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Setting the lap record at The Bend Motorsport Park with a 911 GT2 RS

By Dylan Campbell | Photos: Nathan Jacobs, 21 Jul 2018 Features

Setting the lap record at The Bend Motorsport Park feature

We drive South Australia's epic new 7.77km racetrack in one epic 515kW Porsche

Seemingly overnight, the best motorsport facility in the southern hemisphere has appeared in a featureless corner of South Australia, like a crop circle. Not only that, but it’s the second longest permanent racetrack in the world behind only the Nurburgring Nordschleife.

The brand new Bend Motorsport Park, one hour south-east of Adelaide, will bend your mind with its scale and scope. Not just its 7.77km longest possible configuration, but also the 100-room Rydges Hotel built into the imposing pit building.

Or the world-class drag-racing facility in the works and the entirely separate track again under construction, a world-class karting and drifting facility. Or perhaps it’s the plan to build a veritable suburb of Ascari-like villas beside the track, in which the rich can store their toys, perhaps jetting in on The Bend’s own 2km on-site airstrip and unleash their exotica when the itch presents and opportunity permits.

Naturally, having heard about The Bend, MOTOR was salivating, keen to get there as soon as possible. And we weren’t going to show up in the latest Camry.

In this alien part of Australia, we’ve arrived in something equivalently out of this world, dripping with intimidation, its bitumen-scraping front chin spoiler protruding, its towering rear wing intending to squash 325mm sticky rear tyres into any track on which it’s unleashed – it’s the twin-turbo, 515kW, rear-drive Porsche 911 GT2 RS, the fastest production car around the Nordschleife itself. Perhaps you can see what we’re thinking here.

Nurburgring lap record: 911 GT2 RS' 6:47.3 lap on-board

Upon arrival at The Bend, a bit weirded out having passed an inexplicable rhinoceros statue in the nearby Tailem Bend town, and having spotted foreign-sounding nearby place-names like Naturi and Elwomple, it becomes apparent upon turning into The Bend precinct that we’ve taken a wrong turn, through a wormhole, to Bahrain.

Everything feels like it was built yesterday and is surrounded by tan-coloured limestone topsoil, not yet overgrown with grass, giving The Bend an eerie Middle Eastern desert feeling. Where on earth are we? “Welcome to The Bend,” smile the men tasked with giving us the tour.

We are ushered through the front doors of the main building and into what feels like a cavernous, high-ceilinged, modern hotel reception – filled with cars, like a museum. Craig Lowndes’ and Jamie Whincup’s 2006 Bathurst-winning Betta Electrical BF Falcon sits beside Whincup’s 2012 TeamVodafone VE Commodore “Kate”, one of the most successful V8 Supercars ever built, both those cars beside Peter Brock’s monster 7.0-litre Bathurst 24 Hour Monaro.

There’s a row of Porsche road cars including a 930 Turbo and 997 GT3 RS, with a 962 racecar nestled between them. A GT3 Huracan sits in the corner, past the two E-Types, barely attracting a second glance.

The hotel reception staff, smartly dressed and spoken, greet us as if we’ve stepped through yet another wormhole into a hotel in central Sydney or Melbourne CBD. Yet we’re in the middle of nowhere – if you want the same vibe you get an hour in a regional direction from Adelaide, you need to drive at least five from Sydney or Melbourne.

We are shown the hotel, the function rooms with stairs directly down into the pit garages, the F1-spec race control with a wall of brand new TVs, and we are taken to the roof to view the expansive circuit. It’s overwhelming.

The track is entirely visible from the fourth storey balcony, yet descend to pit level and the back of the circuit disappears behind various rises and hills, giving an idea of the elevation change. The Bend circuit is enormous in the size of land it occupies, how it stretches out away from you, and its width.

It is here we must depart the story and cover off some critical things about The Bend. It starts when you fill your car up at the brand new BP service station out the front of the circuit, and then grab a refreshment at the On The Run (OTR) convenience store inside. You are purchasing from the people who own, and who built, The Bend.

They are the brothers Sam, Yasser and Charlie, active racers and members of the Shahin family, one of the wealthiest and most influential in South Australia, presiding over a vast empire of BPs and OTRs across the state.

It was their parent company, Peregrine Corporation – founded from humble beginnings by their late father Fathi, a Palestinian migrant – that built and is building the circuit. And which owns the on-site hotel, and of course the track itself.

