Awe-inspiring Top Fuel dragsters will be back at Willowbank Raceway for the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals and if the event's history is anything to go by, fans should prepare for a spectacular weekend of 500 kph racing.
The 2018 Gulf Western Oil Winternationals was the first where the Top Fuel category competed over a reduced 1000 feet (304 metre) distance mandated as a safety measure. The combination of the famed Willowbank Raceway track surface, quality air conditions and the professionalism of Australia's nitro teams produced an event that was a class apart from the rest of the 400 Thunder Championship series. The quickest eight runs of the season were made in just two days, including Damien Harris' pass of 3.777 seconds, which remains the quickest run in Australian history. On the same run, his terminal speed of 525.40mph also set the Australian Top Fuel speed record.
Top Fuel Dragsters are renowned for producing over 10,000 horsepower with their nitro fuel, but the beasts can be difficult to tame and this results in many events where aborted passes outnumber completed runs. This was not the case at the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals, where a record number of runs had terminal speeds over 500kph).
Looking further back, the 2017 Gulf Western Oil Winternationals is fondly remembered among drag racing fans as the final event where Top Fuel competed over the traditional quarter mile (402 metre) distance. There Harris was again the record setter, with his pass of 4.443 seconds to remain in the Australian history books as the quickest all time pass in official competition for the quarter mile era.
With the data of another season under their belts, most Top Fuel teams expect more records to be set this year. High on their list of goals is the first 330mph pass over 1000 feet, while the first 3.6 second pass in Australia is not out of the realm of possibility.
The record-setting potential is made all the more important when taking the championship context of the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals into consideration. As the final event on the 400 Thunder calendar, the four-day festival is where champions are decided.
After a thrilling 2018 event where Queensland's Kelly Bettes won her first Top Fuel championship by virtue of a semi final win against Wayne Newby, those same two names are the primary rivals for this year's title. Newby leads by a meagre 14 points over Bettes, while American Ashley Sanford is also in contention a further 40 points back. Bonus points are on offer for quick performances, with the leaders unlikely to leave anything on the table.
The Gulf Western Oil Winternationals opens with sportsman qualifying from June 6, while the Top Fuel teams will take to the track for their first session of qualifying on June 7. Two more qualifying sessions follow on June 8 with finals racing taking place on June 9.
Tickets are available at the gate or from www.willowbankraceway.com.au.