The Bend Motorsport Park Featured in Traveller
The traffic noise outside my hotel room at the new Rydges hotel in Tailem Bend is horrendous. Indeed, when a Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo screams past my balcony at 280km/h the noise is so explosive that the blood rushes to my head and my coffee threatens to leave its cup.
The four-star suite is one of 50 built on Pit Lane at The Bend Motorsport Park. My balcony (and for that matter my bed) is overlooking the kilometre-long "straight" on a brand new 7.7km GT circuit; beneath my room, I can hear mechanics working in their garages, furiously coaxing more speed out of race vehicles before sending drivers back into the fray.
For rev-heads, the view – and for that matter the noise – is as good as it gets.
Today I'm privy to private drivers testing their cars (not to mention their nerve) on a public track session. Cacophonous vehicles are being pushed to their limits in a bid to beat personal lap times. There's a decades-old N35 Nissan Skyline, a brand new Lotus Exige, a Holden SS ute, a Subaru WRX and a Renault Megane. Once its slicks are sticky enough, the Lambo Huracan screams past at warp speeds of 300km/h.
Like me, the drivers are from Adelaide, and like me, they've woken up to something that was unthinkable a year ago: South Australia is now home to the second largest permanent race track outside Germany's famous Nurburgring.
The Bend quietly opened its doors to the public in April 2018. For three years, the project had mostly gone under the radar owing to its remote location among the rolling paddocks of sheep and wheat lining the nearby Murray River. The closest town is Tailem Bend (hence the park's name), a sleepy riverside outpost 100km from Adelaide on the Dukes Highway, and one that's reliably missed by people making the drive to Melbourne.
There is, however, no missing The Bend.
It's lit like a small city and fully served by smooth new roads. The 750-hectare park cost $150 million, pulled from the deep pockets of the Peregrine Corporation, the family-owned South Australian company behind On The Run Service stations. And no question, investors have gone full throttle on their project.
The Bend's track is designed to host all international motor-racing formats up to Formula 1 – and should F1 ever come back to SA, a few upgrades will ensure that's got a home too. It's a wicked piece of engineering that has combined the European love of fast-flowing straights with Australia's love of tight corners. The result is a circuit that has already attracted premium events including V8 Supercar rounds, the Australian Superbikes Championship and the Asian Le Mans for 2020.
In addition, the park has the only internationally-certified karting circuit in the country (it also hosts drifting and rally cross events), a 4WD Adventure park, and a 10,000sqm skid pan which can be irrigated on demand for that maximum out-of-control feeling – all open to the public.
The Bend has forged partnerships with third parties to accommodate visitors and racers. At one end of the budgetary scale there's a Big 4 Discovery Park for caravans and tents; at the other are private villas for sale at a million dollars-plus. And in the middle of it all is the 100-room Rydges Pit Lane Hotel.
The hotel is priced very reasonably at $119 per night for rear suites and $139 for suites on Pit Lane (breakfast included). If there's an event on, however, rates get super-charged and can go upwards of $1000 a night.
By any measure the hotel offers a highly unusual experience, starting in the lobby where The Bend's love of fast cars is on display. The huge two-storey space is encircled by screens showing racing action, upcoming motorsport events and today's lap times. There's a fine dining restaurant on the upper level called Fuel (which also enjoys views over Pit Lane); and on the ground levels there's a bar/lounge area, where you can sit back with a pint of Coopers or a Red Bull cocktail and admire the "gallery".
The gallery is a series of artworks mounted not on canvas but on four wheels. Comprising 19 vehicles, rare beasts include the scissor-door 2004 Enzo Ferrrari (priced at $3m on a good day), Peter Brock's Holden GTX and a 1934 Hudson Terraplane (once marketed with the catchy strap "Hot diggity, that's Terraplaning!"). The collection is free for anyone to view, whether you're a guest or not.
Outside of its event calendar, The Bend hosts companies for corporate events, manufacturers wanting to test new vehicles and even the local police wanting to test their radar guns. Private enthusiasts can take their vehicles on open track days for $300 – although there's the additional cost of tyres and brakes which inevitably need replacing after a day of hammering the circuit.
As for the rest of us, members of the public who want to feel the thrill of high-speed racing can do a Hot Lap package. With a professional at the wheel, you'll be buckled into a hotted-up, race-equipped V8 Mustang GT ($79 for three laps) or a Formula Toyota ($179 for four laps). And since my own Lambo Huracan Super Trofeo is in for a wheel alignment, this is pretty much where I come in …
Suited and helmeted, I go downstairs from my hotel room into the Pit Lane garages, where driver Paul Trengove introduces me to what looks like a red arrow wearing slicks. "This is a 200hp 1.8litre Formula Toyota FT-40," he says. "It's what's known as an open wheeler."
Paul is not only a professional racing driver, he was part of the team that spent two years designing The Bend's circuit. He knows its most punishing corners as well as its subtle elevations and dips that further test a driver's mettle.
"And how fast will we be going?" I ask.
"We'll go up to about 270km/h on the straight. But it's never about top speed. The skill is in how fast you can approach a corner and pull through it. A supercar can get up to 300km/h but when you're in an open wheeler like this, your centre of gravity is lower and you stick to the track, so you'll do a faster lap. And it's all about beating the lap!"
There are zero comforts in the racing car because everything's been stripped out for the sake of speed. I'm installed in the rear cockpit so that my bum is on the aluminium floor pan, my knees are pulled up to my chest and my hands are gripping two steel handles mounted in front.
When Paul starts the engine, I fully expect the percussive roar but I don't expect the high-pitched note that goes off in my helmet – a sound that stays in there until the engine shuts down. Meanwhile, vibrations course through my whole body like I've just sat on one those joke hand-buzzers.
In the next 10 minutes I learn that "beating the lap" is essentially a marriage of physics and madness.
Paul works through six gears in seconds, and we're soon on the track caught up in the business of acceleration, inertia, mass and speed. And he's dead right: it's not the 270km/h I feel but the act of braking from 270km/h down to 60km/h in just 100m of track. "Pushing through corners" is so violent that my shoulders and arms tense with strength I didn't know I had, and my body temperature soars.
Four laps later, the engine is killed, the weird pitch dies and the helmet is off. I feel like I've been in the fourth dimension. And to be honest, out in the grassy backblocks of South Australia's Murraylands, it's certainly something of an altered reality.
Over a beer in the bar, Paul tells me how Australia's newest race track has taken everyone by surprise, including professional drivers. "Drivers will come off a track session and say how parts of it feel like Monza in Italy, or Spa in Belgium, or the Nurburgring. That's how we wanted it - we've taken inspiration from the world's finest racing tracks, put them together and given the whole thing an Australian feel.
"And it's really cool. I mean, who'd have believed it? Drivers are talking about famous tracks in Italy, Portugal, Germany and Dubai – and here we are, way out in Tailem Bend!" Read more: http://www.traveller.com.au/the-bend-motorsport-park-tailem-bend-south-australia-now-home-to-the-worlds-second-largest-race-car-track-h1gamc#ixzz5uqeDPGKz