Australian Top Fuel star Wayne Newby defeated his Rapisarda Autosport International teammate Ashley Sanford to win the opening round of the 400 Thunder season at Sydney Dragway, November 2-3. Damien Harris finished third to make it a clean sweep for the powerhouse force in Australian Top Fuel.
Newby raced to victory behind the wheel of a recently acquired ex-DSR canopy car that raced for the first time on Australian soil only two days before the event.
“The canopy car is a lot quieter,” according to Newby. “You feel like you are in a cocoon. There is a bit more room in the cockpit and it’s easier to get in and out of.”
The two-day event that included all the Pro categories attracted only five entries in Top Fuel. The RAI trio, reigning champ Kelly Bettes, fresh from a semi-final appearance at the World Sports Compact Championship in Florida and Sydney veteran Phil Read. Notable absentees were Darren Morgan, Rachelle Splatt and highly rated Peter Xiberras.
Spotted in the Read enclave was ex-Kalitta Racing crew chief Jim Oberhofer.
“I’m here to hang out with my Aussie family – the Reeds”, said Oberhofer. “Bruce Read, who tunes the car, gave me a call and said come on down. I was more than happy to make that 14-hour flight from LA and to catch up with people I haven’t seen since I was here over 10 years ago.”
Race organizers dispensed with the usual all run format and reverted to the traditional eight-car elimination race format. This meant the top three qualifiers were given direct entry to the semi-finals and the number four and five qualifiers raced off for the last remaining semi-final spot.
A scheduled three rounds of qualifying was reduced to a single round due to inclement weather. Harris topped the charts with a 3.95, 305 mph to lead Bettes, Sanford, Read and Newby.
The semi-finals pitted Sanford against Harris and Newby who ran a 4.00, 294 mph to defeat Phil Read facing off against Bettes for a place in the final.
Sanford ran a 3.99, 279 mph to narrowly defeat Harris with a 4.08, 263 mph in an entertaining battle to advance to her second ever TF final Newby with a 3.93, 293 mph easily drove around Bettes who slowed to a 4.25, 252 mph.
The all RAI final was a thriller as both cars left the line in unison and it was when Sanford began to spin the tires that allowed Newby to take the win.
“We had a great race with Ashley in the final,” said Newby. “Everything that our tuner Santo Rapisarda told me the car would do happened. To come out with a new car was a risk but I had total faith in Santino and knew that a win was definitely on the cards.”
“We were consistent and we were strong,” said Sanford. “In the final, we were going well to about half-track then got caught on a bump. At that point, we lost traction and then Wayne flew by. Can’t be too unhappy though. It’s always great to see a Rapisarda car take the win.”
Pro Slammer affirmed its status as the boom category in the 400T series this season with an oversubscribed entry list of 14. Western Australian Kelvin Lyle qualified in a career-best third place then went on to score his maiden Pro Slammer win when he defeated Sam Fenech in the final. The two outstanding performers in the category this season John Zappia and Paul Mouhayet suffered shock early exits. Zappia ousted in round one after his ’71 Holden Monaro shut down with electrical gremlins on the start line. Mouhayet after cutting a reaction time of .257 failed to run down Lyle in round two. Father and son combo Ben and Victor Bray along with the sole femme in the field Michelle Davies were round one casualties. New Zealander Trevor Smith, in only his second race meeting in Australia, qualified on the bump spot made it to the semi-final then lost to Fenech.
In Pro Stock unheralded Chris Soldatos took the win over Tyrone Tremayne in sensational fashion. Soldatos went into full stage and bought up both lights on the Christmas tree. Tremayne’s fate was sealed when he failed to stage within seven seconds and was consequently timed out.
Robert Ambruosi qualified fifth then went on to claim his maiden victory in 400T Pro-Alcohol. Ambruosi dispatched two of the legends of the category, current champ Steve Reed and top qualifier Gary Phillips on the way to a final against little known fellow Victorian Chris Hargrave. The eagerly awaited final was an anti-climax when Hargrave was unable to make the start line after damaging his engine in the semi-final.