Close championships highlight 400 Thunder’s Gulf Western Oil Winternationals finale
The 400 Thunder Professional Drag Racing Season comes to a dramatic close with the running of the 51st annual Gulf Western Oil Winternationals at Queensland’s Willowbank Raceway, June 7 to 10.
400 Thunder Top Fuel could see its first ever female Australian champion, with Queensland’s Kelly Bettes currently leading by 33 points from Western Australia’s Damien Harris.
Driving the Lamattina Top Fuel Racing dragster, Bettes has been on a tear in the second half of the Top Fuel season, winning the last three events and putting herself in prime position to take an unprecedented championship victory in her rookie season. Her last event win came at Gulf Western Oil Nitro Thunder in Sydney, where she was part of the first all-female Top Fuel final round in Australian history.
For the first time ever, Australian Top Fuel features an even split of men and women. Californian Ashley Sanford could finish as high as third in the series if results go her way, which would match the previous highest Australian championship result by a woman in the category’s history – set by Rachelle Splatt in 1997, a racer who will also be competing at the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals.
400 Thunder Pro Slammer features one of the most exciting championship fights ever seen in the division with 11 times champion John Zappia (Western Australia) defending his title against New South Wales upstart Paul Mouhayet.
Mouhayet, driving the Moits Racing Ford Mustang, is in his rookie season for Pro Slammer but has not let that stop him from racking up two event victories and setting a new national speed record. His mid-season charge saw him gain a critical advantage in the points, until Zappia clawed back the difference and overtook Mouhayet with wins in Adelaide and Sydney. Now Zappia has a narrow 16 point lead, the smallest of any pro category and less than one round of racing.
While both would hope to meet each other in the final, just qualifying will be difficult with amazing steps in performance including Scott MacLean’s 5.572 pass in testing last weekend, Steven Ham’s step into the 5.6 second zone, the USA’s Frankie Taylor and Queensland’s own Ben Bray who are threatening the 5.6 second mark also, Sam Fenech’s new personal best pass of 5.73 – the list goes on.
Pro Alcohol’s 400 Thunder title remains up for grabs too, though Queensland’s Steve Reed sits on a healthy 49 point lead. For second placed Russell Mills’ championship hopes (New South Wales), he will have to rely on Reed missing qualifying for the field or losing in the first round. Pro Alcohol veteran Reed is pursuing his first national title since 1994 in the Allstar Batteries Funny Car.
Pro Stock is mathematically still open, but it would require a radical turn of events. Queensland’s Aaron Tremayne leads by 91 points in the Mega Fuels Pontiac from New South Wales’ Jason Hedges. If Tremayne does not qualify for the field and Hedges can win the event, and earn a combination of low ET, top speed and qualifying points, there remains the remote possibility of his winning the 400 Thunder championship. Thirteen cars in total will be racing, the strongest field for the season.
Pro Bike sees an all Victorian battle between Corey Buttigieg and Maurice Allen. Both are former national championship winners and the two have gone toe-to-toe throughout the season. Buttigieg’s 47 point lead means he has a two round buffer over Allen. Buttigieg has the performance advantage with a string of 7.0 second passes recently but both riders face the most challenging field of the season so far with entries including Queensland’s Luke Crowley, bringing his quick bike back from the USA for the event.
One 400 Thunder championship has already been decided, with Chris Matheson earning a fifth Top Bike national title. The dominating performances of the ‘Nitro Voodoo’ team have been rewarded 194 point lead over second placed Mark Drew.
400 Thunder professional qualifying begins from 2pm on Friday with a single qualifying session for all brackets, while Saturday features two qualifying sessions for each bracket from 12pm. Eliminations commence Sunday at 11am.