John Zappia earned his first win light in the USA at the penultimate event of the PDRA season in Benson, North Carolina.
After rain ended his race before it began in Tulsa, Oklahoma several weeks previous, Zappia and the Noonan Race Engineering team took the opportunity to make a series of upgrades to their Camaro.
“We came back from the rained out event and put the new Noonan 4.9 engine in along with the Boninfante clutch and a B&J three speed transmission,” Zappia said. “There was a lot of work to do making the headers fit and we basically went out to GALOT Motorsports Park with everything different once again.”
Arriving into the recently renovated venue, Zappia and the Noonan brains trust put their minds together for some calculated guesses on clutch set up, gearing and how much fuel to put into the new motor. Fortunately a day of testing before the event provided the perfect opportunity to get the tune up into the ballpark.
“The first run it came out and blew the tyres off, we were a bit too fast on the wheel speed,” Zappia explained. “The second one it was a similar thing. We backed the clutch right off and it went 3.81, even though I bumped straight from first to top gear.
“Afterwards we did some modifications to the shift buttons and we tried to set everything up similar to the Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Monaro and how I shift it. We moved the B&J transmission shift buttons further into the steering wheel so they weren't as easy to bump.”
Growing more comfortable with the layout of the cockpit with each run, it was tyre shake, rather than tyre spin, that would afflict the team as qualifying for the PDRA Drag Wars began.
“On our first qualifying run the Noonan Camaro rattled the tyres, went left and gave the wall a bit of a rub,” Zappia said. “It just touched the headers and the quarter panel but we were able to tape it up, put some more stickers on it and come back for session two.
“We made an adjustment to the tune up but it did virtually the same thing, but this time it turned right in the right lane and I just missed the right wall.”
But like drag racing's version of the Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the third run was just right.
“Third session we went straight down the middle for a 3.66/212mph which put us into the field at fourth position and took a lot of pressure off.”
With one more qualifying session to come the next day, Zappia again considered the controls.
“I wasn't happy with the feel of the brake lever so we bled the brakes and got all the air out of the system. When we came out for Q4 I felt much more in control of the car. The brakes were where they needed to be and I could stage properly. We just wanted the car to repeat and that is what it did, a 3.70/212 that was only four hundredths slower in the heat of the day.”
Before long the call went around the pits for the Pro Extreme class to head to their staging lanes for the first round of racing, where Zappia would take on a half-international eight car field that also included three Swedish drivers.
“This was my first eliminations race in America so we gave it a bit of a tune up for some more power in the back half,” he said. “I said to myself that I can do this, this is what I do.
“I cut a .065 light and the car made it through first gear, I was seeing the shift light, second gear, shift light, top gear, win light. A 3.68/214mph for my first round win in the USA. That was a pretty awesome moment.”
Things would get tougher for the semi finals with Zappia to face Swedish top qualifier Mattias Wulcan.
“That car had been running 3.50s, we were running 3.60s, so we needed to step it up big time,” Zappia said. “We threw a fair bit at the Boninfante clutch and the Noonan boys trimmed up the fuel and put some more timing in it.
“I got a holeshot, but unfortunately it wasn't a great light. We went 3.62/216.90 to his 3.56/211. I flew past him at the finish line and I didn't know who got it, it worked out to three hundredths of a second – so close to our first final against the number one qualifier, an awesome achievement.”
Zappia said an entourage of Australians and Americans from across the Zappia Racing and Noonan Race Engineering enterprises made for a great team.
“Everyone worked well together and even though we started with some negatives they turned it into a positive. We are looking forward to going rounds at the PDRA Grand Final in Richmond, Virginia.”
With what the team learned in North Carolina, hopes are high that they can find their way into the 3.5 second zone, especially if the launch can be refined.
“The car went .962 to 60 foot on the last run which is still a bit slow, it was still burning the clutch off and the gearing was on the safe side. The car in Australia is 320 pounds heavier and I have gone .958, and when the opposition are doing .908 60 foots we are giving away lots of time right there so we know where it needs to be.
“The Noonan Camaro has been as quick as .88 to 60 foot before so we know the set up is there to do it, we just need to fine tune the combination we are running at the moment and get after the tune on on the new 4.9 Noonan engine that has only a few runs on it.”
Zappia is particularly excited by the potential shown in the 4.9 as the team venture into new territory.
“When we first started we had the 4.8 pretty safe and it produced 205 mph, now we are doing 217mph on the 4.9 and we are still not leaning on the engine yet, it is showing a lot of promise. We just don't know where it will settle out.
“The top speed of the GALOT event was 218mph, we've got the power to run that kind of speed. It would be nice to see a 220mph eighth mile pass at our next event at Virginia on the 20th and 21st of October.
“I don't have many shots left so it’s time to throw everything at the setup and tune and get the most out of the car.”
You can keep up to date with all the action via the Noonan Racing and Zappia Racing facebook pages and watch live via SpeedVideo.com http://www.speedvideo.com/live-event/pdra-world-finals-2017/