Published on January 23rd, 2018 | by Amirul Mukminin0
Radical Australia Drivers Prepare for Bathurst Season-Opener
With memories of the close of the 2017 Radical Australia Cup season still fresh in their minds, teams and drivers have had little time to relax during the off-season with Bathurst again the host of the opening round of the new year in early February.
Mount Panorama has previously hosted the popular one-make sportscar series four times, with some impressive and heroic racing right throughout the field, a hallmark of Radical Australia Cup [RAC] competition over the nine prior years the championship has been contested.
For the RAC regulars though, they will face more than just Australia’s most daunting and respected circuit when they arrive in Bathurst, they will also face the most successful driver in the history of the category – three-time (and reigning) Radical Australia Cup champion – Peter Paddon.
Paddon amassed a stunning array of victories in season 2017, claiming the top step of the podium in every race he finished – and that was nine of ten rounds! For his rivals though, Bathurst presents them an even bigger challenge, Paddon unbeaten on the mountain for four long years, even a glitch in qualifying last year which forced him to start rear-of-field didn’t prevent the Sydney-sider snatching a late race victory.
Paddon will be back in the #1 FIRST FOCUS SR3 for Bathurst where he understands he’ll need to turn in another flawless run to prevent any of his championship rivals from upstaging his near perfect record.
“I love Bathurst,” Paddon admitted after his back-to-back wins in 2017. “I’m not sure why, but it seems to suit my driving style, so I’m always overjoyed to see the pre-season announcement that we’re starting the new year at Mount Panorama. But whilst I have been successful there in the past, we have some very good drivers in the Cup and you can never rest on history – they’ll throw everything they have at me in 2018!”
One driver though who won’t be applying maximum pressure to Paddon, is his title rival in past seasons, and the man who finished runner-up to Paddon in both 2016 and 2017 – Oliver Smith. Smith – a long-time competitor in RAC – is taking a sabbatical in 2018 to concentrate on business, paving the way for some new rivalries this year.
Third the last two seasons, David Crampton is one driver who will take the fight to Paddon in his new Vantage Freight SR3RSX. For Bathurst though, Crampton will not contest both races alone, the Sydney-sider also making his debut in the Bathurst 12 Hour in a GT4 car, so he has opted to share driving duties with Anthony Davis, a driver with good experience who is likely to keep the #3 car at the pointy end of the field.
Kim Burke is always an outright chance in his RSX, having been able to apply serious pressure to Paddon in past seasons, an updated car and the call of Bathurst likely to push the experienced campaigner closer to the front, but he won’t be on his own!
Peter White and Nick Kelly are two drivers who are well known to Radical fans, both are former competitors – most recently in SR8 competition – and both are experienced campaigners in both Radical and GT cars, including Bathurst, although much of their time has been behind the wheel of the V8-powered machines that are no longer eligible for the Radical Australia Cup prompting their return to the SR3.
Their last campaigns with Radical at Bathurst came in 2015 where White in the FIRST NEON SR8 defeated Kelly for the outright win, Peter Paddon at that stage fifth, but first of the SR3 competitors. Both will be looking to emulate that feat this year, and both can be expected to apply maximum pressure to the three-time champion.
Of all the drivers in the field, there will be just one RAC rookie – 2017 RAC graduate Chris Perini who will make his SR3 debut at Bathurst (he contested November’s Challenge Bathurst event to get a feel for the circuit), and if his NSW SuperSeries form – and the pace he showed during his RAC debut at Sydney Motorsport Park last season are any indication, he will be one to keep an eye on!
So too Nick Stavropolous, the Superkart regular impressed no end at Bathurst in 2017, making a Radical return for the first time in three years, Stavropolous improving an incredible nine-seconds over his previous best to storm through from mid-pack to claim third in the second 40-minute race, his pace so impressive that with a handful more laps, he may well have claimed the second step of the podium.
Whilst the returnees and rookie Perini are likely to present the regulars with plenty of competition, keep a close eye on some of the Series veterans. Simon Haggarty spent little time behind the wheel in season 2017, but each time he got back in the #5 HRT/Axiom Wealth machine, he was quick. Bathurst 2017 was not a happy place for the experienced SR3 campaigner, so he’ll be looking to make amends for that this year.
Throw in arguably the most experienced campaigner in an SR3 – Sydney’s Rowan Ross in his all new RSX, Tony Haggarty who made a big step forward in season 2017 in a new car – likewise Bill Medland who was one of the stars of the season-ending New Zealand round in 2017, Chris Medland and Phil Anseline, and you have a strong field of drivers all capable of pushing the front runners.
The challengers don’t end there though.. Sue Hughes finished season 2017 on a high, claiming a podium finish at Sydney Motorsport Park before being sidelined in New Zealand after unfortunate contact, she always takes a step up at Bathurst.
Greg Kenny too will be returning to the mountain looking to improve on his 2017 performance, so too Michael Whiting – who claimed eighth, his best result at Bathurst in race two last year – and Peter Clare who made steady improvement during the RAC last season.