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An already dramatic NDRC Top Doorslammer Championship season became even more so at the weekend’s Festival State Nationals with a controversial A-Final, ensuring high emotions are practically guaranteed amongst the stars of the bracket at next weekend’s Australia Day Nationals in Sydney (January 26/27).

Already this season the Doorslammers have seen epic match-ups, final re-matches due to double breakages, and two rookies breaking through for victory – with the last such win going to series newcomer Russell Taylor on a holeshot in only his second ever group one event. Making it even more impressive was the fact the rookie’s win came over none other than 11-time champion, John Zappia.

Taylor and Zappia were again matched up in the A-Final at Dragway at The Bend’s Festival State Nationals at the weekend and for a few moments, it looked like this time it would be Zappia who would take home the chocolates – crossing the line on a holeshot with a 5.763 second pass at 400.52kph ahead of Russell Taylor’s 5.749/409.94kph effort.

He accepted the Gold Christmas tree on the live broadcast with tears in his eyes, expressing his relief to once again hoist the prestigious trophy after a number of difficult events for the Dananni Hot Shots/Fuchs Monaro.

However, his joy would be exceptionally short lived, with officials reporting a disqualifiable offence on the startline: a crew member had touched the injector hat he was spraying while Zappia was in full stage.

The rules state “…any person contacting any part of a vehicle or driver/rider while the vehicle is in Full Stage (both pre-Stage and Full Stage lights on for your lane) is not permitted. This will result in the run being disallowed in Qualifying and disqualifications during Eliminations.” As such, officials declared the win was to be awarded to Taylor.

That decision was communicated to Zappia immediately following his emotional winner’s speech, at which time Zappia indicated he wished to appeal. With multiple video angles available for review but not accessible until the next morning, the ANDRA Chief Steward permitted the appeal investigation to be conducted on Monday to take advantage of those additional resources and everyone anxiously awaited the outcome overnight.

Ultimately, the decision would be upheld, with Taylor declared the winner for the second time this season and picking up the winner’s championship points, while Zappia was awarded the runner-up position and related points.

While there is much being said about the race now, neither competitor will have long to ruminate on the results with the next round of the championship only nine days away – but by talking to them, it would seem neither wants to anyway.

“We don’t want to win that way. To be honest, we would have loved a runner-up spot in what was only our third group one event. I mean here we are up against one of the biggest names in the sport in the A-Final once again – a runner-up result would have been great. But unfortunately, we couldn’t celebrate either way as the result was pending; it is shame for both teams,” Taylor said.

“Rules are rules, and it works both ways for both parties, but it is safe to say that this isn’t the way that we wanted to take a win, and to be honest we are struggling to take it as a win with how things played out.

“We are focusing on looking ahead to Sydney, and we are going there with the same mindset that we had going to Dragway at The Bend – taking it one race at a time and just doing what we do.

“We are going out there to do the best that we can as a team, we want to go faster every time we go out there, as fast as the track will allow, and if we win as part of that, then that is a bonus.

“To be a part of this championship is a great thing and we are all about the class, but we want to be a quiet achiever at the same time and hopefully, things can be much less dramatic in Sydney!”

Zappia also expressed a desire to focus on what’s next.

“Our crew guy has come up and sprayed the injector, and as he has a sore knee, so he has put his hand out to support his weight as he sprayed it, while having his back to the tree. Unbeknownst to me, the car was rolling into full stage as the automatic keeps pushing. I thought I was stopped and I was distracted by the crew member – there is no way I would be trying to stage while the crew member is doing something,” Zappia explained.

“I looked up and saw the tree go straight into full stage and I stopped and hit the trans brake and the crew member walked off. I knew it was close, and the video footage show that he has touched while in full stage, so that is it. It is what it is, it is a rule, and there is nothing we can do about it.

“It is certainly a very tough reminder and lesson to crews about not being too blasé in the staging position and around the racing vehicle once the race is classed as commenced. Though it was an unwitting mistake, we accept the rules and accept the outcome. This has hit the team hard, but rules are put in place for varying reasons, including safety, to which we always aim to abide by.

“Now we are on our way to Sydney, and we are certainly looking for a good event there and to do what we do best. We want to go there and put on a good show. There is no point dwelling on the negative, it is clear cut, and it wasn’t any other team who did it, it was a call by the starter, and there is no issue. It either was or it wasn’t, and when they reviewed the video, it is clear what happened. So now, we will just carry on doing what we do.

“Really, anytime that we are getting to a A-Final we are doing better than most everyone else, so win or runner-up, it is a really good result and keeps us high up in the points.

“It is only the third round; we have five more events to go before the end of the season, so I am not even looking at points at the moment. I am just focusing on making sure the car is consistent and reliable, and it has been, and that I am doing my job on the startline procedure with the automatic.

“I am starting to get more comfortable with that, so we will just keep working on that direction and make sure the driver, and the crew chief (that’s me too) do his job, and the crew do their maintenance and follow the rules, it is as simple as that.

“That is our focus, to go to Sydney and have a good result. We have had a good result there previously, we won the B-Final there last year with a 5.69 in really hot weather, so hopefully we can do the same or one better.”

Taylor and Zappia will be joined in putting on what is expected to be another high stakes Doorslammer show in Sydney by Nasser Matta, Peter Lovering, Matt Abel, Lisa Gregorini, Geoff Gradden and Emilio Spinozzi, making for a fantastic eight-car line-up at the Australia Day two day event.

And they aren’t the only ones set to put on a show at the event, with eight 11,000hp/500kph Top Fuel Dragsters set to thunder down the quarter mile, with two rounds of their championship to be held in the two days and nights of the event.

Also on-track will be racers for Pro Alcohol, Pro Stock Motorcycle, FuelTech Pro Mod, and the Aeroflow National Sportsman Championship – guaranteeing no shortage of action across the January 26 and 27 event at Sydney Dragway.

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