Heading into the third event of the 2017 Radical Australia Cup [RAC] season, reigning champion Peter Paddon remained undefeated, but the return of former champion and 2014 rival Michael Shaw threatened to upstage Paddon’s ongoing domination, with qualifying providing Shaw with pole position. Reigning RAC#2 Oliver Smith would start alongside with Paddon just third fastest, but all that changed at turn one on the opening lap, Shaw and Smith off on the exit of the corner, handing Paddon an opportunity he would carry to the flag to claim his fifth consecutive win of the season.
Earlier in the day the three drivers battled hard over qualifying in a session that was plagued by a long red-flag incident for RAC rookie Peter Clare who had come off at Southern Loop making heavy contact with the barriers, leaving just a handful of laps for drivers to lay down a time. He wasn’t the only casualty either, experienced Radical campaigner Sue Hughes was also in trouble mid-session after coming off at high speed at turn one, making light contact with the barriers forcing her team to work overtime in the two hour break between sessions to have the car back on track.
In the end no-one could stop Paddon, even a string of fastest laps didn’t help the recovering Shaw breach the gap, the two-time champion crossing the line ten seconds clear of Shaw, with Kim Burke a solid third ahead of Peter Johnston and Oliver Smith.
The weather for the opening day of competition at Phillip island was overcast but dry, a typical blustery Phillip Island autumn day with a strong tail wind pushing the Radicals to more than 245kph down the main straight and providing a slight headwind on the run to Honda and up over Hayshed.
The returning Michael Shaw had been quickest through Friday’s three official practice sessions, and the former SR3 champion carried that pace into qualifying, sitting on top of the timesheets early with Oliver Smith, Paddon, the returning Peter Johnston and series veteran Tony Haggarty close behind.
Early in the session the red flags were out for Peter Clare, the series rookie was out at Southern Loop after avoiding another car, the momentary loss of focus forcing the ‘Shared Runway’ driver off the circuit making contact with the barriers with the right front of the car.
That saw a lengthy stop to recover the car and repair the barriers, but no sooner had the cars returned to the circuit, than Sue Hughes was off at turn one at high speed, making contact with the barriers, suffering similar contact to Clare – although she was able to drive back to the paddock – which forced both teams into immediate action to have the cars ready for the opening race of the round just 90-minutes later.
Fortunately the RA Motorsports crew under the guidance of Chris Papadopolous was able to repair Clare’s car which required new right front suspension, whilst the team also replaced the fibreglass nose with little time to make structural repairs to the original before the start of the race.
Sadly the Hughes car also required significant repairs including a new front splitter and crash box, but whilst the Clare car made the grid for the start, Hughes was forced to join the race ten minutes in.
By the final moments of qualifying pole was settled in favour of Shaw who threw down a best of 1:31.7061 for a new SR3 qualifying lap record. Oliver Smith was second (1:32.1711) mere hundredths of a second clear of Paddon (1:32.1723). Kim Burke was fourth from Tony Haggarty, making it three new SR3RSX’s in the top five, with the impressive Peter Johnston sixth.
David Crampton was seventh, from the returning Gary Walker with Chris Medland ninth, just clear of Rowan Ross who was struggling with an intermittent electrical issue.
Greg Kenny was eleventh from Michael Whiting, whilst Peter Clare and Sue Hughes rounded out the grid, although both were suffering anxious moments ahead of the opening race as their teams made final repairs after their earlier off-track excursions.
Race 1 (45-minutes)
Michael Shaw led the field around for the rolling start and battled side-by-side with Oliver Smith before getting the advantage on the run into the fast turn one right hander, but no sooner had they turned in, than both were off the circuit and across the infield.
Peter Paddon couldn’t believe his luck, or his eyes, as he inherited the top spot, and held on to it to comfortably lead into the mid-race compulsory pit stops.
Both Shaw and Smith were able to rejoin the field, but both towards the rear of the pack, Smith coming to a complete stop after diving across the infield, in the process trying to avoid his rivals although he did strike minor contact from both in front and behind before coming to a stop across the apex of turn two before gathering things up to work his way back onto the tail of the field.
