Rapisarda Autosport International pair Wayne Newby and Santino Rapisarda etched their names in the history books when they became the first driver/tuner combination to become two-time 400 Thunder champions after defeating Kelly Bettes in the final round of the 2018-19 season at the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals, June, 9.
Persistent rain over the two days of qualifying for the Pro categories reduced qualifying to a single round and for several of the leading lights in Pro Alcohol and Pro Stock it had a massive impact of their championship aspirations.
However, that was not the case for Top Fuel. With only seven entries the focus was on the prized top qualifier spot that came with the added bonus of a bye in the first round.
RAI star Damien Harris topped the timesheets with a spectacular pass of 3.778 sec, a whisper over his national record of 3.777 sec. Teammate Ashley Sanford chasing her maiden fuel win qualified second ahead of Bettes, 3-time champ Phil Read then Newby. Peter Xiberras, returning after a 12-month absence was sixth followed by part-time campaigner Terry Sainty.
The quickest side-by-side 1000-foot pass in Australia was the highlight of round one. Newby took the win with a 3.78, 312 mph while his opponent Phil Read shredded a belt at around 900 feet and had to settle for a 3.81, 315 mph.
Harris, on his solo run, broke his Australian record for the second time in 24 hours with a majestic pass of 3.774, 322 mph.
Bettes took the easiest of wins after her opponent Peter Xiberras was unable to select reverse after his burnout.
Terry Sainty dashed the American’s hopes when he denied Ashley Sanford’s dream of a first win in Top Fuel. Sanford’s chances went out the window bizarrely when on the hit of the throttle her helmet slipped down, and she was unable to see the track. Showing great composure, Sanford took one hand off the steering wheel to push her helmet back and was forced to drive one-handed.
“It’s one of those things that happens maybe once in a lifetime,” said Sanford. “My helmet got pushed forward; the visor moved down towards my nose, and, for a while, I was driving in the dark. I tried driving with one hand and also fix the helmet. I saw Terry and decided it was better to back off and keep in the car together.”
Sainty went on to take the win with a 4.02, 288 mph to Sanford’s 4.58, 231 mph.
The spotlight then moved the semi-final pairings that saw teammates Harris and Newby facing off in the top half of the draw and in the other pairing Bettes versus Sainty.
The Sainty and Bettes duel was anticlimactic after Sainty dropped a valve seat at the start line and when Harris overpowered the track and lost to Newby the scene was set for a winner-take-all final to decided the 400T championship.
Newby led off the line with a superior reaction time of .06 sec to Bettes’ .08. Bettes then went up in smoke while Newby disappeared into the distance until he proceeded to lose grip and was forced to wrestle his car towards the finish line, lucky to miss taking out a center cone by an estimated six inches on his way to a historic win with a 5.60, 138 mph to Bettes 10.21, 76 mph.
“It must have been a fun run for the crowd,” said Newby. “I don’t know what happened to Kelly, but we had a pretty ugly run. I did get to have a close look at the centerline at one stage. I remember the words that Stan Tindale, a racer from my early days, said to me. “If you back off you can steer the car, that’s what I did, and it all turned out well.” Santino gave me a great ca, and I can’t thank Santo and the Rapisarda family enough for allowing me to win a second Top fuel championship.”
Paul Mouhayet’s reign as Australian Pro Slammer king continued after winning with his second consecutive 400T crown. The Sydney based tuner-driver only needed to present for the first round of racing to secure the title. “Winning a second championship is sweet,” said Mouhayet.
“This year I’ve been tuning the car as well as driving. Last year was all about learning to drive a Pro Slammer, and our crew were learning how to race a blower car. This year it all came together, and we got the job done for a second time.”
In round one Mouhayet ran 5.71, 252 mph to down Western Australian Marty Dack. Indigenous racer Scott Maclean upset 10-time champ John Zappia and number one qualifier Steve Ham clocked 5.71, 255 mph to overcome a Paul Cannuli holeshot. Ben Bray, chasing his first win of the season, accounted for Sydney racer Geoff Gradden. Second round and, in a significant surprise, Mouhayet fell to Ham and McLean led all the way to defeat Bray.
The final was a thriller with Maclean in contention up to half-track before fading slightly and setting the stage for Ham to take the win. “We didn’t want to step on it too hard in the final and make fools of ourselves,” said Ham. “The car just went rounds all day. Hats off to the crew.”
Gary Phillips added another gold Christmas tree to his collection taking out the Pro Alcohol title. Nearest rival and defending champ Steve Reed broke a blower belt on his only qualifying run and missed the cut. Phillips’ perfect weekend continued after he went on to defeat fellow Queenslander Justine Walsh in the final.
“It never gets easier even after 20 Pro Alcohol championships,” said Phillips. “We started prepping for this meeting months ago picking out clutch disks and looking at gear ratios. A week and a half out, we started looking at what the weather was likely to be. The preparation really paid off.”
Aaron Tremayne needed only to stage on race day to claim his fourth consecutive Pro Stock title after his nearest rival Chris Soldatos got caught out by the single round of qualifying and missed the cut.
Tremayne’s weekend ended after cutting an uncharacteristic red light in a semifinal matchup against little known Queenslander Brian Pursell who then went on to claimed his first ever-gold Christmas tree after defeating Tyrone Tremayne in a thrilling final by .001 sec.
“I’ve been doing this since 1989,” said an elated Pursell. “Tyrone and I had a great race. I also want to thank Aaron Tremayne for building me an awesome motor.”
American Katie Sullivan took the win in Pro Bike and also set a national record of 6.96 sec. Ryan Learmonth runner-up to Sullivan claimed the 400 Thunder title.
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019