We set the pro­duc­tion car lap record at Aus­tralia’s epic new 7.7km race­track

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 100room 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.

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 7.0litre 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

ABOVE 15m-wide in parts, the cir­cuit uniquely fea­tures the pit­lane blend­ing from out­side the cir­cuit

TOP F1-spec state-ofthe-art con­trol room fea­tures live feeds from cam­eras on every corner of the cir­cuit

LEFT Gor­geous 20-inch cen­tre­lock front wheels hide huge 410mm two-piece car­bon ce­ramic ro­tors and six-pot monobloc calipers

OP­PO­SITE Squeez­ing the throt­tle is all that’s re­quired to send the hugely pow­er­ful GT2 RS into the world’s big­gest pow­er­slides

ABOVE Grip from the 265/325-sec­tion F/R stan­dard Miche­lin Pi­lot Sport Cup 2 tyres is facebend­ing... when they’re warm

To help make The Bend hap­pen, the SA govern­ment has kicked the tin to the tune of $10.5m, the fed­eral govern­ment $7.5m BE­LOW

ABOVE GT2 RS, with a Luffy strapped in. All up, there is 85m of el­e­va­tion change around the cir­cuit

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