The Santo’s Summer Thunder meeting at Sydney Dragway, January 18, 19 will go into the history books as the most bizarre event held at the venue since opening in 2004.
The event was abandoned after the catch fence was destroyed following a high-speed crash in the final of Pro Slammer between Sydney pair Sam Fenech and Paul Mouhayet.
Fenech took the win, then his parachutes failed to deploy properly after crossing the finish line and became entangled in the wheelie bar. His Chevy Camaro careered through the sand trap, penetrated the safety catch fence tearing the support poles out of the ground then mounted the tire wall before coming to rest.
By the time safety crews reached Fenech, he was able to extricate himself from the car and walk away.
“Thankfully I am feeling really good,” said Fenech. “I have no injuries that I know of, all the safety gear did its job. The track staff, the ambulance crew, everybody did an unreal job.”
“Unfortunately the car is gone, but we had a really good win. As far as the team goes we are strong and everything is good, so thanks for all the well wishes.”
With no hope of repairing the damaged catch fence race officials had no option but to cancel the remainder of the meeting including the final of Top Fuel, between a resurgent Phil Read and reigning 400T champ Kelly Bettes.
The third round of the 400 Thunder championship also celebrated the 15th anniversary of the opening of Sydney Dragway – then known as Western Sydney International Dragway.
To celebrate the occasion an online poll voted the opening of the track to be the #1 moment in the history of the venue when a crowd estimated at 50,000 flocked to the venue for the three-day meeting despite heatwave conditions. John Cowin took the win over American Mike Dunn in Top Fuel and a youthful Ben Bray defeated Gary Phillips in Doorslammer.
The two-day meeting sponsored by team owner Santo Rapisarda got off to an inglorious start with track temperatures nudging 155F and air temperature hovering around 112F. That meant there was little to be gained by taking part in what race organizers called ‘shakedown runs’.
Rapisarda Autosport International three cars for Wayne Newby, Damien Harris and Ashley Sanford remained under wraps, as did local hero Phil Read’s car.
Lamattina Racing was the only team to venture onto the track. Bettes made two passes and her American teammate, Cameron Ferre making his Australian debut, made a sighting run in order to satisfy local licensing requirements.
A cool change swept the venue overnight and delivered ideal race day conditions.
Round one opened with a superb side-by-side pass with reigning 400T champ Bettes running a 3.83, 312 mph to narrowly edge out RAI star Damien Harris with a 3.88, 311 mph. Phil Read ran a PB for the 1000-foot distance, 3.85, 307 mph to down Ashley Sanford who was forced to slow after wearing out a clutch disk. Wayne Newby grabbed the win and bonus ET points for the round thanks to a 3.80, 315 mph in ousting Ferre who shut off before half-track.
In Second round the three RAI cars stumbled. Read, with yet another personal best of 3.81, 316 mph, accounted for Harris who suffered a dose of tire shake and rolled to the end zone. Newby also hit with a serve of tire shake handed Ferre his first Aussie round win and in the all-femme battle, it was Bettes who outpaced Sanford.
When win and bonus ET points were calculated giant killer Read and Bettes, chasing her second consecutive win, were at the top of the leader’s board.
With both cars waiting in the staging lanes the eagerly anticipated showdown was cancelled in the aftermath of the Fenech crash.
“We had a great race car and ran back-to-back PB’s,” said Read. “My brother Bruce and Jim O had tuned the car to perfection. We had lane choice and were super confident going into the final against Kelly. We’ve developed a good baseline and I think the other teams are on notice.”
For Californian based Ferre making the 15-hour plane trip to spend around eight seconds racing was worth the experience.
“I had a great time in Australia”, said Ferre. “I was able to help Kelly in making the final after winning against Wayne in second round. I really have to thank Phil and the Lamattina team for the opportunity to race in Australia. The fans were really friendly. I also got to eat an Aussie meat pie which I rate an A but didn’t try Vegemite. I’ll save that for the next time.”
Round four of the Pro Slammer series attracted 10 entries. Notable absentees were one-time series leader Kelvin Lyle and Queenslander Andrew Searle after both crashed heavily at Willowbank Raceway earlier this month.
In first round, Ben Bray claimed bragging rights for the weekend after defeating his father Victor with a 5.78 to 5.91. Last round runner-up Steve Ham got the wheels up off the start line but settled his ’69 Camaro quickly to down highly fancied Emilio Spinozzi. John Zappia downed sole femme in the series Michelle Davies. Sam Fenech was in superb touch to defeat fellow Sydneysider Mark Hinchelwood and also collect low ET bonus points for the round. Mouhayet was handed the win when part-time racer Geoff Gradden cut a red light.
Round two and Ben Bray, thanks to a spectacular reaction time of .018, ended Zappia’s hopes of making the final. Steve Ham had the easiest of wins after Victor Bray broke a blower belt off the line. Fenech secured his place in the final defeating Spinozzi with a 5.65, 256 mph pass and also claiming another swag of low ET bonus points. Mouhayet, for the second time on the day, easily defeated Gradden and Davies on a solo broke.
With Bray, Mouhayet and Fenech all sitting on two wins apiece Bray missed a place in the final because he had less bonus ET points than his opponents.
The Final ended quickly after Mouhayet shook the tyres around the 100-foot of the line while Fenech sped to the finish line to take the win.
“What happened to Sam is every driver’s nightmare,” said Mouhayet. “Everyone is relieved to see him come through the ordeal virtually unscathed. His team laid down some really stout numbers over the weekend. They were consistent and that means winning races.’’
Fenech became the fourth individual winner in Pro Slammer this season. Next round is at Sydney Dragway on May 3 – 4.
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019