AUSSIE BETTES CHASING BACK TO BACK TITLES AT WILLOWBANK
Reigning champ Kelly Bettes will need to come from 14 points behind series leader Wayne Newby to win the 2018-19 400 Thunder Top Fuel Championship, at Willowbank Raceway, June 6-9.
The final event on the Australian calendar also encompasses the 52nd Gulf Western Oil Winternationals and with 496 entries across 20 categories is the biggest drag event outside North America.
While there are many variations regarding the number of points Bettes or Newby require to become the first two-time champion in 400T history, the most likely scenario is that on race day Bettes will need to advance one round further than Newby to clinch the championship.
Newby, winner of the 2016-17 title, will go into the event warm favourite after reclaiming the points lead when he defeated teammate Ashley Sanford in Sydney last month and Bettes finished third. ‘Newbs’ passage to championship front-runner has included two swashbuckling wins punctuated by a pair of third places.
Bettes, who made history 12 months ago becoming the first women to win a Top Fuel title in Australia, is a proven performer on the big stage with championship titles in every category she has raced. Her fearless pedal to the metal attitude has won her an army of fans and will guarantee/ensure that nothing is left on the table in her pursuit of consecutive titles.
While the spotlight will be on the Bettes versus Newby battle RAI duo Ashley Sanford and Damien Harris, along with Sydney pair Phil Read and Peter Xiberras, are likely to play a significant role in determining the outcome of the championship.
Sanford trails Newby by 54 points and has a slim mathematical chance of winning the title. The 25-year-old Californian has finished runner three-times this season and is chasing her first win in Top Fuel since making her debut at the U.S. Nationals in 2017.
Harris, winless this season, returns to the venue where he set the Oz record of 3.77/326.48 mph in winning the 2018 Winternationals. Since then the genial Western Australian and tuner Santo Rapisarda Jr. have battled a wave of mechanical woes and will be hoping to build on their last outing at Sydney Dragway where they finished seventh and walked away with low ET and a top speed of 3.80/ 321 mph.
Also on the hunt for his first win this season is Phil Read, who finished fourth at the previous round in Sydney. The three-time Australian champion with two Winternational titles under his belt has a substantial array of tuning talent in his corner led by his brother Bruce Read.
Sydney team owner-driver Peter Xiberras makes his first appearance since crashing at Sydney Dragway in May 2018. Xiberras who was in career-best form before the crash returned to racing last weekend with a series of impressive laps at the winter warm-up meeting.
Part-timer Terry Sainty racing in the colours of event sponsor Gulf Western Oil will need to rely on his better-credentialled rivals to stumble to cause race day upsets.
The winner of Top Fuel will also receive the Louie Rapisarda trophy that honors the memory of Santo Rapisarda’s son, Louie, who lost his life at the track on July 22, 1990, and the Mick Atholwood perpetual trophy honouring one the much-loved figures in Australian drag racing who passed away in 2012.
Paul Mouhayet is poised to claim back to back Pro Slammer titles thanks to a 69-point buffer over archrival John Zappia. They’ve met twice in finals this season with honours going to Zappia on both occasions. The Winternationals has a history of providing major upsets, and with 13 entries, the first order of business for Mouhayet and Zappia will be to qualify.
On the comeback trail this weekend is gifted Indigenous racer Scott Maclean who has not raced since November. At the 2018 Winters warm-up meet, Maclean stunned his peers with a blistering pass of 5.57 sec. the quickest ‘slammer pass ever in the country then snapped an Achilles tendon when exiting from the car. He attempted to race the next week but not surprisingly lost in round one.
New Zealander Trevor Smith, running out of the team Bray garage, returns for his third meeting this season.
In Pro Alcohol Steve Reed looks likely to surrender the coveted #1 plate to fellow Queenslander Gary Phillips. Phillips holds an almost unassailable 66 points lead. The two veterans have met in the final of Alky at the last three meetings with honours going to Phillips each time.
Aaron Tremayne is on track for his third consecutive 400T title Pro Stock title when his nearest rival Chris Soldatos, having emerged as a legitimate contender earlier in the season, struck trouble at the last two rounds. A 57 points lead going into the meeting should be enough to secure Tremayne the title.
Top Bike has only attracted five entries but could provide the closest final of the Pro Series with three-time 400T winner Chris Matheson three points ahead of Western Australian veteran Jay Upton.
In Pro Stock bike Glenn Wooster holds a comfortable 59 points lead over Ryan Learmouth. NHRA part-timer Katie Sullivan will race at the Winternationls for the first time.