Shaw was luckier, whilst Peter Johnston too was caught up in the turn one melee to also run down the grass to avoid contact – all three suddenly faced with a much greater challenge as Paddon set about opening up an unassailable lead.
Tony Haggarty was the big winner off the start inheriting second position, whilst Kim Burke and David Crampton also started strongly.
Haggarty put his RSX to good use, making it difficult for Burke to get past, but once through he could do little but maintain the gap to race leader Paddon.
At the 15-minute mark the pit-stop window opened and race leader Paddon was the first down pit lane, closely followed by Burke, Haggarty and Johnston.
That left Smith and Shaw at the front of the field, Shaw hanging on two more laps to pass Paddon as the points leader exited pit lane wondering how on earth his rival had made up so much time – strike one to Shaw!
A lap later Paddon realised that his rival had not in fact pitted, which saw Paddon quickly regain the initiative, but at that stage he was still second to Peter Clare whose recovery from his qualifying effort saw him temporarily lead the race ahead of pitting at the very end of the compulsory pit stop window, handing Paddon back a lead he soon stretched to more than 12-seconds.
Shaw rejoined the circuit side-by-side with Burke who quickly stole back second, Shaw contending with smoky brakes and a fading pedal which forced him to make a cautious return to full speed before attacking Burke for position.
By this stage Oliver Smith too was moving forward, a tight battle with Tony Haggarty and Peter Johnston at one stage handing the reigning RAC #2 fourth, but an electrical issue in the final laps saw him drop back behind Johnston to cross the line fifth.
Up front though there was no denying Paddon who went on to claim his fifth consecutive victory from Shaw by 10.5-seconds, with Burke third a similar distance further back.
Peter Johnston reclaimed fourth from Oliver Smith on the final lap, with Smith battling his intermittent miss. Tony Haggarty claimed a well deserved sixth lamenting a full 50-minute sprint to the flag without any safety car interventions, whilst holding out a fast finishing Crampton across the finals two laps.
Eighth was Chris Medland ahead of Peter Clare, whilst Michael Whiting held out Greg Kenny for the final position in the top ten.
Gary Walker’s strong return to RAC was thwarted with a technical issue of his own just six laps from home whilst classified mid field, forcing the Victorian to pull into the pits and retirement, whilst Sue Hughes’ return to the circuit ten minutes in was thwarted by a technicality, the series regular black flagged for not having met the race start.
Rowan Ross too was forced out early suffering from an electrical misfire, something which the RA Motorsports team were investigating immediately, with a focus on having the experienced campaigner back in the fight for the podium for Sunday morning’s second race.
What the drivers had to say
1. Peter Paddon (First Focus Radical SR3RS)
“It’s not the way I wanted to win a race, but I guess I’ll take it. I was looking forward to a good battle with Michael [Shaw] and Ollie [Smith] but they didn’t make it through turn one, so from there my focus was on opening up a gap to the pack and maintaining it after the compulsory stop. Michael’s pace was impressive through the first sector, he was a good deal quicker than me, so I had to push across the remainder of the lap to keep the advantage. Now it’s on to race two to see if we can keep the winning streak alive!?”
2. Michael Shaw (Shaw Racing Radical SR3RS)
“I got a great start and could see Ollie [Smith] locked in behind me, but as I turned into turn one, the back stepped out a little and I kept it under control, but I hit a bump as the car loaded up and that threw me off the track. From there I just had to hang on across the grass and get back onto the circuit as quickly as I could and make up ground. The brakes were pretty hot too when I got to the pit stop, there was a lot of smoke, but they came back to me after the stop, although that delayed my progress in getting around Kim [Burke] as I didn’t want to get into too big a braking duel.”
5. Oliver Smith (RA Motorsports Radical SR3RS)
“Like Michael [Shaw] I got a great start and I locked in under his rear wing to follow him into turn one on the hope that I might be able to draft past him down at Honda corner, but we didn’t get that far. He lost it in turn one and I had nowhere to go and followed him off the circuit. From there it was just about damage limitation, although I had a couple of moments rejoining the circuit with cars both in front and behind me, which ultimately had me stopped on the apex of turn two and dead last, so I suppose fifth wasn’t a bad result, although I suffered a misfire across the final couple of laps which dropped me back behind Pete [Johnston] so it could have been fourth.”