Mariani wins Nitro Champs and first-ever title

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Mark Mariani took out his first-ever Australian National Drag Racing Association (ANDRA) Pro Series title when he won Top Fuel at the recent Nitro Champs at Sydney Dragway (SD), Eastern Creek.

While it was Mariani’s first title, it was the second time team-owner Santo Rapisarda has won the Nitro Champs since the event’s inception in 2004.

Alan Dobson won for the Western Sydney-based Rapisarda Racing in 2007. Dobson was also runner-up last year.     

The win capped-off an emotional weekend for Rapisarda; with the event also a round of the Louie Rapisarda Top Fuel Tribute, which marks the 20th anniversary of Santo’s son Louie’s passing in a tragic race accident at Willowbank Raceway in July 1990 and was a week after what, would have been Louie’s birthday.  

Rapisarda said the Nitro Champs win meant so much to him, his family and the entire Rapisarda team. 

“This (Nitro Champs) win really means so much to me, my two sons, Santo Jnr and Santino and the whole (Rapisarda) team. This event was all about my son Louie. This is a fitting memorial to Louie,” Rapisarda said.

“I really had a feeling that this weekend was our event.

“It”s (the Nitro Champs win) been a long time coming. Two years ago we won this event then last year we were runner-up, but we (Rapisarda Racing) have not done much since and now we have won again,” Rapisarda said.

After the second qualifying session, second-generation Top Fuel drag racer Mariani was in second place with a 5.066sec at 283.79mph time.

Mariani did not go out for the third and final qualifying session, resulting in him slipping to fifth spot behind top qualifier Darren Morgan (4.669/323.66).

In a close round one elimination race, Mariani defeated fourth qualifier and teammate Dobson (4.850/279.15) with his quickest-ever pass, a 4.820sec at 296.63mph.     

Mariani (4.806/275.96) then defeated Morgan (4.840/272.83) in the semi final, bettering his previous quickest-ever pass.     

In the final, Mariani (4.975/267.27) defeated Phil Read (5.052/258.32), despite the engines in both cars being on fire as they crossed the finish line. 

Team Rapisarda head tuner, Glenn Mikres said Mariani’s Titan Cranes car had fuel pump issues during the event.   

“The car had some sort of fuel issue. We chased it (fuel problem) and it got a little better and then it got a little worst. It was probably a fuel pump issue.

“In the heat of battle you keep feeding it (the engine) parts and at the end of the day if it cost you a few pieces (parts) to get the win then that”s what you do,” Mikres said.

After the event, Mariani, who is in his first full season driving for Team Rapisarda, said it was awesome to win his first event at his home track in front of family and friends.    

“This (win) is unbelievable. We were pretty confident that we would go some (elimination) rounds. And the further we went the more confident we became. It is unbelievable, for Santo, the team, Titan Cranes, all our sponsors, everyone,” Mariani said.

“My mother and father were here to see this win, which was awesome. They don”t come to all my races, so it was very emotional for them and me

“My Dad, Mario, was a Top Fuel racer, but he never got to win a final. He was runner-up many times and it was Santo (Rapisarda) or Jim Read that beat him in the final. I am the first in the family to win an ANDRA gold Christmas Tree (trophy).” 

Mariani said he did not enjoy racing teammate Dobson in round one of eliminations.

“Running a teammate is never good, but at least one of us was going to go to the semi-final and that was good for Santo and the team.

“We just did our job, that”s what we”re here for and I just happened to get to the finish line first.”

Mariani was also delighted he ran personal best times during eliminations.

“I ran a personal best (time) in round one and then bettered that in the semi (final), which just topped off the weekend. All I have to do now is run a 300mph pass and then I suppose keep bettering our time.”

Mariani has now moved back into fourth place with 390 points in the ANDRA Pro Series, behind leader Martin Stamatis (505pts).

However, Mariani (223pts) now leads the three-round $25,000 Shannons Top Fuel Shootout. He leads Stamatis (187pts) and Read (185pts).

The final round for both the ANDRA Pro Series and Shannons Shootout is at next month’s Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway.

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