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Darren Di Filippo by Grant Stephens

The mental focus required to compete at the top level of drag racing is like no other, with intense moments lasting just seconds after hundreds of hours of preparation. For Victoria's Darren Di Filippo, that is par for the course.

As a former Top Fuel dragster driver, he knows and understands the pressures of racing. But things will be a little different for Di Filippo at this Saturday night's Jet Car Thunder event at Willowbank Raceway, where he will be responsible for the performances and the safety of three other drivers as part of his huge jet-powered drag racing team.

Di Filippo will be racing an Australian flag-themed Jet Funny Car alongside team mate Peter Bedford who will drive the 'Stars and Stripes' Jet Funny Car. He's also bringing South Africa's Pieter De Wit to the party to drive the 'Speed Demon' Jet Dragster while Australia's 'Queen of Speed' Rachelle Splatt will enter jet-powered competition for the first time in 'Land Missile'.

While the names and liveries of the cars might be bright and cheery like something out of Wacky Races, jet-powered drag racing is a serious matter.

They use engines sourced from fighter jets, such as the Pratt & Whitney J60 found in Di Filippo's own race car. They produce 6850 pounds of thrust, equivalent to about 6500 horsepower, and weigh a mere 850kg. Consuming 105 litres of jet fuel per run, the cars are capable of clocking speeds over 400kmh in just six seconds

Di Filippo said having the right drivers in place to pilot these incredible machines was essential.

“I was contemplating driving two cars at Willowbank but it would be too much to drive and oversee everything,” he explained. “Pieter is an absolute gentleman and the right choice for the 'Speed Demon' as he comes with plenty of jet racing experience.

“Then you have Rachelle who took to it like a duck to water. She is a natural, one of the better drivers.”

The team has been cutting some test laps at Melbourne's Calder Park Raceway recently and Di Filippo said they are prepared to turn on a show for Queensland drag racing fans.

“The cars have been lapping really well and touch wood we have only had a few issues. Our maintenance is good and even though four cars can be a bit of a nightmare logistics wise, we are looking forward to showing Queensland what jet drag racing is all about.”

While Di Filippo has experienced the highest levels of drag racing (he was once the fastest Top Fuel driver in Australia), he said thrust-driven cars present a completely different driving challenge to their wheel-driven counterparts.

“One thing is you have to be very gentle on the brakes when you bring them into stage ready to race, if you are too aggressive they will just skid along as you build the thrust,” he said. “Hopefully we have good conditions on the night and we can see what these cars are capable of.”

Jet Car Thunder at Willowbank Raceway on Saturday, April 14 will see the skies come alight as the jets roar like thunder down the strip. This will be the best way to cure the kids' back-to-school blues before school holidays are over!

A diverse field of 400 Thunder sportsman racers including Supercharged Outlaws, Pro Radial, Top Sportsman, Super Sedan and Super Street will also battle it out, and with valuable championship points up for grabs in the last sportsman racing appearance before the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals in June, fans can expect plenty of competitive racing.

Adult tickets are available for $30 with kids 13 and under free. For more information check out www.willowbankraceway.com.au.