THE BEND is open for business. Australia’s longest race track, and the world’s second-longest purpose-built track after the Nordschleife, has opened its doors to the public, offering what proprietor Sam Shahin describes as a ‘motorsport theme park’.
The scale of the ambition at what was Mitsubishi’s test facility, some 100km south-east of Adelaide, is dizzying. As well as the main FIA Grade 2/FIM Grade A-standard 7.7km circuit, there are also eight shorter track configurations, two skid pans, off-road adventure courses, gravel rally stages, a 34-garage pit facility, a 100-room Rydges pit-lane hotel, plus press facilities and function centres.
Work is also being undertaken on an ANDRA-approved Group 1 drag strip, a proposed 2km Vmax straight, kart track, drift facility and a rallycross circuit with water splashes and multiple jumps.
“To drive through a gate and see all those disciplines of motorsport represented in the one place is a very unique proposition,” Shahin says. “Some of the cynics will say there’s a very good reason why this has not been done anywhere in the world and I get it, but we’re having a crack. At the end of the day it’s the motorsport public – spectators, participants, drivers, owners – who will vote with their feet, that will tell us we’ve made a big mistake or whether we’ve got something very unique right here in Australia now.”
It’s hard to argue with that appraisal and the track design has been absolutely exhaustive.
Originally designed to be positioned on the near side of the available parcel of land, it was apparent that the far side offered more elevation change so Shahin flipped it over and devised plans to increase the peaks and troughs further still, only to be informed by the FIA that there was a limit to the amount of relief that they’d certify.
From this process we learn that were Spa-Francorchamps to make a fresh application for FIA Grade 1 certification it would never achieve it for exactly this reason.
Certain FIA stipulations informed track width, sightlines and so on, the design team having finessed these details on a simulator before ground was broken. Domestic motorsports luminaries such as Mark Webber, Mick Doohan, Mark Skaife, Jamie Whincup, Garth Tander and Nick Percat all had a hand in consultation, with Shahin also seeking the advice of former F1 driver Jonathan Palmer, who masterminded the creation of a clean-sheet motorsports park in the UK, the Bedford Autodrome.
“We didn’t want anything that feels or looks or replicates any other racetrack in the world; any other corner anywhere in Australia or anywhere in the world,” explains Shahin. “We wanted a fast, flowing, technical circuit that is going to reward great drivers."
Pay attention at the back. Dr. Sam Shahin, along with his brother Charlie, own the Peregrine Corporation. A family business, they took up the reins after dad Fred, a former UN refugee worker who grew the business from one service station bought in 1984, passed away in 2009.
Operating the South Australian ‘On The Run’ fuel stations, the business acquired 29 Mobil fuel outlets in SA back in 2010 and 25 additional BP outlets in 2014. These sites were rebranded and upgraded to 24-hour On The Run servos. Now numbering over 160 sites across the state, the business model of On The Run has involved working its retail space hard, introducing brands such as Subway, Brumby’s Bakeries, Oporto, Krispy Kreme and Wendy’s.
Shahin’s a respectable pedaller, finishing fourth in the 2017 Michelin GT3 Cup Challenge Australia. Last year he also oversaw the purchase of the 2.6km Mallala Motorsport Park, with plans afoot to renovate the facility in order to provide a boost to grassroots motorsport in South Australia.