Californian speedster Ashley Sanford will lead the US charge at the New Year Thunder meeting at Willowbank Raceway, Queensland, 5. Sanford, a member of the Rapisarda Autosport International squad, will race alongside Kalitta Motorsport’s Richie Crampton who will be making his second appearance down under for local outfit Lamattina Top Fuel Racing.
Sanford, a regular with RAI over the past two seasons, will be chasing her first career win in the elite category. One of the most popular racers to tour Australia in the last decade, she finished runner-up to Sydney racer Peter Xiberras at the corresponding meeting last year and was second to teammate Wayne Newby at the opening round of the 400 Thunder 2018-19 season Dragway in November.
Crampton, who finished 11th in the 2018 NHRA Top Fuel championship last season, previously raced for LTFR at Sydney Dragway in May 2017 and lost in the final to Sydneysider Wayne Newby.
The one-day meeting, consisting of a testing run and three rounds of racing under the all in format, has attracted six entries lead by the RAI trio of series leader Wayne Newby, Damien Harris and Sanford along with reigning TF champ Kelly Bettes, Crampton and Sydney veteran Phil Read.
Newby will go into the meeting as the warm favourite following an outstanding season-opening performance. The NHRA regular unveiled the team’s recently acquired state of the art DSR canopy car and after burning the midnight oil to prep the car in time for the event defeated Sanford in the final. Newby, in typically understated fashion, declared the car a ‘great drive” and was looking forward to working alongside tuning ace Santino Rapisarda to exploit the potential of the car.
Hometown hero Bettes, who cut her teeth racing a junior dragster at Willowbank in the 1990s, lost to Harris in the second round at Sydney Dragway and will be keen to atone for a disappointing start to her title defence after making history as the first women to win a Top Fuel championship in Australia.
Vying with TF as the main attraction is Pro Slammer with15 entrants. Kelvin Lyle, little known outside of his home state Western Australia, heads the points chart after scoring surprise win at the second round of the championship when the two category heavyweights John Zappia and Paul Mouhayet stumbled in early rounds. Dark horses to cause an upset come in the guise of Sydney racers Sam Fenech and Emilio Spinozzi and Willowbank favourite Ben Bray.
In Pro Alcohol journeyman racer Robert Ambruosi has emerged as a genuine championship contender after winning the opening round. Ambruosi’s giant killer performance to defeat current champ Steve Reed and category legend Gary Phillips to take the win is an early contender for highlight of the Alky season.
Pro Stock has defied the naysayers with a respectable car count of eight for round two of their five-round championship. Part-time racer Chris Soldatos, who finished fifth last season, is a surprise point’s leader after a boil over when he took the win in Sydney. Tremaniac Racing brothers Aaron and Tyrone who have dominated the category since the inception of the 400 Thunder series are likely to bounce back from Sydney performances where Aaron after defeating Tyrone in the semi-final then lost to Soldatos in the final.