400 Thunder crowns 2016-17 champions

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The fourth and final day of the 50th Gulf Western Oil Winternationals was set to be a fitting finale of what had been an incredible season of 400 Thunder action, before mother nature had other ideas. Early morning showers gave way to what was (at times) torrential rain in the afternoon, eventually forcing the abandonment of the event, despite the best efforts of the Willowbank track crew to dry the track.

As a result, the 400 Thunder Series Champions for both the Professional and Sportsman brackets were decided based on the first three days of qualifying and racing action.

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In Top Fuel, Wayne Newby secured his first Top Fuel title by qualifying for the eight-car field on Saturday afternoon, after a season highlighted with three event wins. Newby was overwhelmed with emotion when also awarded with the Louie Rapisarda Memorial Trophy for winning the Santos Super Thunder event in April, capping off a banner year for the Raipsarda Autosport International driver.

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Top Bike was the story of one man in the 2016-17 season, as Chris Matheson wrapped up the title with a dominating Top Qualifier performance in qualifying. Despite a hot and cold start to the season, Matheson combined experience with raw speed to score his first 400 Thunder Championship.

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Gary Phillips made history in Pro Alcohol by claiming a historic 20th Pro Alcohol championship. A 5.40 run off the trailer put him in the pound seat to collect the title, which was confirmed with the Sunday rainout. The rain denied fans the chance to see Championship deciding battles between Phillips and Wayne price in the first round, and a potential decider against Steve Ham later in the event.

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Pro Slammer had one of the most unpredictable seasons in recent memory with many contenders rising and falling over the course of the season. In the end, it was left to Mark Belleri to secure his first Pro Slammer title in the AC Delco Monaro after dominating the first two events of the season. Recurring mechanical gremlins and accidents later in the season opened the door for others, but a steady approach to qualifying at the Winternationals helped prove the lead to be insurmountable.

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Despite being a shock non-qualifier in the Pro Stock field at the Winternationals, Aaron Tremayne still walked away with another national championship to add to his growing legacy. Having dominated the field with three event wins and a runner-up finish from five events, Aaron put on a clinic throughout the season to give the perfect introduction to the sport for new sponsor Mega Bulk Fuels. The Pro Stock title was a mathematical lock prior to the event, so the non-qualifying status had no impact on the outcome of the Championship.

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Pro Bike was a similar story, with Brad Lemberg being the class of the field for the balance of the season. The Queenslander added consistency to his undoubted speed to secure his first national title, capping off his championship-winning performance by breaking both the ET and Speed Pro Bike Records at the Nitro Thunder in May.

400 Thunder Sportsman Series

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In Competition, Tony Bellert came into the event with a commanding championship lead, and with the weather interruption, held on to win the title over fellow Queenslander Mike Bailey

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Wade Moran in Super Stock had more competition heading into the Winternationals, as Clint George and Jai Schluter were also in contention for the championship. In the end however, the status quo remained with the Queenslander scoring the title victory.

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Competition Bike was one of the most hotly-contested brackets all season, with no fewer than six riders all at the 200-point cap. The championship was decided on a tiebreaker, with Peter Puznik being declared the champion based on countback.

Seven Dial-Your-Own Sportsman bracket championships were awarded after the event, namely Supercharged Outlaws, Top Sportsman, Modified Eliminator, Super Sedan, Modified Bike, Super Street and Junior Dragster.

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Supercharged Outlaws was a tie between Alf Sciacca and Josh Fletcher heading into the event, with both being at the maximum points cap of 200. With a single round of racing completed, Sciacca was awarded the title after Fletcher was eliminated by Northern Territorian Adam Murrihy in round 1.

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Top Sportsman had been dominated by Steven Fowler over the course of the season, but due to the points cap, six drivers found themselves in contention to take home the coveted Christmas Tree. After the first round of racing, most of the challengers had been eliminated – combined with the weather intervention, a breakout by Daniel Donnelly ensured Fowler walked away with the title.

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Modified Eliminator is typically one of the most hotly-contested brackets, but in this instance, Stephan Gouws heading into the Winternationals with a 40 point lead over his nearest rival. Gouws ended up as the title winner with the washout, despite being eliminated in round 1.

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Super Sedan had John Kapiris leading the championship by 10 points over his nearest rivals David Foreman and Paul Doeblien heading into Willowbank. However, with Kapiris and Foreman both being eliminated in racing before the rain came, it was left to Doeblien to pick up the spoils and collect the Championship Christmas Tree at the end of a hard season of racing.

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Modified Bike was another hotly-contested bracket, with six racers on the points cap before the event, and another five within striking distance. Through a combination of racers being eliminated and countbacks, Gary Kittle emerged victorious at the conclusion of the event.

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Super Street was a battle for the championship between Queenslander Shawn Taskis and ACT native Shaun Smith. Both made it through the first two rounds of elimination, but it was Smith who emerged as the championship winner on countback.

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Junior Dragster was an all-NSW affair between Joel Burns and the two Hazzard brothers, Jack and James. After Burns was eliminated in round 1, it was left to the Hazzards to decide who would emerge victorious, with Jack edging out on countback by the narrowest of margins.

Insufficient rounds completed saw no champions crowned in Pro Radial and Super Gas.

– 400 Thunder

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