King of the hill – for now

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It’s hard to believe Western Australian Top Fuel driver Martin Stamatis has never led the ANDRA Pro Series, but that all changed with his win at the second round of the series in Perth.

The 54 year old managing director of Fastlane Software has one of the quickest rides in the field. The Billview dragster has gone as quick as 4.57s and been consistently at the fast end of qualifying since Stamatis resumed racing in 2007.

A runner up place in Sydney combined with the win in Perth has put Stamatis ahead in the championship by some three rounds of racing over nearest rival Phil Lamattina, with first round winner Steve Read not making the trek across the Nullarbor.

“I’m not counting my chickens but it’s good to have the three round lead by the same token,” he said.

“We’re not even thinking about the championship yet. We’re just looking at the next race.”

The two Perth rounds carry bonus points, which can be critical in deciding the championship. With one Perth win wrapped up, Stamatis wants to continue his form. He said the team has found a consistent tune up to run quick and not hurt many parts.

“The Perth rounds are pivotal to win,” he said.

“Our car is perfectly tuned at the moment. We’ve finally got everything to come together, Top Fuel dragsters have a very narrow sweet spot.”

In review of the Perth event, Stamatis acknowledged it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing over two very hot days of racing.

“We had a fuel problem on the first qualifying pass and nearly lost the motor but I got out of it in the nick of time,” he said.

“On the second qualifying pass, mid-track had (no traction) so we blew the tyres off.”

He qualified fifth for eliminations which would put him up against fellow Western Australian Allan Dobson, who was driving a new car for NSW team owner Santo Rapisarda.

“We didn’t have a tune up going into Saturday,” he said.

“Dobbo left on me and I just hung in there for all it was worth. I dropped cylinders and it stripped the belt but Dobbo was having his own troubles. We just got past him at the end there.”

This pitted Stamatis against team mate and three times Australian champion Phil Read. When both cars are running hard they are able to share some data.

Read was top qualifier at the Perth event with a 4.68s run but an engine blow up in the semi finals against Stamatis ended his chances.

Read is actually one of Stamatis’s toughest hurdles for the championship, though he managed to take out the New South Wales competitor.

“I don’t think the problems they had will stay around for long,” Stamatis said.

The final pitted Stamatis against Lamattina, equally resurgent after coming back from seventh qualifying position for the Fuchs team.

With no championship drag strip in Victoria, the Lamattinas are big fans of Perth Motorplex and treat it as a home track, though Stamatis had a few more fans on his side.

“This is home turf for the Lamattinas and they have a really good operation,” he said.

“But we got our act together and we did our thing out there in a very business like manner. My crew chief Robert Cavagnino didn’t try and overpower the track, he put in a tune up he knew the track would hold.”

The Fuchs team will no doubt be one of Stamatis’s chief rivals in upcoming ANDRA Pro Series rounds. Although their championship defence was stunted at the opening round in Sydney when they were controversially disqualified, the team bounced back with a runner up spot in Perth.

“We thought the track could have handled a bit quicker but obviously it couldn’t and it bit us,” Lamattina said.

“We wanted the bonus points and the win but it wasn’t to be.”

Despite the runner up the team left satisfied, coming away with some good points and, like Stamatis, no mechanical dramas.

“The engine was in it since Wednesday so we were pretty happy with the whole weekend,” he said.

Unlike Stamatis the ANDRA Pro Series chase always seems front of mind for the Fuchs team and Lamattina recognised the value of the bonus points to another potential championship.

“It’s always good to come over to Perth and get a bit of a jump in points but Martin has done it twice in a row now so he has a bit of a jump on us,” he said.

Questioned about the Lamattinas as rivals, Stamatis emphasised that he didn’t worry about who was in the other lane.

“I don’t worry about anybody, I race whoever comes there,” he said.

“All of my rounds (in Perth) were against multiple event winners and champions.”

The pace in Top Fuel stepped up a notch in Perth in terms of consistency and reliability from the somewhat unpredictable nitro-fuelled machines.

There are no longer any easy beats in the field, Stamatis said every team’s tune ups were coming together.

While not focused on a championship, Stamatis said the key would be consistency and not trying to rotate the earth with all 8000 horsepower on board.

“It’s something Steve Read proved in Sydney, don’t blow the tyres off and you can win,” he said.

The ANDRA Pro Series for Top Fuel continues at Perth Motorplex on January 8 and 9 before moving back to Sydney in February.

This article was published in Motorsport News in January 2009.


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