Series leaders Kelly Bettes and Rapisarda Autosport International pair Wayne Newby and Ashley Sanford will share top billing at the Gulf Western Oil Nitro Thunder meeting May 3-4 that will also feature the biggest Top Fuel car count of the season.
The eight-car field has been boosted by the comeback of several of the biggest names in the sport, including four-time champ Darren Morgan who last raced November 2017, local hero Terry Sainty sidelined since May 2018 and Rachelle Splatt whose previous appearance was at the 2018 Winternationals.
The penultimate round of the 2018-19 season is shaping up as a three-way battle between reigning champ Bettes, with 263 points, holding a slender 12-point lead over RAI star Newby with American import Ashley Sanford 37 points adrift in the third spot. Three-time champ Phil Read and RAI stalwart Harris on 206 and 185 points respectively face an uphill battle to claw their way back into championship contention.
Bettes will go into the meeting nominal favorite after a superb performance at the previous round where she accounted for Harris and Sanford to make the final against Read. With both cars in the staging lanes, their eagerly awaited clash was canned after the catch fence was damaged in the final of Pro Slammer and couldn’t be repaired.
Newby has been the best-performed member of the RAI this season. After wheeling out a Don Schumacher Racing canopy car for the opening round Newby proceeded to blitz the field and defeated teammate Sanford in the final. Since then he has finished third on two occasions.
Californian Sanford, the youngest racer in the field, will have the Sydney crowd cheering her on as she attempts to score her first ever win in Top Fuel. Since making her debut with RAI in 2017 the 25-year-old has finished runner-up three times including two from three starts this season.
Harris, the Australian record holder will be chasing his first win of the season. A third, fourth and sixth so far this season is a disappointing return from the squad that has been a pacesetter in recent years. Read, the most experienced fuel racer in the field made a low-key start to the season finishing fifth on two occasions then hit his straps at the last round to defeat Sanford and Harris and advance to the ill-fated finale against Bettes.
Runaway points leader Paul Mouhayet is on track to clinch back-to-back Pro Slammer titles this weekend. His nearest rival John Zappia faces a massive challenge to overcome an 85-point deficit to stay in contention and force the championship to be decided at the Winternationals next month.
Pro Stock has been the surprise category this season with strong car counts across all four rounds. This weekend will see 13 factory hot rods hit the start line. The two leading protagonists Aaron Tremayne and Chris Soldatos are only separated by 17 points. Like their American cousins, the category is capable of delivering a raft of upsets. Look to underrated Queensland pair of Wayne Daley and Brian Pursell to be in the mix.
Pro Alcohol is shaping up as a three-way battle between 20-time winner Gary Phillips, reigning champ Steve Reed and Victorian Robert Ambruosi chasing his first Alky title. Phillips holds a comfortable lead of 54 points over Reed and 20 points back to Ambruosi.
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019