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by David Zalstein

The Mazda 6 Celebrity Challenge at the weekend’s Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne resulted in a lot of smiles, a lot of fun and a lot of carnage.

With 21 celebrities battling it out in identical 129kW/420Nm Mazda 6 diesels in three five-lap races of the 5.3km Albert Park Formula One circuit over Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the Mazda 6 Celebrity Challenge was always going to be a feisty affair. And it didn’t disappoint.

Mazda 6 Celebrity Challenge - 2

Friday’s Race One saw former Australian test cricketer Brad Hodge breeze to victory by 11.3 seconds after qualifying on pole, finishing ahead of actors Jonathan LaPaglia and Jared Daperis. Despite Scottish Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy ending his day in the sand, the weekend’s big casualties were reserved for Saturday.

While Hodge repeated his dominant Race One performance, second and third place went down to a battle between LaPaglia and chef Shane Delia. Race Two left four Mazda 6 cars heavily damaged due to the combined enthusiasm of Scott McGregor, Jared Daperis, Hamish MacDonald and Wayne Cooper, and with Mazda’s three spare cars now beyond repair, the field for Sunday’s final race was culled from 21 to 18.

Mazda 6 Celebrity Challenge - 10

Mazda 6 Celebrity Challenge - 20

Race Three started as the previous two had, with Hodge again tearing away to a solid lead early and securing a Celebrity Challenge three-peat. Cleaner racing further down the field was a positive sign that the teachings of the drivers’ instructor, Mark Skaife, had been taken on board, until lap four when Em Rusciano was first contacted by Kate Peck before a race-ending incident with Jessica Gomes left Rusciano spinning and hitting a wall.

Some solid driving – and the discovery the night before that the car’s traction control system could be switched off – saw Hoy take second spot ahead of the consistent Delia.

Mazda 6 Celebrity Challenge - Mark Skaife

Skaife told CarAdvice he was impressed with the celebrities’ efforts across the action-packed weekend.

“They’ve been really good,” Skaife said. “They’ve applied themselves very well.

“The great thing about this is that at the end of it this’ll stay with them forever. They’ll drive cars with not only more enjoyment but with majorly better competency and more understanding of the dynamics.”

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TV personality and meteorologist Magdalena Roze said while she was surprised that competing in the event proved to be such an intense experience, she wished she had done it earlier.

“I never expected to be so emotional after the race,” Rose said.

“There’s a mixture of terror, of fear, of fun and excitement and putting that all together it makes for a pretty intense experience.

“This has been the best experience, the best week of my life. It’s awesome.”

Mazda 6 Celebrity Challenge - Renae Ayris, Sarah De Bono, Kate Peck, Sir Chris Hoy and Anna Meares

Once being checked over by the Grand Prix medical crew following her final lap collision, Rusciano said she was still glad she took part in the event.

“I’m glad I did it,” she said.

“I couldn’t have ever imagined it would be this good. I’ve learnt heaps.”

Mazda 6 Celebrity Challenge - 9

Despite being knocked out of the competition in Race Two – and nursing a likely broken rib – fashion designer Wayne Cooper said before the final race he we would have loved to be back out on track.

“It was awesome. I overtook eight people yesterday. I was going like a bat outta hell,” he said.

“We’re not race drivers. And everyone drives their car differently. You don’t know what the guy in front of you is gonna do next. That’s why s–t happens.”

Mazda 6 Celebrity Challenge - 1

Mazda is yet to confirm if it will continue its sponsorship of the Celebrity Challenge in 2014.

Click on the Photos tab for more images of the 2013 Mazda 6 Celebrity Challenge.

Mazda 6 Celebrity Challenge Overall Winners:

  1. Brad Hodge
  2. Shane Delia
  3. Jonathan LaPaglia

Race One Podium:

  1. Brad Hodge
  2. Jonathan LaPaglia
  3. Jared Daperis

Race Two Podium:

  1. Brad Hodge
  2. Jonathan LaPaglia
  3. Shane Delia

Race Three Podium:

  1. Brad Hodge
  2. Sir Chris Hoy
  3. Shane Delia

Mazda6 Celebrity Challenge Starting Grid:

  • #01 Jonathan LaPaglia
  • #02 Vanessa Amorosi
  • #03 Matthew Cowdrey
  • #04 Sir Chris Hoy
  • #05 Em Rusciano
  • #06 Anna Meares
  • #07 Mark Beretta
  • #08 Chris Tarrant
  • #09 Jared Daperis
  • #10 Magdalena Roze
  • #11 Wayne Cooper
  • #12 Anthony ‘Lehmo’ Lehmann
  • #13 Shane Delia
  • #14 Hamish McDonald
  • #15 Kate Peck
  • #16 Jessica Gomes
  • #17 Holly Candy
  • #18 Brad Hodge
  • #19 Scott McGregor
  • #20 Renae Ayris
  • #21 Sarah De Bono



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