The Shahins love their cars, motorsport and South Australia, helping explain why The Bend is where it is. Located on the former proving ground of Mitsubishi Australia – and as such, already zoned in a way that was conducive to having a huge racetrack built on it – The Bend was first imagined by the Shahins more than 10 years ago. Construction began January 2017 and when finished in whole toward the end of next year, the facility will have cost more than $110m.

Speaking to owner and managing director Sam Shahin about his family’s motivation for building The Bend, it almost sounds like their gift to South Australia, a state that has given them so much.

“The Bend was borne out of a desire to build something that is of a world standard,” Shahin tells MOTOR. “Something that every Australian can say, ‘we have got a facility that is, if not better, as good as anything there is anywhere in the world’.”

“I just have to pinch myself, every time I look at how this has materialised from an idea to a concept, to the years of planning, to now the implementation stage ... 16 months ago, this was a paddock. It makes me incredibly proud. It’s almost surreal.”

It’s easiest to imagine The Bend as a full-size, world-class 4.95km race circuit – with a 2.8km extra loop that can extend the track to the full 7.77km. They can be split again into two other configurations of 3.41km and 3.93km, each with their own pit lanes and pit buildings, starting grids and able to operate completely independent of each other.

Access roads criss-cross the circuit; there are so many possible configurations that those who were involved in its design, have to stop and think to count them all up. But in the main, there are five.

It’s impressive how properly everything has been done. The 4.95km race circuit meets FIA Grade 2 requirements, meaning The Bend can host any international four-wheeled motorsport up to, but excluding, Formula One (which is also true of Sydney Motorsport Park).

The International Circuit, this configuration is called, also complies with FIM regulations to accommodate any two-wheeled sporting code, MotoGP and WSBK included.

Meanwhile the karting track will be CIK approved, and the drag-racing facility ANDRA approved. A consultative process along the way has seen Mark Webber, Mark Skaife and Mick Doohan among those invited to give input as the circuit design went through its iterations. It’s been done very ‘right’.

As we stand on the top floor balcony beholding the enormous racetrack, the GT2 RS whirrs up and down the track below us, the videographers and photographers having their way with it while yours truly gets his brain minced by The Bend.

It’s time to head back downstairs, to the generously sized pit lane and pit garages, as good as any Tilke-spec grand prix circuit on the earth. (Hermann Tilke’s company actually responded to the initial Bend circuit design tender.)

It’s time to unleash Luffy in the fastest production Porsche ever – to set the very first production vehicle lap record around The Bend’s 7.77km circuit.

Foolishly, when booking him in for this shoot, I hadn’t realised Luffy had driven the track, extensively, at the Australian GT Championship round only a month before. Presuming otherwise, it occurred to me that I was asking this man to set a lap record around a track with 34 corners, with only two attempts to do so.

Do I send him a track map? Find some onboard footage from YouTube? Fortunately, neither was necessary.

As the GT2 RS idles loudly and busily, Luffy straps in, while our video team attach all manner of mysterious addenda, what looks like a severed possum’s tail to the rear bar near the exhaust, and of course, the GoPro – and you should go to our YouTube page to see The Lap. Luffy is unleashed, and then we stand around in pit lane and wait.

Luffy comes in. “Three minutes, twenty eight point one.” I find my eyebrows raising automatically and myself nodding knowingly, but then I realise I haven’t the slightest idea if that time is any good or not – I’ve no reference point.

“The GT3 cars were doing 3:03s when we were here a few weeks ago,” says Luffy. “The GT2 RS just feels so much more powerful, I think I got to 260km/h on the front straight before I stopped looking down. It’s a mega, mega thing. It doesn’t have the aero or grip of the GT3 cars, of course.” But that he’s thinking to compare the GT2 RS to them, says something alone.

It’s time for round two. Luffy goes back out, the GT2 RS’s menacingly loud turbocharged exhaust ricocheting off the large pit building beside us as he rockets out of pit lane. Using the 7.77km GT Circuit, entire minutes pass where he is just not visible at pit lane level, only a murmur somewhat at the back of the circuit.

