Defending champ Kelly Bettes scored her maiden win of the 2018-19 400 Thunder season after overpowering Californian native Ashley Sanford in the final of Top Fuel at Willowbank Raceway’s New Year Thunder meeting.
Reigning champ Paul Mouhayet triumphed in Pro Slammer, evergreen Gary Phillips took the honors in Pro-Alcohol and Aaron Tremayne scored a controversial win in Pro Stock.
NHRA star Richie Crampton’s hopes of a first Top fuel win in Oz was thwarted after a mechanical failure in round one.
The traditional eight seed elimination format was replaced by a one-day all-run structure featuring two rounds of paired racing. Each round winner pocketed 20 points and the loser handed 5. Low ET points for each round were allocated on a sliding scale.
After round two, the top two in the points raced off in the final. Both participants were handed a bonus of 20 points for making the final with the overall winner of the meeting collecting 20 points and the runner-up receiving 5.
Round one matchups were based on championship point’s standings. The most intriguing pairing pitted series leader Wayne Newby against expat Crampton. Their run was aborted when the red lights on the Christmas tree began to flash when they went into stage apparently due to a computer glitch. Consequently both cars were shut down. On the restart, Harris was gifted the win when Crampton’s car was discovered to have lost a bolt out the back of the blower during the burnout.
Rapisarda Autosport International star Damien Harris took low ET points for the round with a 3.91, 309 mph in defeating Bettes who cut a red light. Sanford comfortably drove around Sydney based Phil Read around half track for the win.
Consolation for the Read camp was the fact that it was the first time in 10 runs that the ‘Black Mamba’ had completed a full pass.
For the second consecutive meeting, ex-Kalitta crew chief Jim Oberhofer was on hand to assist the Jim Read Racing outfit.
“We’ve been knocking on the door,” said a chuffed Phil Read. “We are not running the latest technology in the car and ‘Jim O’ has been a great help since coming on board last November.”
When Bettes returned to the pits after round one the team discovered their top wing was damaged.
“The middle section of the wing literally just broke out at the end of the run,” explained Bettes. With no spare on hand local team, PremiAIR stepped into the breach. Crew chief Tim Adams, spectating at the event, drove to the team’s workshop and returned with a replacement wing.
In second round Bettes clocked 3.87/298 mph to defeat Sanford with a 3.96/303 mph. Crampton was handed the win when rival Harris failed to back up after the burn out due to a broken clutch linkage. The highlight of the round was Phil Read’s upset win over Newby with a 3.87/312 mph that would also prove to be low ET of the meeting. Newby’s hopes were dashed after clicking off early in the run.
For the second time in their brief careers, Bettes and Sanford met in a TF final. Sanford was brilliant on the green with a .077 reaction time to Bettes .091 and held sway until a rod broke and Bettes sped past to claim her fourth Gold Christmas tree.
“We had to face and overcome a lot of challenges over the day,” said Bettes. “This weekend was a massive undertaking for the Lamattina family to put two cars on the track. The win is a great reward.”
For Sanford it was a case of “Two races and two second places, again, we came so close,. A mechanical failure in a Rapisarda car is a rare occurrence but it can happen. One bonus coming out of the meet is that we are leading the championship.”
Twelve hours after the end of the meet Sanford jetted home to California to continue talks aimed at securing a ride in the 2019 Mello Yello Series.
“We struggled a bit,” said Crampton. “But still were able to have some fun. Phil and all the Lamattina family are a great bunch of guys. On the second run, I hit a couple of cones. That’s the first time ever in any type of racecar in my career that I’ve hit the cones. My visor was fogging up and I wasn’t going to shut it off.”
Pro Slammer was dominated by Mouhayet who was in superb form off the trailer to defeat Queensland duo of Jason Donnelly and Paul Cannuli to make the final. The most successful racer in the category, John Zappia, had his hopes dashed after hitting three timing cones in the second round. Series leader Kelvin Lyle’s campaign ended in the first round after crashing heavily and ending in the gravel trap.
Steve Ham, a winner in Top Alcohol, breezed to his first ever ’slammer final with easy wins over New Zealander Trevor Smith and Jason Donnelly.
The final was a one-horse race with Mouhayet leading all the way.
“We had a bit off trouble when we test before the meeting,” said crew chief Glenn Davies. “There is a new engine combination in the car and it’s great to be back on top this weekend. We thought we could have gone a bit quicker in the final but a win’s a win.”
Gary Phillips, the winningest racer in Oz Pro Alcohol, took the honors when longtime rival and fellow Queenslander Steve Read, after getting a holeshot, crossed the centerline and was disqualified. Phillips’ dominated the meeting with three wins, a swag of bonus points and low ET with a 5.43/264 mph.
Aaron Tremayne, the most successful racer in the naturally aspirated category over the last decade, defeated last round winner Chris Soldatos in the final of Pro Stock.
The win and the controversial aftermath are certain to be a major talking point in Pro Stock circles.
At the previous meeting in Sydney, Soldatos went into stage and when Tremayne failed to stage within the seven seconds was timed out and Soldatos was handed the win.
This weekend the tables were turned.
Tremayne went into stage catching his opponent off guard. His superior reaction time of .603 to Soldatos’s .804 setting up an easy victory.
“It was a big win for the team,” said Tremayne. “We gave him back what he deserved. That’s what happens when you play games. I want to come out here and race fair and square. Hopefully we can do that next time.”
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019