Queensland's Kelly Bettes lived up to her championship-winning reputation at New Years Thunder at Willowbank Raceway on Saturday night, recovering from a first round mistake to take out the final round from America's Ashley Sanford.
Bettes, who was joined in the Lamattina Top Fuel Racing stable by Australian ex-pat NHRA driver Richie Crampton over the weekend, said the team were stretched at times running two cars but were happy to find their groove again. At the last round of the 400 Thunder Top Fuel Championship in Sydney, Bettes battled engine fires on several runs.
“We stretched a few things a little thin between the two cars, but it was the risk we were willing to take in fielding a two car team again,” Bettes said.
“Importantly though, we were able to feel confident after some fiery moments in Sydney, and we are mostly past those gremlins. We came from a low and turned it into a high which for us, was a great finish to what was a long, hot day of racing.
“The second LTFR car driven by Richie had a few little headaches and drama, but for a car that hasn’t been out for a couple of years and a super fresh team, I think they did great to put up a fight each round.”
The day started off poorly for Bettes when she recorded her first ever red light (foul start) in Top Fuel competition opposite championship rival Damien Harris.
“It felt very disappointing for me as a driver,” she said. “It was a great opportunity to take some valuable points from Damien early in the Championship, and I was super keen to hit the tree good straight up. Unfortunately it ended up creating my own battle in my head moving forward to the next rounds.
“Not wanting to make the same mistake again for the team, I purposely slowed and calmed myself down next round. This lead to the worse reaction time I’ve ever cut in the Top Fuel car, and while we still got the win in round two it wasn’t the way I like to represent and take the stripe.”
The Lamattina team were kept busy throughout race day maintenance wise, with Bettes praising her team's work in the hot weather.
“The centre section of the rear wing broke away at the finish line in round one (note missing element in the picture above) and our spare was on Richie’s car and we borrowed one from the Premiair team,” she explained.
“The car was clearly running strong regardless. We did have a quick engine change after round one but only due to normal wear on parts.”
Bettes was paired up against Californian Sanford for the final, in Australia's second ever Top Fuel final featuring two women. But aside from the statisticians, Australian drag racing fans have come to know that gender is unimportant in a sport where men and women regularly go head to head. Bettes' 3.87/502.31kph got to the finish line first over Sanford's troubled 4.840 pass.
“I’m sure the public have been waiting for (the match up),” Bettes said. “Ashley and I have only met in racing once before, somehow we managed to avoid running each other.
“For me it’s just another competitor that we need to beat and again, get some valuable championship points.”