HARRIS TAKES VICTORY OVER NEWBY IN THE OPENING ROUND OF AUSSIE TOP FUEL SEASON
The last time there was an all-RAI final was on January 6, 2020, at Willowbank Raceway when Wayne Newby defeated Damien Harris.
1387 days later, the tables were turned when Harris outpaced Newby to take the win at the inaugural round of the 2023-24 NDRC championship at The Bend Raceway in South Australia.
“Anytime you can get a win is a great result, especially when it’s in front of our team owner Santo and his family," said Harris. “This was a tough weekend for Santo Junior and his crew. The weather was a real challenge. To get both Rapisarda cars into the final was the plan going into the weekend. That worked out a treat. “
In the battle of team owner-drivers, Peter Xiberras came out on top against Phil Lamattina in the B-FINAL.
Xiberras also provided the quote for the weekend. “It is always a good day when you beat Phil Lamattina and we were able to do that twice today – first to win round two and then again to claim third for the event.”
The C-FINAL went to veteran Phil Read on a solo against Kyle Putland, who was forced to shut off after discovering fluid leaking from his car while backing up.
The A-FINAL of Doorslammer pitted Ronnie Palumbo, making his debut in the elite category, up against Lisa Gregorini in her sophomore season and chasing her first-ever win ended in bizarre circumstances.
Palumbo was pushed back after his burnout. Gregorini suffered a similar fate as sparks were spotted shooting out from the side of her car.
Consequently, both were left stranded on the start line.
Because there was no 'winner’, Gregorini and Palumbo were declared equal second-place getters. That decision was rescinded when Palumbo and Gregorini met and decided this was unacceptable. With the blessing of NDRC management, both parties agreed to run the final in Q2 at the next round of the championship at the Perth Motorplex on November 24.
The B-FINAL went to the President of the Aussie Doorslammer Association, Matt Abel, who defeated popular veteran Peter Kapiris.
A spectacular reaction time of .01 sec by little-known Adam Tassone was not enough to hold off Daniel Gregorini in the C-FINAL.
The D-FINAL went to Peter Lovering on a solo when John Zappia was forced to withdraw due to engine problems.
In Top Fuel Bike, Benny Stevens won on a solo against Damien Muscat.
And Scott White defeated Glenn Wooster on a holeshot in the final of Pro Bike.
The 2023-2024 National Drag Racing Championship opening round at The Bend in rural South Australia was scheduled as a two-day event.
Day one included a practice run and two qualifying rounds to set the field for three rounds on race day.
However, those plans were thwarted by Mother Nature.
Unseasonal cold temperatures combined with cross winds gusting to 55 mph and blowing dust onto the track caused chaos.
As a result, day one was reduced to a practice run and a single qualifier, a second qualifier, was abandoned due to the conditions.
TOP FUEL QUALIFYING
Wayne Newby topped the charts with a 4.00, 229 mph after spinning the tires 2.3 seconds into the run.
Kyle Putland upstaged several of his more experienced peers, qualifying in a career-best second place despite spinning the tires around the 800-foot mark.
Third-placed Harris had early dramas when the team discovered oil pressure issues during the warmup and was forced to change the engine.
Race officials contacted his opponent, Peter Xiberras, who graciously agreed to wait until Harris could make it to the start line.
Xiberras posted a regulation 4.83 trouble-free pass to qualify fourth.
Lamattina started his campaign with a broken line in the electromotion box, then smoked the tires around 300 feet and had to settle for fifth and round one match-up against Putland.
Phil Read had a day unlike any other in his illustrious 20-year career. For the first time ever, his brakes became locked after his burnout. Then, the team broke an exhaust retainer. It was another dubious first-time experience for the three-time champion. “Amazing. Never happened before and probably will never happen again,” said Read.
The opening pairing of Harris versus Xiberras was a thriller and set the tone for the rest of the day.
Harris got loose around half-track, got back into the groove and ran a strong 3.87, 325 mph to account for Xiberras, who dropped a cylinder at 3.4 seconds and hung on to clock 3.83, 317 mph.
Lamattina rebounded from day one problems, dropped the #2 cylinder around 330 feet, then hung on to defeat Putland, who had his hands full after drifting towards the wall at half-track.
