Peter Xiberras grabbed Top Fuel honors at the opening round of the 2019-20 Australian season with a sizzling win over reigning champ Wayne Newby at Sydney Dragway.
Joining Xiberras in the winner’s circle were Pro Slammer ace Steve Ham. Jason Hedges who collected his first ever-gold Christmas tree in Pro Stock and veteran Gary Phillips claiming the spoils in Top Alcohol.
With only seven entries in Top Fuel the number one qualifier came with the added bonus of a bye in the first round.
That reward went to defending champ Wayne Newby thanks to a pass of 3.83,314 mph ahead of his teammate Damien Harris and Peter Xiberras who ran a PB of 3.85, 320 mph. Fourth place went to Phil Lamattina who also dipped into PB territory with a 3.85,319 mph. RAI star import Ashley Sanford claimed the fifth spot but at a massive cost. Significant engine damage incurred on the final qualifier meant the team were forced to toil through the night repairing the car. According to crew chief Rob Cavagnino, “We broke the crank, pulled the main studs, rattled the blower, broke all the levers and bent the engine plate. It made a real mess.”
Rounding out the field were local hero Terry Sainty and three-time champ Phil Read who broke a crank on his second run and was sidelined for the final round.
The highlight of qualifying and an early candidate for the highlight of the season was the first-ever sub four-second pass from the Mr Nice Guy of Australian drag racing, Terry Sainty. Sainty thrilled the crowd and delighted his peers with a 3.99, 297. His first ever sub-four-second pass since making his debut in 1992. An emotional Sainty dedicated the win to the much-loved family patriarch Stan Sainty who passed away in 2017. “This won’t sink in for a couple of days,” said Sainty. “We race a homemade Aussie car with a lot of support from local companies. Many have been there from the early days. A lot of the crew have been with the team for over 30 years, going back to when the family raced boats. I’m just as happy for them. An added bonus was that it went down the track and came back in one piece.”
On race day unseasonal hot weather threw up significant challenges for teams in the elite category.
Newby on a solo opened his account with a workmanlike 3.97.
Harris lead all the way to defeat three-time champ Read who began to spin the tires around the 330-foot mark. Sainty’s dream weekend came to an abrupt halt when the parachutes deployed on the hit handing Xiberras the easiest of wins. The eagerly anticipated Lamattina versus Sanford duel lived up to expectations. Sanford cut a .072 light, put out a hole around 60 feet, tossed a belt and hung on to win after Lamattina went up in smoke. A candid Lamattina said. “The team missed the setup.”
The semi-final match-ups were intriguing. RAI teammates Sanford and Newby were going head to head. In the other half of the draw, Harris was facing off against Xiberras.
Sanford grabbed a holeshot, set sail to the finish line and looked to take the win until spinning the tyres at 2.6 seconds. A gritty Newby clawed his way back into contention and went on to take the win. Harris trailed Xiberras off the line and went down by .06 sec in a photo finish. Xiberras’s time 3.85, 321 mph was fastest of the round.
The final was a thriller; Xiberras seized an early lead, was never headed and went on to take a narrow win over Newby with a 3.85, 315 mph to Newby’s 3.88, 311 mph.
“Wow – what a weekend this has been,” said Xiberras. “This is a dream come true. We were hoping to PB, and run consistently … and of course, you always hope for a win, but this is just brilliant.”
The Xiberras team also donated all monies raised from the sale of merchandise to drought-affected farmers in rural Australia.
Steve Ham is poised to become the heir apparent to the throne vacated by two -time champ Paul Mouhayet who retired after winning the 2018-19 Pro Slammer championship. Ham previously a front-runner in Top Alcohol topped qualified, won the meet and pocketed ET and Top speed bonus points.
In the first round he easily drove around local identity Emilio Spinozzi then advanced to the final after his opponent Geoff Gradden ran a red light. Ben Bray qualified third then courtesy of a pair of holeshots defeated the Western Australian duo of John Zappia and Kelvin Lyle to book a place in the final round
There were no surprises when Bray one of the best in the business cut a superb reaction time of .024 sec to jump to the front, but then Ham made his move taking control hit the lead and crossing the line at 5.66, 256 mph. Bray gallant in defeat with a 5.75, 241 mph.
“We had a strong car all weekend, said Ham. We had a great combination in the car. To win and take home the maximum number of points on offer is a great way to start the season.”
Jason Hedges delighted the parochial Sydney crowd when he upset Aaron Tremayne in the final of Pro Stock. Tremayne was forced to replace the engine after the semi-final round was first off the line but was run down by Hedges who took the win with a 7.01, 194 mph.
“It’s been a long time coming, said Hedges. “We qualified fourth and have just been plugging away all day and to get the first gold Christmas tree is amazing.”
The introduction of non-leaded fuel this season appears to be having little impact on performance levels. Number one qualifier Wayne Daley, who lost to Hedges in second round walking away with low ET honours of the meet with 6.91 sec.
Australia’s longest-running drag rivalry continues with fellow Queenslanders, Gary Phillips and Steve Reed going head to head in the final of Top Alcohol. The pair have been rivals since the inception of the class 29 years ago. According to Cheyne Phillips, stats wizard and son of Gary Phillips, “They must have raced each who knows how many times… could be in the hundreds.”
This time Phillips came out on top also claiming low ET of 5.42 and Top speed of 265 mph.
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) November 4, 2019