Mark Mariani will start a journey this weekend (January 2-3) at Willowbank Raceway (Ipswich) that will see him race against the best Top Fuel drag racers in Australia and America over the next four months.
This weekend’s 2011 New Year Series round one event will be the only Australian appearance this summer for Mariani and the Sydney-based multiple Australian championship-winning Rapisarda Racing/Titan Cranes team he drives for.
While Rapisarda Racing and Mariani are not chasing the 2010-2011 (Australian National Drag Racing Association) ANDRA Pro Series championship, they are keen to start 2011 with a win at Willowbank before heading to the US.
After racing at the season-opening Australian Nationals at Sydney Dragway in September, Team Rapisarda and Mariani went to the US for the final two 2010 (National Hot Rod Association) NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series events.
The team competed at the 10th annual NHRA Las Vegas (Nevada) Nationals in October, then the 46th annual NHRA Finals at Pomona (California) in November.
Mariani gained 61 points from the two events to finish equal 29th out of the 45 racers who took part in the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle series.
After the Willowbank event, Mariani and key Rapisarda team members will head back to the US for the 51st annual NHRA Winternationals at Pomona in February, the 42nd annual Gatornationals at Gainesville (Florida) in March and the NHRA Nationals, Las Vegas, in early April.
Mariani, who capped off his first full-season driving for the long-established Rapisarda Racing, winning the Nitro Champs at Sydney Dragway in May and finishing fourth in the 2009-2010 Pro Series Top Fuel championship series, believes the US experience has made him a better driver and the Rapisarda crew a tighter outfit.
“The whole (US) experience was unbelievable. We (Rapisarda Racing) wanted to put on a good show and not be disgraced and I think we were able to do that.
“We qualified (in the 16-car field) at Las Vegas and won our first round elimination, which was fantastic and a great experience for the whole team.”
Mariani said while Top Fuel race over 1000 feet (304.8 metres) in the NHRA, he is looking forward to racing over the traditional quarter-mile (403.5 metres) at Willowbank and better his personal best time of 4.776-seconds recorded at the Winternationals (Willowbank) in June.
And while Mariani recorded two 300-mph passes over the 1000-foot in the US, he is also keen to run his first 300mph pass in Australia, bettering his current best 296.63mph (477.27km/h) speed.
“Racing to the 1000-foot was also an experience. But, I am happy to go the extra 300-foot (91.44 metres) and run over the quarter-mile at Willowbank. And while my best speed (in the US) was 307.44mph (494.67km/h), I still have not run over 300mph in Australia and that’s a goal I want to achieve. Hopefully that will happen at Willowbank this weekend.”
Joint Rapisarda Racing crew chief, Santo Rapisarda Jnr, said after experiencing racing against the world’s best in the US, Team Rapisarda is looking forward to again racing on home soil.
“Our crew certainly learnt a lot and worked very well together while in the US. The pressure was always on, especially with the shorter turnaround times (in the US) than we have, and are use to, in Australia.
“After our US experience, it would be good to win at Willowbank before going back to the US. That would certainly be a great start to 2011,” Rapisarda Jnr said.