working their way through the field, Smith though suffering a setback with a big lurid slide coming out of turn three, the #16 RSX sliding down the grass on the outside of the circuit, fortunately without contact with the barriers, allowing him to regroup and work his way forward again ahead of the compulsory pit stop.
Sadly Paddon was the next victim, the former champion charging through the field to be fastest on track to catch and take JP Drake, Pohorukov and Champion - who wasn’t interested in making Paddon’s job too easy. Paddon set the fastest lap on lap five (a full second faster than Perini’s best) to close onto the tail of Paul Braico at turn two.
Braico was holding down second comfortably and he kept his line as he braked for the left-hander, but clearly caught the charging Paddon out at his braking point, Paddon looking to duck out of the slipstream to make a late dive down the inside under brakes - instead catching the tail of the #80 entry and destroying the right front suspension on his #68 RSX.
The surprised Braico was able to continue with the bodywork rubbing on the left rear tyre, but he was ultimately forced down pit lane where the buildup of rubber started a small fire in the back of the car leaving Braico as a retirement alongside Paddon.
Whilst all of this was continuing, up front Chris Perini continued to stretch his lead, even an early stop and a 20 second additional success penalty for past results didn’t stall his progress as he charged to his first win of the year, 27-seconds clear of team-mate Kosta Pohorukov, with Stephen Champion another nine seconds down the road.
Max Medland brought the #9 entry he shared with father Chris home in an impressive fourth place, with Rowan Ross an ecstatic fifth after what had been a challenging start to the season.
Mitch Neilson charged over the closing laps to card valuable championship points after the opening lap setback to be sixth, ahead of Greg Kenny and the Drake/Whiting combination. Bill Medland was initially ninth, however he was handed a 31-second penalty post-race for the turn two incident, elevating Brenton Griguol to ninth, the South Australian having battled a head cold through the 50-minute journey.
Phil Anseline was classified eleventh with the beaming Jim Hernandez twelfth having carded his best ever lap times around Sydney Motorsport Park in just his second ever event.
Despite some intense overnight work in both the RA Motorsports and GWR camps, all 15 cars were on the grid for the second 50-minute race, and although the field was missing Chris Medland due to business commitments, Peter Clare had returned to take his place on the second row in the ‘Shared Runway’ entry.
Sadly, despite a stern discussion with the category’s driving standards observer Tony D’Alberto pre-race, contact happened off the line one corner earlier than the opening race with the luckless Paul Braico again the victim, this time in the shuffling of positions into the fast left-hander.
Sadly Braico was turned sideways and into the path of JP Drake who had nowhere to go, eliminating both cars on the spot.
By that stage Perini was away up front with Champion, Mitch Neilson, Clare and Phil Anseline in pursuit, Anseline doing his best to keep Rowan Ross and a fast-starting Peter Paddon at bay. Behind them Kosta Pohorukov was under fire from Brenton Griguol, the South Australian sadly losing the rear as he turned in to the apex of the corner, narrowly missing Greg Kenny, but providing a catalyst for Max Medland to make a move on his uncle Bill.
With Braico’s car stranded down at turn one, and JP Drake slightly further around the circuit, the field was brought under the control of the Safety Car for a number of laps as officials cleared debris.
Off the restart Perini leapt away from the field once more as behind him Stephen Champion kept Mitch Neilson at bay and Kosta Pohorukov made a dive down the inside of Peter Paddon at turn two, keeping both title contenders from making a charge on the race leader.
Neilson ultimately took a lap to get through on Champion, whilst Paddon became embroiled in a great battle further back with Pohorukov, Phil Anseline and Rowan Ross.
Paddon made short work of the midfield pack, emerging third but ten seconds down on Neilson at the 15-minute mark of the race, Neilson himself down 2.8-seconds on Perini who was continuing to punch out quick laps at the front of the field although he knew he would lose 25-seconds to the Neilson team during the compulsory stop due to his race one success.
Sadly for Perini, he would lose out long before that point, a broken bolt in the front suspension dropping him well off the pace over the second half of the race to fall back to sixth at the flag.
