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Steve Ham by dragphotos com au

Brisbane drag racer Steven Ham will be in unfamiliar territory at the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals from June 7 to 10 at Willowbank Raceway, the first time he has entered Australia's biggest drag racing event in the Pro Slammer division.

Ham debuted his beautiful silver Chev Camaro last year and has quickly established himself as one of the most serious future contenders in the class. The former Pro Alcohol driver said he made the switch to Pro Slammer because he wanted to test himself against some of the best professional drag racing teams from Australia.

“The challenge of running Pro Slammer against the toughest guys in the country is a driving force,” he said.

Driving a 3000 horsepower, supercharged race car that will accelerate to 400kmh in under six seconds is not the only challenge for Ham, who also enjoys getting his hands dirty on the tuning side.

“My crew chief Stuart Rowland and I mixed our ideas around to come up with a tuning program, the idea of changing to Pro Slammer came from the interest in tuning them.

“We came up with a new engine program before as the idea was to keep the engine RPM down so the motor stayed alive for longer. We then tried to match the camshaft to where the cylinder head develops power to work within a range.

“There is still a lot left in our tune up so hopefully we can have a racing surface that lets us show what the motor is capable of.”

And when it comes to racing surfaces, few are of better quality than Willowbank Raceway in June, when track staff prepare the quarter mile concrete and bitumen drag strip with a sticky layer of rubber and traction compound to make for an ideal race track – safe and fast.

Ham has been adjusting to the differences of steering a sedan, where he sits in a driving position similar to a street car, unlike the centre steer nature of the Funny Car he formerly drove. A deft touch is required.

“The Funny Car you could manhandle around the track but you have to caress a Pro Slammer for it to make a straight pass,” he explained.

The Gulf Western Oil Winternationals is renowned as a tough event, not just because of the quality of entries, but also because it is one of the few 'elimination' events left on the season's calendar. Where many events are now using an all-run format that sees racers able to return if they lose, the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals have a sudden death tournament format where first you must qualify in the top eight to make race day, then each round sees only winners progress.

“As an elimination event the Winternationals pushes you in qualifying to be in the best position you can,” Ham explained. “This is the pinnacle of the drag racing season.

“We will try to qualify in the top half of the field and improve on our personal best time. As a driver I need to do my job and cut good reaction times to put our car into the winner's circle. If we can also take everything home in one piece it will be a good weekend.”

Ham will be aiming to play spoiler in one of the most anticipated Pro Slammer events in history, where reigning Australian champion John Zappia (WA) will be desperately trying to fend off a challenge from Paul Mouhayet (NSW) and the Moits Racing Ford Mustang. With 19 cars in total entered for Pro Slammer it is one of the biggest fields of the supercharged sedans in Gulf Western Oils Winternationals history.

For more information about the 51st Annual Gulf Western Oil Winternationals, head to www.willowbankraceway.com.au.

- Media release courtesy Willowbank Raceway, image credit dragphotos.com.au.