Top Fuel rookie, Mark Mariani, will be looking for his first Australian National Drag Racing Association (ANDRA) Pro Series Top Fuel championship event win when the seventh annual Nitro Champs is staged at Sydney Dragway (SD), Eastern Creek, this weekend, Friday to Sunday, April 30-May 2.
Sydney-based Mariani, who is in his first full season driving for the leading Rapisarda Racing two-car Top Fuel team, would love nothing better than for his first Pro Series event win to come at his home track in front of family and friends.
So far this season, the second-generation Top Fuel racer, has reached the semi finals at the Australian Nationals at SD and the December Perth Motorplex event. He lost in round one at the second Perth (January) event and at Willowbank two weeks ago.
Mariani competed in only three events in both the 2008-09 and 2007-08 seasons, qualifying for three of the six events, reaching the 2007 East Coast Nationals semi final at SD and losing in round one at the other two events.
“We started the season well, getting to the semi finals at the Nationals and in Perth, but the last two events have been a bit disappointing,” Mariani said.
“There would be nothing better for my first Top Fuel (event) win to be in Sydney. It’s my home track and a lot of my family and friends come to watch me race there.”
Mariani, who dropped from fourth in the championship to fifth place, five points behind Darren Morgan, after the Willowbank event, is also keen to finish in the (championship series) top three.
“With only two events – Nitro Champs and Winternationals at Willowbank – left in the championship this season, I think it will be difficult to get in the top three, but it is not impossible. More realistic is top four finish and that is what we are shooting for.”
Mariani said the clutch problems that dogged his car at Willowbank have been sorted out and his car has had a thorough going over by US crew chief Glenn Mikres, who stayed on in Australia between the Willowbank and Nitro Champs events.
“We had a few clutch issues at Willowbank. Hopefully, that has been sorted and won’t be a problem at Sydney.
“It has been a bonus for the team with Glenn (Mikres) staying on in Australia between the two events. It has made a lot of difference to the team’s preparation for the Nitro Champs.
“While we have a couple of crew guys working full-time at the (Rapisarda) race shop, it is still good to have someone of Glenn’s experience working full-time on the cars over that two-week period.”
While Team Rapisarda has a new Dragster ready for duty – the team recently imported two cars from US David Baca Motorsport – Mariani confirmed he is likely to drive the former Kalitta Motorsports car, in which the late US racer Scott Kalitta recorded Australia’s quickest-ever pass to-date, a 4.517-second at SD in December 2006, for the rest of the season.
Rapisarda team-mate Allan Dobson is driving the other ex-Baca car this season.
“I will be driving the black (Kalitta) car for the rest of the season. The car has the potential, but we just have to get back on track. After all, it is the quickest car in Australia.
“I am just so comfortable in the car it is unbelievable and I don’t think the Rapisarda team would like to park the quickest car in the country,” Mariani said.