Second might come right after first, but John Zappia knows he needs better for the final three events of the 400 Thunder Pro Slammer Championship following a runner up performance at the MacTrack Westernationals at Perth Motorplex.
Zappia's Westernationals week began early with an evening of testing at the Motorplex on the Thursday before the event. With many Pro Slammer teams in attendance it was a chance for the Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots team to get their preparation underway.
“We wanted an extra run on the set of tyres we had in order to bed them in,” Zappia explained. “Our first run didn't go that well with a big wheel stand, so we put another set of tyres we had back on and came out to run a 5.74, though the car did wander left and ended up taking out the last three timing boxes.
“We knew we were on the right track and it was good to help us get some confidence back.”
Come race weekend there was much discussion about the possibility of Australia's quickest ever Pro Slammer field, and it did not disappoint.
“Our first qualifying pass was a 5.70 with another big wheel stand in first and second gear – I don't think it dropped the front wheels until about 350 feet. The car went nice and straight so we were pretty happy and it put us number one after the first session.”
As the sun set and the night cooled, conditions were becoming nearly perfect for Pro Slammer racing and several teams looked to take advantage in the second qualifying session.
Paul Mouhayet and the Moits Racing Ford Mustang initially leapfrogged Zappia with a 5.67 pass, but the Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Monaro struck back with a 5.66 on the following run.
“We were right behind Moits so we watched them make a great pass in front of us. Our car launched really well, keeping the front end down and going through for a 5.66 – it was a thrill for the crowd to see this battle in progress.”
Before session three, Zappia studied the data and believed that there was potential to hit the start line even harder again.
“We took the left lane for the final qualifying session but we overpowered the track and didn't go anywhere. Paul improved to a 5.62 to take away the top spot from us at the last gasp, but we still had a couple of good runs on the board ourselves.”
The first round would see Zappia take on Darwin's Matt Abel, who has become a regular five second hitter.
“We measured both lanes and they were both coming up with similar readings so we decided to take the left. The Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Monaro took off nice but at 60 feet we had massive tyre shake, way different to the night before. We were at a loss as to why the left lane came up so different, but we were able to pedal to a 5.86 and get away with it as Matt left a red light on the tree.”
The semi finals would be a tough match up, with Zappia taking on Sam Fenech in The App Shop Camaro, who recorded a new personal best of 5.74 the previous night. The race proved unusual for the drivers.
“As I came into stage against Sam we both put the top light on, then I revved it up and the car jumped in and knocked the top light out - I was in deep and hanging on to the brake. That kind of threw me and he must have got startled by the top light going out because he cut a .4 light and so amazingly my .194 had a two tenths holeshot. We needed every bit of that as I pedaled to a 5.80 to beat a 5.74. Other than that run all my lights had been in the .0s all weekend which was a big step up for me.”
Frustrated by tyre shake, Zappia knew he had to make a change to the set up before the final, where he was due to face Paul Mouhayet.
“This thing was shaking, shaking, and shaking every time. We decided to pull some timing out and calm it down before 60 foot. It was better but not enough, we came out with a .046 light to his .053 but Paul was on stellar runs all weekend and there is no room for pedaling with a 5.66 next to you.
“I made a 5.80 out of the run somehow at 410kmh. The last two runs had 410kmh so we had enough power and in some ways maybe we just had too much power because we couldn't use it. The car just wanted to shake when we got past 60 feet.”
Zappia felt the Motorplex track surface was definitely at a new level of grip, making it tough to get wheel speed.
“The Westernationals was different to how the Motorplex track has felt to us for the rest of the season, definitely prepped differently. We just need to do a better job of reading the track and deciphering that.
“But all in all it was a pretty good weekend, we qualified second, we ended up second out of 17 cars and we did better than most bar one. Unfortunately now he is 40 points ahead in the championship so it puts pressure on, we have no room for error in the final three events.”
The next round of the 400 Thunder Pro Slammer Championship takes place at Adelaide International Raceway's Southern Thunder event on March 23 and 24.
“We've done okay at Adelaide, I think our best is 4.83 over the 1000 foot distance that we will compete over for this event.
“Each time we go there the track comes up better and better and I have no doubt it will be as good or better there this meeting and I am sure we will see new track records.”