Times were definitely not of the essence when practice for the Red Bull Race Off got underway at the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park on Thursday afternoon.
The first 20-minute on-track period for the six specially-prepared Renault Megane RS 250s took place on a track drying rapidly after a morning deluge in Melbourne, and it was former F1 star David Coulthard, V8 Supercar champion Rick Kelly and last year’s winner of the Red Bull Race Off, motorbike stuntman Robbie Maddison, who quickly showed they’ll be the trio to beat this weekend.
Coulthard, Kelly and Maddison lapped the track in close proximity for much of the session, with Maddison in particular exploring most of the escape roads around the 5.3km lakeside circuit.
“Doing laps around here with David Coulthard, Robbie Maddison … side-by-side with those guys is a great buzz,” Kelly said afterwards. “I think ‘Maddo’ is cutting a few corners to keep the rest of us a little bit scared – which is working at the moment …”
Rising Formula Ford star Samantha Reid was a late replacement for Kiwi Mitch Evans in this weekend’s event after Evans was called away to GP3 testing duties in Spain, while NZ drift racer ‘Mad’ Mike Whiddett and Australia’s three-time world speedway champion Jason Crump rounded out the field. Crump admitted afterwards that having a roof over his head and brake pedal to use in the sporty Meganes took some getting used to.
“It was a bit slippery out there and I was probably a bit nervous on my first run, but hopefully I can get the hang of it and relax a little bit,” Crump said afterwards. Crump had a grassy moment at Turn 15 early in practice, while Whiddett admitted he should have heeded the advice offered by Maddison as they hit the track.
“‘Maddo’ warned me that they’re really tail-happy cars, and I didn’t believe him until we got out there. I thought I’d be understeering everywhere,” Whiddett laughed. “I’m used to when a car goes sideways, you crank on the power and go for opposite lock. But these are front-wheel drives so it drives me off the road, so it feels real weird. Maybe next time I need to drive backwards …”
The 20-minute practice session came with a twist: each driver had a passenger on board with them. The six passengers were competition winners from the online Red Bull Race Off game that’s had plenty of hits on redbull.com.au since it was launched in February. The fun started before the cars even left pit lane, with Maddison slowly reversing into Coulthard and giving the two-time Australian Grand Prix winner a nudge before they even made it on track. The Scot was examining the damage to his car afterwards, while his passenger, South Australian Sam Carr, was grinning from ear to ear.
“’DC’ was pretty talkative on the way around – he had a bit to say actually,” Carr said.
“It was an amazing experience; it’s a dream to do something like this, and to have someone like ‘DC’ driving me around Albert Park made it pretty special. I’ve been so lucky to have the opportunity, so thanks to Red Bull for making it happen.”