PARKED in the pits at The Bend, I should be excited that I’m about to fang around South Australia’s newest dedicated motorsport facility, but instead I’m fart-arsing with an SLR camera that’s forgotten what year it is. Next time, I’m gonna check it before I leave home.
How I got here, a week prior to The Bend’s first official racing event, is a story of dedicated motor-racing attendance, many beers and possible Jedi mind tricks.
But first, let’s wind back the clock to November 2013, when the Peregrine Corporation was announced as the buyer of the old Tailem Bend motorsport park, situated an hour out of Adelaide. Originally the proving ground for Chrysler Australia, then Mitsubishi, the previous facility hosted club-level motorkhanas and track days, but wasn’t up to scratch for professional-level racing activity.
That’s all changed since 2013. As my purple VY Sandman idles patiently next to a four-storey pit complex complete with Rydges Hotel, it’s astounding to recall that it’s been just two years since construction workers turned the first clump of dirt. Many assumed it was a pipe dream; an international-level motorsport venue just seemed out of reach for poor old Adelaide. Up north, Mallala’s crumbling grandstands serve as a reminder that its glory days are well behind it, while AIR is similarly unkempt.
Ambling through the paddocks at last year’s Adelaide 500 Supercar race, I spied The Bend’s promo tent. Any motorsport pipe dream with a profesh-looking tent and half-a-dozen staff gets my attention! Five-Beer Dave signed up to the introductory membership programme in no time. Not only was there a promise of a hoick around the track before it opened, but I also received a natty keyring. Looking back, I’m not sure if I was straight Kenobied; after all, I’ve never signed up for roller shutters or colonic irrigation vouchers when I’m a few bevvies in, so it’s possible. Or perhaps I just really wanted a lap of the joint.
Just over a year later, Five-Beer Dave’s future is here, as I wait behind some other, similarly Kenobied introductory members driving, in order, a sporty Range Rover, a sporty AMG and a WRX STi, also sporty.
We pull out onto the long pit straight, which finishes in a 90-degree right-hander. A pair of left-right esses follow, then another right turn before an elevation change through a left-hand sweeper. Thus the course continues, up and down, left and right; even the most seasoned racer is unlikely to get bored here.
The last corner, a sharp, uphill right turn, returns us to the pit straight and serves as a final reminder that the Bend’s 85 metres of aggregated altitude variations seem more Laguna Seca than South Australia. I never visited the old facility, but those familiar with Tailem Bend know that once you’re away from the deep banks of the Murray, it’s as flat as a Tonner’s traytop.
Our Commodore VXR pace car signals that we’re getting another lap; this time we circle the entire, FIA Grade 2-compliant GT circuit. At 7.77km, it’s the longest, purpose-built racetrack this side of Germany’s Nürburgring – quite an accolade – and will be the venue for GT-style endurance races, with ground effects-laden jiggers from the world’s top marques.
We round corner after corner – there are 35 in total – until a monstrous triple-apex right-hander gets the Sandman’s tyres squealing at Falcon fanbelt-pitch. It’s cambered like a freeway on-ramp, and I imagine those GT cars are going to downforce their way through this bend like the proverbial bats out of hell.
Returning to the shorter circuit, we round a hammer-shaped series of left-handers, turning over 180° and undulating the whole way, with apexes hidden behind crests and favourable camber keeping the speeds up. The VXR’s hazard lights are off, and they wave us back to the real world.
While the Rangie and the AMG skooch directly back to Adelaide, the fella in the STi stops, displaying a grin as bright as the high-beams on a Kenworth. Alighting, I meet Seth Coultas, WRX enthusiast and club racer. “The elevation changes are awesome,” he says, still beaming. “That’s one thing everyone was worried about, but there’s plenty there to keep everyone happy.”
While Seth’s WRX isn’t exactly Street Machine fodder, it’s hard to argue with 240kW out of a little four-banger, thanks to a new donk and upgraded turbo. I commend him on his restraint; while the lead car was keeping the pace up, it wasn’t exactly at breakneck speed.
