There will be no team orders to win a championship according to Top Fuel team owner Santo Rapisarda, with Rapisarda Autosport International star Damien Harris needing to close a 33 point gap to series leader Kelly Bettes to win the 2017-18, 400 Thunder Championship at the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals on June 7-10.
For the first time this season, Top Fuel will run the traditional eliminations format with 100 points to the winner, 80 for runner up, 60 to semi-finalists and 40 in the first round. Top speed and low ET are worth five points each.
With only six entries, qualifying will play a critical role in determining whether Harris or Bettes wins the championship. The two leading qualifiers will score a first round bye and that means direct entry to the semi-finals.
RAI will field three entries – Harris, seeking to win his second 400T title, reigning champ Wayne Newby and Californian import Ashley Sanford.
With half of the entries it is highly probable that RAI team-mates will be pitted against each other on race day. A scenario not lost on the team owner.
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“It’s happened before that RAI cars race against each other,” said Santo Rapisarda. “I’m not worried about it happening next weekend. There are no team orders. I want to see them race hard, fast and fair and good luck to all three cars.
“Our drivers and all the crew are out to win. Damien has both the 400 Thunder championship and the Winternationals on his radar. Wayne wants to score his first win of the year and Ashley is in the same boat, looking for her maiden win in Australia. If the situation arose, where Damien had to defeat a team-mate to win the championship, so be it. I would expect that both cars would go out to win and not fabricate a result that you see sometimes in other forms of motorsport. We race to win fair and square. Damien has a challenge ahead of him and must earn the title by winning rounds on the day.”
“Our team is up for the challenge,” said Harris. “Santo Rapisarda Junior and his crew will give me the car to win and the rest will be up to me. I’m looking forward to the challenge. The pressure will be on Kelly and her team.”
According to Newby: “We are going to Willowbank with our eyes firmly set on winning the biggest prize on the drag calendar – the Winternationals. Santino knows how to tune a race-winning car and I am determined to make amends for a disappointing year and end the season on a high note.”
“This will be my fifth trip to Australia and I plan to go home next week with a trophy in my luggage,” said Sanford. "The Winternationals in Australia is similar to the Winternationals in my home state in California - a massive event that is on every racers’ ‘must win’ list. Even though we want to see Damien win the 400 Thunder championship for our team, if we were to race off in the final I’ll be doing my best to win."
- Media release courtesy Rapisarda Autosport International.