CHALLENGING WEEKEND FOR RADICAL AUSTRALIA CUP IN SYDNEY
15 July 2017
Text/Photos: Motorsport Media
Rnd#4 – 2017 Radical Australia Cup
Sydney Motorsport Park, Eastern Creek, NSW – 7-9 July, 2017
Arriving at Sydney Motorsport Park [SMP] for their ‘home’ event, the Radical Australia Cup regulars were looking to lay some solid foundations in the race for the championship title, with the CAMS Nationals round the final event for the year on Australian soil ahead of the season finale at Highlands Motorsport Park in New Zealand in mid-November.
Coming into SMP for the penultimate round, reigning champion Peter Paddon held a slender 11-point margin over title rival and 2016 runner-up Oliver Smith, with Smith posing a real threat after a strong showing just the week prior in Sydney during the SuperSport championship, the Radical veteran the quickest Radical SR3 competitor across three races.
Ultimately though, in a weekend full of surprises, Paddon would record his sixth and seventh wins of the season as one-by-one, his title rivals fell by the wayside, handing the two-time title holder a strong points advantage heading into November’s final.
The biggest celebration of the weekend however was kept for long-time RAC competitor Sue Hughes who returned to the podium for the first time in many years on Sunday, whilst for RAC rookies Brad and Mitchell Neilson, the father-and-son combination’s consistency netting them second overall for the weekend against some seriously tough competition.
Friday’s opening practice in cool wintery conditions saw Phillip Island returnee and former SR3 champion Michael Shaw set the outright pace early in the day, before Le Mans prototype star and Radical Australia Cup driver coach James Winslow topped the second and third sessions in Kim Burke’s #68 entry as the Englishman worked with Burke to set up his updated SR3RSX.
By qualifying on Saturday morning the focus was on qualifying with former SMP RAC winner Michael Shaw claiming the top spot, his pole time of 1:28.7357 a quarter of a second faster than Oliver Smith, and just half a second shy of James Winslow’s SMP SR3 qualifying record.
Kim Burke took full advantage of Winslow’s Friday assistance to be third fastest, whilst Paddon claimed a starting position on the outside of row two with a time six tenths slower than Shaw, whilst new RAC recruits Brad and Mitchell Neilson shared the third row with the ever-improving Greg Kenny.
Shaw led the field away with everyone cleanly through turn one including Rowan Ross who was forced to start from pit lane after a technical issue kept him from claiming his starting position on the fifth row of the grid.
He wasn’t the only one sadly, Kim Burke who had gained a significant boost from James Winslow’s assistance during practice was unable to make a start, so too Peter Clare who was looking for a solid return to form after a frustrating run at Phillip Island.
Sadly category stalwart Greg Smith was also out after just one lap, the RAC veteran suffering from a gear selection issue on his Cup return.
With Shaw opening up an early advantage over the field, the focus was on the battle for second between title rivals Oliver Smith and Paddon, the reigning champion ultimately making his way past on lap eight to set off in pursuit of the leader.
Chris Perini’s outstanding RAC debut sadly ended prematurely, the new series recruit forced out with technical issues whilst in a solid top four position, handing Greg Kenny and the Neilson father-and-son combination an opportunity tackle the leading trio.
By compulsory pit stop time Shaw was first in, handing Paddon the lead, the points leader in two laps later giving Phil Anseline the front running.
At the conclusion of the stops it was Paddon who emerged in front with Oliver Smith and Shaw in close pursuit, whilst Anseline held on strongly from a charging Mitchell Neilson for fourth.
Shaw was the man on a charge, the 2014 SR3 champion taking Oliver Smith five laps from home to close quickly on Paddon. Two laps from home he was back through to the lead, but Paddon fired back at the ‘fish-hook’ to take the top spot and defend until the flag for his sixth win of the season. Shaw crossed the line half a second back, with Oliver Smith third.
Mitchell Neilson crossed the line an impressive fourth on the team’s RAC debut, ahead of the returning Phil Anseline, whilst Sue Hughes recorded one of the best finishes of her RAC career with sixth, with Greg Kenny and Rowan Ross rounding out the field.
Whilst race one saw some impressive drives and a somewhat random result, race two provided some of the biggest upsets of the season, and some deserving podium finishers.
The action started early with two potential outright cars eliminated at turn three after Kim Burke spun and collected race one pace-setter Michael Shaw. That saw the Safety Car called and Burke’s return to pit lane, whilst Shaw dropped to ninth as a result, with Oliver Smith leading from Paddon.
Mitchell Neilson was the next casualty, spinning at turn six after the restart, fortunately without a huge loss of positions.
By lap nine Oliver Smith was down pit lane for his compulsory pit stop, the RA Motorsports’ driver handing Paddon the lead prior to the points leader’s stop. Paddon was expecting to rejoin the field locked in a battle with his title rival, but emerged ahead of Shaw with Sue Hughes leading the field after Smith was forced to an unexpected stop with a driveline issue.
The hits though kept on coming – this time physically – with Rowan Ross and Phil Anseline coming into contact, Ross tagging his long time rival after Anseline spun in the battle for position, both cars forced down pit lane for repairs, Anseline ultimately retiring.
With Sue Hughes down pit lane for her compulsory stop, focus returned to the front of the field with Paddon coming under fire from a charging Michael Shaw, but within sight of the finish Shaw too was forced into retirement with an electrical gremlin bringing him to a stop, handing Paddon his seventh win from eight starts and a dominant championship points lead heading to New Zealand.
By this stage one of the men behind the success of Radical Australia Cup – a man who hasn’t enjoyed nearly enough of the spotlight in recent seasons – worked his way into second position, Chris Medland taking his stunning new livery across the line for his best finish in recent seasons, with the ever-present Sue Hughes third for her first ever podium in the Cup.
Brad Neilson brought the RA Motorsports/NRT machine across the line for consecutive fourth-placed finishes and second outright for the weekend on the team’s RAC debut, with Hughes classified third overall for the event.
Greg Kenny was fifth for his best result of the year, ahead of the recovering Rowan Ross and Kim Burke, the RA Motorsports team able to return the #68 car to the field after the opening lap incident, although he was classified two laps down on the leader.
The championship now turns to New Zealand for the final round of the season for the third consecutive year at Highlands Motorsport Park on 11-12 November where Peter Paddon will be looking for his third consecutive Radical Australia Cup crown.