The eleventh year of Radical Australia Cup (RAC) gets underway this weekend with arguably the toughest challenge of the season, Bathurst’s Mount Panorama. The scene of the season opener for the past five years, the 2019 running will present perhaps the biggest challenge yet, with a number of returning champions - and a few high profile additions - likely to make this the most memorable start to the year.
No fewer than three former champions are set to return to the fold this term. Former triple title winner Peter Paddon comes into the event as the most successful competitor on the mountain, although he won’t have things all his own way with the return of fellow three-time champion Neale Muston. Muston hasn’t been a full-time competitor in the Cup since his title-winning run in 2015 (in a Radical SR8), and he’s not won on the mountain in an SR3 whilst Paddon has seven wins in the four-cylinder variant, from his last eight starts!
Another champion returning to the fray is Sydney’s Ed Singleton, reigning Heritage Touring Cars Group C Champion, who is back behind the wheel of an SR3 RS, similar to the car that took him to the 2011 Cup title.
Singleton, Muston and Paddon will form part of a 22-driver field that also includes a couple of drivers with some serious miles under their belts at Mount Panorama, one of them a Gold Logie recipient..!
Former Supercar and GT driver Grant Denyer - these days more at home in front of a camera - will join GT3 regular Brad Shiels in a Radical SR3 RS campaigned by the Bathurst-based Pennells family. While Denyer will be looking to put his extensive Bathurst experience to good use, David Pennells joins fellow local Matthew Windsor to complete the two-car team.
They won’t be the only Bathurst Radical rookies in the field either, with 16-year old West Australian Aaron Love - who claimed third in the 2018 Australian Formula 4 Championship alongside his title win in the WA F1000 Championship (where he claimed an impressive 12 wins from 21 starts) - joining the field. Set to become the youngest driver to have ever competed in a Radical SR3 at Mount Panorama, Love comes into the Bathurst event looking to make an impression.
He won’t be the only one though, 2018 Radical Australia Cup rookie sensation Chris Perini showed flashes of brilliance at Mount Panorama last year, famously pushing ‘Peter Perfect’ Paddon all the way in the opening race before a race-ending off going over Skyline in race two blemished an almost perfect mountain debut.
Perini was consistently 2018 champion, Kim Burke’s toughest opponent across the year, the former Superbike rider admitting that the lost opportunity at Bathurst may have kept him from the #1 plate. So he’s keen to impress upon his rivals the lessons he learned last term, a season which delivered the RAC rookie victories at The Bend and Sydney Motorsport Park.
Another driver that could be expected to shake up the establishment is former Radical Australia Cup regular Kostinken Pohorukov. A frequent podium finisher back in 2016 - including two second-placed finishes at Bathurst behind Paddon - ‘Kosta’ has been on a sabbatical from regular competition over the last two seasons, but is back for 2019 with the ex-David Crampton SR3 RSX, and ready to take the fight to the contenders.
Whilst the new and returning stars will make things interesting, so too will the RAC regulars who have their own scores to settle with the mountain...
Simon Haggarty returns after missing the Bathurst round last year, the HRT driver looking to make amends for his last race at the mountain which ended quite unceremoniously on the exit of the first corner. Despite a part season last year, Haggarty still delivered a win at Sandown and he’ll be a likely contender at Bathurst.
So too 2017 ‘Rookie of the Year’ pairing Brad and Mitch Neilson, the father and son team claimed a win at The Bend last season on their way to third in the points. Although the Mount Panorama newcomers will be on a ‘steep’ learning curve come Thursday morning, the #38 machine is bound to make its presence felt.
Michael Whiting returns looking to silence the demons that caught him out twice on the opening lap of last year’s races, where despite his bad luck he was one of the fastest drivers on track, impressively working his way forward to sixth in race one. Joined by Chris Medland, Greg Kenny, Rowan Ross and Bill Medland, they will all be right in the mix as the new Radical recruits find their feet.
Anthony Davis returns for 2019 after a cameo with David Crampton last year, campaigning the car he runs regularly on track days with father George, whilst former GT driver Brenton Griguol will make his debut in an all-new SR3 RSX run by South Australia’s experienced BRM outfit, the Adelaide-based team also running Aaron Love.
For Radical Australia’s Chris Medland, the Bathurst driver line-up is a great start to the new season, a season which will see a revised programme of events spread across both the CAMS Nationals and the Australian Production Car Championships.
“We’ve restructured the calendar to take in two rounds at Sydney Motorsport Park - which is where Radical is based, a return to The Bend - which was incredibly popular last year, Phillip Island and Bathurst, whilst our competitors loved closing out the year in past seasons at Highlands, so we’re excited to bring the New Zealand event back for this year,” he explained.
“Bathurst, though, is a fantastic way to start a new season and it always delivers some fantastic results, so to see three former champions in the field looking to open their 2019 account with a win is terrific, whilst we’re also seeing some new teams comes in for the first time, as well as some new cars - it’s going to be a great start to the season!”
For the 2019 season opener, a change in the schedule will allow the Radical teams to turn valuable extra laps in a 20-minute practice session on Thursday morning to dial themselves in ahead of qualifying after lunch, then the opening 45-minute race at 7:15am on Friday morning, the second at 9:45am on Saturday.
Saturday’s race will be streamed LIVE here: https://www.bathurst12hour.com.au/streams-tv/international-streaming/ while you can also follow the action on the Radical Australia Facebook page www.facebook.com/radicalaustralia