The 400 Thunder Professional Drag Racing Series heads west for the first time this season when the 47th Annual MacTrack Westernationals takes place on March 3 and 4 at Perth Motorplex.
To describe a national champion as coming in underneath the radar is unusual, but for reigning 400 Thunder Pro Slammer Champion Mark Belleri that is exactly the case. The driver of the ACDelco Monaro sits fifth in the points and hopes to drastically turn around his fortunes for both the MacTrack Westernationals and his season as a whole.
“Last year's Westernationals was not a good one for us,” Belleri said. “We kicked rods out of the motor, set the ACDelco Monaro on fire and burned all the wiring out.
“We qualified quick enough for the field and we had enough spares to make race day but not enough of the wiring loom. We could have made do at the time but it just wasn't worth the risk of killing another engine.”
Belleri would not appear for round one and sacrificed a hefty amount of points but was fortunately able to recover late in the season to come home with the 2016/17 400 Thunder title. However his championship defence has been trouble-filled, with engine gremlins constantly at the team's side.
“This season has not been the follow-up to our 400 Thunder Championship we hoped for,” Belleri said. “We have been hurting a fair few parts and haven't been able to work out why.
“The good news is we tested last week and didn't hurt anything so hopefully we have found the problem. We will test again on the Thursday before the Westernationals to make double sure.
“Races we should have won this year we have been losing when the car hurts an engine. We were running low 5.8s most of last season and not hurting much, so to start this year out with not qualifying in Darwin and then not winning rounds we needed to in Sydney and Brisbane, we are wondering if the number one on the car is a bad omen!”
Despite currently lingering at fifth in the 400 Thunder Pro Slammer points, Belleri believes the team has what it takes to make it into the top three before season's end.
“We know we have a top three car, the times haven't shown that for the most part but we did go 5.76 in Sydney a few meetings ago and the ACDelco Monaro showed potential.
“It is frustrating for all of us in the team. We know what we can run and we need to prove it now at the MacTrack Westernationals.”
The first hurdle will be simply to qualify, no easy ask with 17 cars battling for an eight car Elimination Format race day field.
“Perth is one of my favourite tracks we have on the calendar and we always look forward to it,” Belleri said. “If the track is there, everyone will go fast. You can't discount anybody now, there are 15 cars that can run fives.
“You had better be on your game from the first time you roll the car out and you've got to make sure every single pass counts.”
Belleri will be joined in the star studded MacTrack Westernationals field by Paul Mouhayet, John Zappia, the USA's Frankie Taylor, Ben Bray, Sam Fenech and a whole lot more of the quickest Pro Slammers in the nation.
Also taking to the track for the 400 Thunder Professional Drag Racing Series will be the Top Bikes, with record holder Chris Matheson aiming to knock out tough former national champions Jay Upton and Mark Drew, along with the world's quickest amputee Benny Stevens.
Qualifying for the 400 Thunder Professional categories commences from 5:30 pm Saturday, March 3, with round one of eliminations from 5:30 pm Sunday, March 4. For more details on the event, check out motorplex.com.au.