With Perini pitting early ahead of his dramas, Neilson and Paddon took over control of the field before they both ultimately came down pit lane late inside the pit window, although by that stage they had to contend with Ollie Smith who had taken over from car-owner Phil Anseline and was charging.
By the mid-point of the race Neilson was leading by virtue of his late stop, ahead of Max Medland - who was driving alone in the second race and turning his quickest ever laps in just his third appearance in a Radical - Brenton Griguol and Jim Hernandez who was continuing to get faster with every passing lap.
By the time all the teams had cycled through - which sadly included Stephen Champion twice after a miscommunication in pit lane that saw him drop well back down the order - Brad Neilson held a three second lead but with Ollie Smith closing at a huge rate. Paddon was 28 seconds back from the leader with Perini just hanging on, but clearly struggling, whilst behind them Rowan Ross, Max Medland and Greg Kenny were locked in combat in a battle that would wind down to the closing laps.
With five minutes to go Perini became swamped on the run into the final corner, the points leader running wide mid-corner to let Max Medland, Ross and Greg Kenny through, in the process handing the Neilson’s back the championship points lead.
Within sight of the flag Brenton Griguol’s great recovery came to an end after a second spin, this time a broken driveshaft ended his run, whilst not long after Rowan Ross also came to grief, spinning out of a certain top five finish, allowing Max Medland through to a comfortable top four, and with that, a podium finish for the weekend.
Sadly for Brad Neilson - despite turning some impressive laps over the closing stages, he could do little about the charging Peter Paddon who made the move through to second with one lap to go, the pair though both forced to play second fiddle to Phil Anseline - who claimed his first RAC win in more than ten years - and ‘super-sub’ Ollie Smith who claimed the race win, although the duo fell frustratingly short of the round three podium by just a solitary point.
Greg Kenny was a solid fifth behind Max Medland, with Chris Perini a frustrated sixth after taking advantage of Rowan Ross’ late race misfortune, that result keeping him well in the title hunt just four points behind the Neilsons and a single point ahead of Peter Paddon at the mid-point of the season.
Rowan Ross recovered from his late spin to be seventh ahead of Bill Medland, Stephen Champion, Peter Clare and Jim Hernandez who improved again to be circulating less than three seconds slower than the race winner.
For the Radical Australia Cup teams, they start the second half of the eleventh season of the Cup at Phillip Island with their annual mid-season visit on 28-30 June as part of the CAMS Nationals.
“It wasn’t the best day [Race 2] but I still managed to keep the nose clean and do what I could with the package we had today. Unfortunately something let go in the front and that made it difficult to keep the focus and keep pushing on, but what I’m thrilled about is that that was enough this weekend to bring it home and get first - it’s been a long time coming, a year and a half to get one of these weekends together to finally win a round and I finally got it, so I’m absolutely stoked. Even though it didn’t go perfectly and we were still able to do it is a real confidence booster, but smelling like champagne and holding the trophy is just awesome and I’m really glad to get one foot up there, and we’re there in the championship too, so this is where we need to be.”
2. 9. Max Medland
“I didn’t expect a result like that when I started the weekend, not in just my third Radical race. It was a tough race, the first time I’ve driven for 50-minutes alone, so I was really just hanging in there in the end, but fortunately able to pick up a second top four and with that, third for the round so I’m pretty happy.”
3. 38. Brad Neilson
“We didn’t have a great day yesterday after being tagged in turn two after a great start. Today I knew I wouldn’t have the pace towards the end. Mitch did a fantastic job again, the fastest lap and he was continuing to pull some great laps to hand me a big lead. It was a bit galling for me to be leading until five laps before the end and then have two cars pass us, but at the end of the day they were both faster, and I didn’t want to get caught up in a fight, what we need is points as we’re building for a championship - it’s that close at the top, we have to have that in mind. I wanted to thank Sam Mac our mechanic for the weekend, he had great advice on the radio and a great setup on the car.”
3. 38. Mitch Neilson
“Obviously this year we’re trying to be as consistent as possible. Considering the success penalties we had this weekend, and considering the drama in race one, we probably achieved the best we could.”