“I’m entered in a club sprint in May that uses the long track; it should be interesting, as that big right-hander might throw up some issues,” he says, gesturing to his Rexie. “These things don’t like cornering for too long or they run out of oil.”
A week after my member laps, I’m back at The Bend again, this time for the Shannons Nationals. Tony Sawford is competing in his ex-Allan Grice Craven Mild A9X Torana hatch, and has plenty to say about the facility. Sitting trackside on Sunday, he recollects: “The weather was against us yesterday and there was plenty of dust; it was absolutely horrendous. But by the arvo, most of the dust had gone away from the track and it really started to grip up.” Dust aside, Tony is impressed. “It’s a really good track; it’ll be a lot better when the grass grows and the facilities are 100 per cent finished.”
The Bend, with its multi-configurable circuit layout, close proximity to Adelaide and goddamned hotel complex is going to succeed; it’s a world-class facility run by a family of enthusiasts heading the largest private company in SA. It has a bright future ahead of it, and as I live in Adelaide’s southern suburbs, I don’t mind the commute.
Leaving The Bend, I eschew the South Eastern Freeway and drop off the side of Tailem down to the banks of the Murray River. Most visitors to The Bend won’t drive onto the ferry here as part of their trip home, but across the river, some twisty driving roads await.
Hustling the Sandman back to civilisation, I get lost a couple of times along the way, but who cares? With Time Attack, Hyperdrive3d track days and sprint events rolling out over the next few weeks, the Supercar Championship swinging by in August, and the Group 1 ANDRA-approved drag strip opening in 2019, I think I’ll get to know these roads pretty well.
The elevation changes are apparent as our Commodore VXR pace car disappears behind a crest. So disappointing.
The pit facilities are world-class, with plenty of viewing areas above and a 100-room, four-star Rydges hotel attached.
Club racer Seth Coultas joined The Bend membership programme as soon as he heard about it. His WRX STi has bigger brakes, coil-overs, an upgrade turbo and a new gearbox. He’s belted it around Mallala plenty of times, and is looking forward to a club sprint at The Bend in May.
The next group of members included this tough XC Fairmont sitting on retro Simmons B45s. Just because we’re at a new track doesn’t mean we can’t go old-school!
This XU-1 looked at home at The Bend, waiting patiently for its chance to lap Australia’s newest, purpose-built motorsport facility.
Fear not! This is not the main road to Tailem Bend from either Adelaide or Melbourne, but it’s handy for ducking back into Adelaide’s southern suburbs without suffering average-speed cameras and snoozing drivers sitting at 95 in a 110km/h zone.
Sneaky Chev badge is sneaky.
Track owner Sam Shahin took out the ProAm category win in the Porsche Michelin GT3 Cup Challenge. Some cried ‘insider knowledge’, but Dr Sam is a handy steerer in his own right.
The Shahins put together a nice Porsche display in the foyer, resulting in me popping my 959 cherry; I’ve never seen one before. It’s a great-looking car and an icon of the 80s, but it could do with an LS, I reckon.
The National Motor Museum sprung some cars out of its Birdwood Mill facility to display in the foyer at The Bend. The Waggott-Myers Special runs a Holden grey with a twin-cam head and six SU carburettors.
Tony Sawford had a ball at The Bend, despite Saturday’s weather. Tony’s Craven Mild car was campaigned by Allan Grice, finishing second at Bathurst in 1978. It’s a genuine Group C car, so Tony is able to compete in the Heritage Touring Car Series against other Group C and Group A cars from back in the day.
Leave this man be; he has seen more than we’ll ever know.
South-east locals Paul and Louise pulled up some deckchairs and shared their insights. “You gotta check it out, don’t you?” Paul asked rhetorically. I suspect he was more excited than he let on; it’s not every day a world-class motorsport park opens up just down the road. A brief chat revealed Paul to be a bit of a bowerbird; I think I’ve already agreed to buy one of his paddock-bashers. And I suspect with a T-shirt like that, he’s keen to see the Group 1 ANDRA-approved drag strip open early next year. Mopar or no car, bloke!