Tailem Bend - The accidental motorsport star

ONCE upon a time, when our island continent was still trying to establish itself, a group of railway gangers building the line linking Adelaide and Melbourne set up camp in a stand of pine trees on cliffs overlooking the mighty Murray River, not too far from where it flows into Lake Alexandrina.

Somewhat imaginatively, they called it Pine Camp and somewhat surprisingly, it not only stayed put but flourished and in 1887, some three years after the first tent peg was driven by one of those railwaymen, it was proclaimed a town and given the name 'Tailem Bend'.

These days Tailem Bend is a handy watering hole on the Princes Highway, about an hour out of Adelaide and, because of its location, a useful stopping point for truck drivers needing to fuel body and vehicle before heading for Melbourne or Sydney.

Tailem Bend's main claim to fame has long been its agriculture, which is impressively diversified with the district home to pig farming, dairying, grain, hay and olives.

Right now though, the town is fast becoming Ground Zero for Australian motorsport through a place called The Bend Motorsport Park or, more simply, The Bend.

The Bend is a game changer, a vehicle precinct rather than a mere race track, a place that takes the common notion of a motor racing circuit and turns it on its head, replacing the single, set-length track with a site dedicated to a swag of motoring and motorsport-related activities.

Built on a 700 hectare land package using reclaimed farmland and the old Mitsubishi Australia proving ground, The Bend was built with a substantial budget (think $110 million and keep adding to it) and an unbridled imagination.

Conceived, funded, built and owned largely by South Australia's biggest private company, the Peregrine Corporation, it is touted by its owners, motorsport authorities, the motoring media and punters alike as one of the most significant developments in Australian motorsport history.

Designed by Paul Trengove and with advice from Australian motorsport greats Mick Doohan (five-time world motorcycle champion) and ex-Formula One driver and World Endurance Champion Mark Webber, the circuit can be made into seven, with track lengths varying between 3.4 kilometres and 7.77 kilometres.

The longest track, known as the GT circuit and which will be used for the second round of the Asian Le Mans Series in January next year, has an impressive 35 corners. By comparison, the 4.95km International circuit used for the Virgin Australia Supercar Series, comprises 'only' 18 turns.

Still, it may come as a surprise to many that The Bend's GT circuit is the world's second-longest permanent race circuit after Germany's Nurburgring Nordschliefe, a 22 kilometre-long monster.

But it doesn't end there because The Bend Motorsport Park was planned right from the start for everything from international, national and state racing programs, through to grass roots club events, driver training and a range of drive experience programs.

The Bend houses Australia's only permanent circuit for drift racing and has a kart racing circuit that has full international racing certification. It also boasts a rallycross track, a four-wheel-drive off-road training area and adventure park, a rally special stage, off-road racing stage and a driver training area.

Work on a 400-metre-long, international standard drag strip is expected to start this year and there are plans to build villas on site enabling enthusiasts to both garage their racing and specialist sports cars, and spend time with them on one of the many circuit configurations.

Speaking of accommodation, The Bend already has a Big 4 Tourist Park with permanent bungalows and powered sites for caravanners and campers. As well, there is a four-star hotel, the 100-room Rydges Pit Lane as part of the main building with rooms overlooking the pit lane (as its name suggests).

Getting there? By road in most cases, but an airfield complete with a helipad and capable of handling light aircraft and helicopters is also in the planning stages.

In December 2017, in an interview with the ABC, then-Coorong District Council mayor Neville Jaensch said the development was driving investment in local road upgrades, new businesses and accommodation in what he described as "a tsunami of change".

"We've gone, in the last few years, from a sleepy council that sits in the back row of the meeting. Thanks to the motorsport park we are now sitting in the front row," Cr Jaensch said, suggesting the region could potentially have 400,000 tourists a year, almost all of them heading for The Bend.

It is very possible the good councillor may have underestimated the numbers somewhat.