Rapisarda Autosport International with three of the seven entries is expected to be the dominant force in Top Fuel at the opening round of the 2019-20 400 Thunder season at Sydney Dragway, November 1-2.
The favorite to claim the first gold Christmas tree of the season will be reigning champ Wayne Newby who dominated last season notching up three wins and went on to win his second 400 Thunder Fuel crown. Western Australian teammate, Damien Harris, looms as his main rival. Harris rewrote the record book last season with a series of blistering runs culminating in an Australian record of 3.77 at the Winternationals. Californian Ashley Sanford returns for her third season with RAI. The hard-luck story of last season, 25-year-old Sanford posted three runner-up finishes and finished third in the championship. A win by the mega-popular import would be an early contender for the highlight of the 2019-20 season.
There are no changes behind the scenes for RAI with Santino Rapisarda tuning Newby’s car and Santo Rapisarda Jr partnering with Harris and Rob Cavagnino in charge of the Sanford entry.
All eyes in Top Fuel will be on the return of two-time champ Phil Lamattina. The ‘Carrot King’, so named because the family is one of the largest carrot growers in Australia, was forced into retirement after a massive crash in 2015. He replaces Kelly Bettes who raced for the team last season and finished runner-up in the championship to Newby. A successful return to the track last weekend, that included five runs, left observers in little doubt that Lamattina is capable of a first-up win.
Sydney based team owner-driver Peter Xiberras drove his recently arrived Morgan Lucas car for the first time last weekend with Ben Patterson working alongside Tim Adams on tuning duties. Patterson is fresh from a gig as co-crew chief for Anita Makela winner of the 2019 FIA European Top Fuel title. With only two runs on their scorecard, the team is capable of a robust first-up result, but, may need more time to gel to become race winners.
Three-time champ Phil Read looms as a likely candidate to upset the RAI juggernaut. Elder brother Bruce is crew chief and has accumulated a wealth of tuning knowledge including several stints on the NHRA with Kalitta Racing. Despite a tough run of luck last season the Sydney based team still managed to finish fourth in the championship.
Terry Sainty, brother-in-law to Phil Read, is the archetype Aussie battler and the only member of the field to pull triple duty – team owner-driver and tuner. Round wins on the day are within reach. But, to string together three to win the meeting will be a significant challenge.
Pro Slammer will be the most open in recent years following the shock retirement of two-time winner Paul Mouhayet. John Zappia, runner-up to Mouhayet for the last two years, will assume the mantle of pacesetter for the season. Underrated Queenslander Steve Ham announced his arrival as a genuine slammer contender after winning the most prestigious event on the domestic calendar the 2019 Winternationals. Western Australian Kelvin Lyle, a round winner last season, returns with a new car to replace the Camaro he wrote off at Willowbank Raceway in round three. Ben Bray, third last season, will fly the flag for TBR with team owner Victor Bray missing due to sponsorship woes.
The renaissance in Pro Stock continues with a healthy car count of 13. The largest of all the Pro categories.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that Aaron Tremayne or sibling Tyrone, who have monopolised the class since the inception of 400 Thunder series, will again, dominate the 2019-20 season. Victorian Chris Soldatos, who finished runner-up to Aaron Tremayne last season has emerged as the most likely candidate to break the Tremaniac Racing monopoly.
The introduction of unleaded fuel for Pro Stock this season brings with it an element of intrigue and uncertainty plus the distinct possibility of major upsets in qualifying and on race day.
Evergreen Gary Phillips will be a red-hot favourite to add to his haul of Top Alcohol titles. He will face stiff opposition from fellow Queenslander Steve Reed and emerging talent Robert Ambruosi who claimed his first Alky win at this meeting in 2018.
The event will dispense with the all-in format that is used for one-day events and revert to the traditional three rounds of qualifying and eight-car field on race day.