Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Majorette. Whatever your choice, racing toy cars on a rug, crafting makeshift cities, and fantasising about the perfect race track is a childhood memory that many of us hold dear to heart. But for some, this dream never fades; it only grows bigger and louder.
Sam Shahin was one such dreamer. As a young Palestinian refugee, his imagination echoed inside the walls of his family home, an old petrol station in Woodville, South Australia.
Here, Sam was surrounded by the smell of petrol and the stop start sounds of engines. Normally it’s advised not to sniff petrol fumes, but it seems for Sam and his siblings, the octane within sparked a lifetime passion for cars.
And over Sam’s life, that single Woodville family petrol station evolved into the Perigrine Group – Australia’s largest private energy network, its largest private service station chain, and the country’s most successful petroleum empire.
I’m a firm believer in the saying ‘money doesn’t change people, it just amplifies their qualities’. While some of our dreams change as we age, The Bend Motorsport Park is proof that that inspired child still lives within Sam Shahin.From Dreams To Asphalt
Risking sounding somewhat cliché, The Bend Motorsport Park really is Sam’s magnum opus, showcasing his lifelong love for motorsport.
Located in Tailem Bend, just an hour’s drive from the tranquility of Adelaide, South Australia’s capital city, The Bend gleams like a jewel in the wilderness. It boasts an astonishing 7.77 kilometre (4.82 mile) track – one of the longest full-time circuits in the world – but trust me, it’s not just size that matters here.
The newly renamed facility, Shell V-Power Motorsport Park offers multiple arenas and circuit configurations and, each catering to various motorsport disciplines. It’s a place that holds the echoes of iconic European and Middle Eastern tracks, but retains an undeniably Australian feel about it.
This is motoring on a scale we’re just not familiar with in Australia. Imagine one facility that boasts not only a world-class circuit, but also a drag strip, drift arena, karting track, rally cross circuit, 4WD adventure park, and even a hotel.
It’s like stepping into a motorsport utopia.The Ultimate Lap
Whilst hunting, I was fortunate enough to be strapped in the passenger seat of a Lotus Exige to experience the main GT Circuit up close.
With fewer landmarks than most tracks for a new driver to use as brake markers, locking onto the layout would be challenging to begin with, especially given the high speeds attainable on the longer sections.
But like all things worthwhile, after practice the track flows beautifully when threaded by some experienced hands.
The straights are long, and each set of corners present the driver with a different set of challenges.
Those straight sections remind me of Fuji Speedway, the vastly differing corner combinations remind me of the Nürburgring Nordschleife, and the elevation changes of spirited drives through the mountains. There is no rival for this track in Australia.
British readers may laugh, but I’d never ridden in a Lotus prior to this; they’re not the most common things down under.
The Bend was the perfect place to showcase and amplify both the Exige’s agility and straight-line power. What a ride.Racing Towards The Future
With its state-of-the-art design, The Bend is not just another racetrack. Its sheer size is one thing, but the technology, safety measures and foresight embedded into every inch make it a contender for the highest echelon of global motorsport. The facility meets or exceeds every FIA specification and already hosts a number of international racing events.
Of course, Sam and the team behind The Bend would love the opportunity to one day host the Australian round of the Formula One World Championship. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet; we’re just dreamers, remember? For the time being, the team seem satisfied to let everybody else live out their dreams and enjoy the world-class facility.More Than Just Tarmac
The Bend Motorsport Park is more than asphalt and engines. In an era where the thrill of driving is often overlooked for efficiency and automation, the facility stands tall, reminding us of the raw excitement, the adrenaline, and the sheer love for cars and racing.
For South Australians, it’s a point of pride. For visitors, both seasoned professionals and curious first-timers, it’s an experience of a lifetime.
And for Sam? It’s the realisation of a dream that started with diecast cars on a rugged floor.