After just two or three laps – that’s nearly 10 minutes flat out, mind you – he’s back. You can tell he, and the car, have been working hard, a flurry of energy entering the previously peaceful pit lane as Luffy returns, his face flushed and hair matted as he removes his helmet, huge amounts of heat radiating from the GT2 RS’s wheel arches, the occasional tick as the colossal carbon ceramic discs cool.

“Three twenty four, point one,” he smiles. Luffy is talking busily and quickly, like a man who’s just had a go. There can’t be much more in it than that.

With “the lap” done, MOTOR has set the first production car lap record around The Bend’s 7.77km GT Circuit. And now it’s my time to experience the track – in the Kia Carnival hire car, as Luffy is still required to satisfy the photographer’s and videographer’s exhaustive wants and desires.

Sadly for me – and trust me, literally for a week afterwards I was quietly bummed I did not get to drive The Bend in a 911 GT2 RS – I didn’t get to drive The Bend in a 911 GT2 RS. As such, having spoken to Luffy, and watched extensive onboard laps – and, if I’m really honest, having luckily driven a portion of the track at the new Ford Mustang launch before sitting down to write this story – I can tell you what The Bend is like to drive.

In one word – stolen off a racing car driver – it’s epic. There are two distinct characters within the one track, if you are driving the full 7.77km configuration.

You initially start on the International circuit, having unusually entered the track, from the pit lane, from the outside; entering from the inside of the track is the main reason most pit buildings are built on the infield, despite the tricky access and the fact a gigantic building is blocking the view of spectators.

The International Circuit is wide – and incredibly smooth, owing to its brand new surface. There’s more elevation change than you might first expect – in fact, excitingly, there are more than a few corners where the entry and apex is visible, but the corner exit is hidden over a brow.

The Bend is also highly technical and a thinking man’s, or woman’s, track, many corners necessitating compromise in order to find the quickest overall way around the track. This part of the track, the International circuit, is fast, flowing, thrilling and challenging.

To form the 7.77km layout, you take a left turn off the International Circuit on to the East Circuit, where the track subtly changes in personality to something, dare we say, more Nordschleife-like.

Cambers are more aggressive, the curbs bigger, and the track seemingly narrower, restricting overtaking to only wannabe Ricciardos and forcing all others to patiently await the return of the International Circuit where overtaking is again a little easier. The International Circuit is the better racetrack, whereas the GT and East Circuits will keep track day addicts endlessly entertained.

It goes without saying, too, that the track is long. “If you lose just one tenth a corner on the 7.77km circuit, that’s 3.4 seconds a lap,” smiles Luffy, explaining that a longer track exaggerates the difference between a good driver and an excellent one.

Trickily, The Bend is short on features as you’re driving the track itself, bereft of grates and trees and other markers that you can use as references as you try to best guide your car around the circuit. And visually there’s little to identify The Bend as well, with its traditional red and white ripple strips not exactly giving the place its own DNA.

The classic Bend photograph, it seems, will be of a car going over a brow, like the one at Sydney Motorsport Park, or Lukey Heights, with some very high powerlines in the background. Adelaide’s power supply, courtesy of Melbourne, and the brunt of oh so many jokes, goes right over the top of The Bend circuit.

Our day at The Bend concludes in the Rydges Hotel above the pit lane building. The rooms are nice and large, and we’re not sure, but myself and photographer Jacobs feel like we’re the only guests in the whole place. Our hotel room balconies overlook the pit lane and the circuit, like a hospitality suite at any other circuit. You can lie in bed and your view is a vast racetrack – odd, but somehow exceptionally cool.

Like the pyramids, Hadrian’s Wall or the SBS building in Federation Square, it’s as if The Bend was built by aliens overnight. All we know is, it’s out of this world.

Five Things that make the 911 Gt2 RS epic

01 - With its 6:47.3 lap, it’s the fastest production Porsche ever to lap the 20.6km Nurburgring Nordschleife, quicker than even the 918 Spyder’s 6:57.

02 - Exotic materials keep weight to 1470kg.

03 - Despite its rear-drive configuration, the 515kW/750Nm twin-turbo 3.8-litre flat-six GT2 RS is capable of 0-100km/h in a claimed 2.8sec and 0-200km/h in 8.3sec. Its top speed is 340km/h.

04 - The GT2 RS is as expensive as it is fast – $645,400 before options.

05 - Up to 450kg of downforce is available at 340km/h.

The Bend's 34 turns in the 911 GT2 RS' Gears and Apex Speeds