Newby pushed out a couple of rods on the hit and ran a 3.81/310 mph to account for the luckless Read, who dropped cylinders on the hit and then tossed a belt on his way to a 4.06, 266 mph.
Newby was in superb form. Running a personal best of 3.76 in Australia to conquer Putland, who also ran a PB. “When you lose to a racer of Wayne's ability and can run a PB at the same time, you've got to be happy," said an ecstatic Putland.
Harris continued his merry way with a regulation 3.87 to derail Read, who had planned to shut off early.
The Lamattina versus Xiberras duel continued with victory for the second time on the day to Xiberras, who cut a .03 light. Lamattina was no slouch, with a .04 reaction time. "We didn’t damage any parts, which is always good. Just a bit slow," according to Lamattina.
Damien Harris became the first winner of the 2023-2024 NDRC season with a clear-cut victory over his teammate Newby, who had his hopes evaporate in a cloud of tire smoke just beyond the Christmas tree.
The race for the final spot on the podium went to Xiberras in a photo finish with a 3.83 at 310 mph to Lamattina’s 3.92/ 278 mph.
In the C-FINAL, there was drama in the Putland camp ahead of the runoff against Read.
Putland had problems getting his car to fire. Read had staged and waited for Putland, who eventually got power but was shut off with fluid leaking from his car as it backed up. Read took the green, the win and shut off early.
The opening round of the 2023-2024 Doorslammer championship may be a watershed moment for the category as it ushers in a new generation of racers and changing of the guard.
Lisa Gregorini and 32-year-old Ronnie Palumbo dominated the event ahead of some all-time greats, including John Zappia, Matt Abel and evergreen Peter Kapiris.
Gregorini, in her sophomore season, has emerged from the shadow of her better-known husband, Daniel, and is a genuine championship contender.
The Ronnie Palumbo story is remarkable.
In January 2023, Fabietti Racing lost one of the most beloved racers in Australia, drag racing Sam Fenech, in a crash at Willowbank Raceway. After months of soul searching and with the support of the Fenech family, team owner Maurice Fabietti decided to return to racing.
Fabietti shocked the Aussie ‘slammer world when he signed the virtual unknown Palumbo as driver. His career began in the worst possible fashion when he swiped the wall during qualifying, “Probably stepped one second out of my comfort zone,” said Palumbo. Suitably chastened, he qualified third with a gritty 5.82, then defeated luminaries, including Abel, to reach the final against Gregorini.
"To drive a Doorslammer is beyond my wildest dreams. Thanks to Maurice and Mary Fabietti for making it all happen. I dreamt of doing well this weekend, but that didn't include going to the final. Can't wait to go to Perth to race Lisa in the final,” said Palumbo.
1. Kyle Putland's woes began before he could lay down a lap when nine crew members were stranded in Perth when their flight to Adelaide was canceled.
2. Shane Olive spent last season driving with LTFR and has bobbed up as car chief on team owner Phil Lamattina's car this season. One-time LTRF tuner Aaron Hambridge is sharing tuning duties with youngster Dean Rossiter.
3. Ex-ANDRA boss Brett Stevens, who recently joined the series promotion company as a business consultant, was spotted in the pits. Many feel he’s too good a person to be lost to the sport.
4. The meeting was run under the auspices of ANDRA. Top Fuel raced over 1000 feet while Doorslammer and both bike categories raced the quarter-mile distance.
5. Phil Read debuted in the commentary team, gaining praise for bringing a unique and intelligent drivers’ perspective to racing challenges in Top Fuel. More please.
6. Newly appointed ANDRA boss Tim McAvaney was seen pressing the flesh over the weekend.
7. PremiAIr Hire long-time media manager Richard Smith celebrated his birthday on the event's second day—arguably one of the best in the business.
8. The Sportsman racing community suffered the most due to the inclement weather, with most racers only having one round of racing. The decision to award each competitor 20 points was the only consolation for the 200-plus competitors who traveled from all points of the country to be part of the historic event.
THE LAST WORD
“It has been an amazing opening for the NDRC and also for The Bend,” said co-promoter Andy Lopez. “I think the universe has thrown everything they could at this event: crazy weather, a brand-new venue and some fantastic racing. To get a crowd of 20,000 plus on day one and then follow it up with 15,000 odd the next day was fabulous. Everyone involved should be very proud of themselves.” END