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The inaugural National Drag Racing Championship (NDRC) event was an ambitious challenge for both the promoter and the brand new Dragway At The Bend facility, and that was before the weather gods threw in added complications.

On the positive side of the event, the venue sold out both days, with tens of thousand of drag racing starved South Australians throwing their support behind the fledgling track, what they witnessed was outstanding racing from the professional classes and some spectacular sportsman action.

Unfortunately, the sportsman championship program was essentially abandoned on race day morning for the 300 plus ANDRA Summit Sportsman Series/Aeroflow Sportsman Championship runners. Due to the entry numbers and even with qualifying starting early Friday, delays in the racing program due to incidents and cold inclement weather pushed back the schedule back to an unrecoverable position, so by the time Sunday morning rolled around, racers and organisers were greeted with further high winds, freezing cold conditions and the chance of more precipitation. The decision was then made to cease the sportsman portion of the event from a championship perspective, due to many racers having not even had at least one qualifier to that point, and there was simply not enough time left to be able to complete sportsman qualifying and eliminations in the conditions at hand.

The decision didn’t sit well with everyone, but organisers were caught between a rock and a hard place with first event issues, and the weather, and everyone will learn from the experience.

The professional classes did not escape the mayhem, with Top Fuel, Top Doorslammer, Top Fuel Motorcycle and Pro Stock Motorcycle reduced to a single qualifying shot on the Saturday before the weather shut down on track action.

RAPISARDA RAMPAGE – The Atlantic Oil Rapisarda Autosport International team went on a tear at the opening round of the NDRC Australian Top Fuel Championship. While some aspects of Dragway At The Bend were underprepared for the event, the track surface definitely wasn’t one with Top Fuel teams claiming it was one of the best prepped surfaces they have raced on, and the numbers backed that up.

Despite fighting the cold and high winds to send 11000hp down track at 300mph, the ETs were some of the quickest ever seen. The single shot qualifying was a lull before the ET storm with RAI’s Wayne Newby 4.00 the quickest in the session to head the field into race day, and one of the greatest first rounds of Top Fuel racing experienced – every car ran into the three second zone bar Phil Read’s so close 4.0.

Newby powered into the A Final on the back of a 3.765, a personal best pass on Australian soil, while defending Top Fuel champion Damien Harris produced simply two of the best steering efforts seen in a Top Fuel Dragster as he fought the wind – and his sashaying 300in long 11000hp animal – to the stripe with a 3.804 and 3.870 to meet RAI compatriot in the final.

Unfortunately in the final for Newby severe tyre shake on the hit ended his chance, as Harris streaked away for a 3.774 in a perfect start to his title defence.

PREMIAIR VERSUS LTFR RILVARY – There is quite a healthy rivalry brewing between the two combatants who seem to be lining up against each other more often than not. This stems all the way back to their dramatic championship deciding title fight at Nitro Up North for the first Australian Top Fuel Championship since the class split from the 400 Thunder series.

After Peter Xiberras ran a 3.83 and still lost to Harris’ 3.80 in hard fought round one, and Phil Lamattina picked a win up with a solid 3.87 over Kyle Putland, the pair met in round two and dropped a classic side by side duel. Xiberras took the stripe first by a narrow margin 3.82 to a 3.90, and the two would again square off in the B Final. In an almost carbon-copy of the penultimate round, Xiberras again lit up the win light 3.83 to 3.92. There is no doubt the two passionate racers will resume on-track hostilities in Sydney for the next round of the championship, both teams will be looking to step up their performances into the 3.7 range. For LTFR, this season sees the team drop back to just the single car, focusing 100% of all the team’s resources on the FUCHS Lubricants dragster. While LTFR are yet to win an event in Sydney, Lamattina rocketed to a 3.77 personal best on his last visit to the venue.

GONE IN 3 SECONDS – Kyle Putland rocked up to Dragway At The Bend with a complete new outfit after purchasing the former BME Top Fuel Dragster from the U.S. With little testing before event and missing the Friday test session after his crew were delayed by flight cancellations, the team were straight into action in qualifying where they ended up second with a 4.32.

Putland was beaten by Lamattina in round one, but you would not have believed it, a 3.98 on the boards after a skatey shut off lap had the team’s first three second timeslip. In round two they lowered their best to a 3.93 on another early shut off run when the Worx Equipment machine pushed out of the groove. Unfortunately the C Final saw Putland shut down with excess fuel deposited on the track after a hasty stop following the burnout. The team had trouble firing the car because of an initial fuel leak, and with Read sitting in stage waiting, Putland hit a short burnout and pulled up hard on the brakes that pushed a high volume of fuel out of the overflow and on to the racing surface.

“Overall it was a fantastic weekend, we have a very fast race car and heading in a really good direction with the tune up,” said Putland. “It was a great experience being at the opening of The Bend Dragway. Our next event will be round 3 at Sydney Dragway in January.”

AN EVENT TO REMEBER AND FORGET – For Phil Read and the Hydraulink Jim Read Racing Top Fuel team, being part of the grand opening atmosphere of Dragway At The Bend is something the team will never forget, but that can’t be said for their on track experience. With Crew Chief Bruce Read spending time in the NHRA as Co-Crew Chief for Clay Millican, the team came to The Bend with a complete new set up. Hoping to drop some test runs in, weather and gremlins sent plans awry, and the team never recovered over the event.

“We missed two test runs due to the impacts of the weather and when you are coming up against quality opposition like we do, you just can’t afford to give an inch,” said Bruce Read. “We missed one pass due to a brake malfunction and another with a broken valve retainer during the warm-up – after which we pulled the engine out as we couldn’t find the piece that broke off, and so we missed the call to head out.

“That meant that we headed into Sunday’s race-day well and truly behind the eight ball, and you can’t do that with a brand new combination under you while going up against a field like we were. More testing would have been ideal, but we didn’t have that opportunity and we were fighting the car the whole time.

“It was just one of those weekends really, but we never give up and we were happy to at least finish the weekend off with a C-Final win.

TOP DOORSLAMMER MAYHEM – Where to even begin for what went down in Top Doorslammer. Racers were greeted with phenomenal atmospheric conditions and a track that was next level, while having to fight the effects of wind and dust.

Easily the scariest moment happened before a tyre had been turned in the class. Scott Ferguson driving the Hillbilly Express 55 Chev – for the first time in a long time – was preparing to make his first pass when the car launched forward on fire up knocking over car owner Roger Size and taking a crew member for a short ride on the front clip. Size suffered injuries described as nothing too serious to his knee and hip area and was released from hospital pending further scans.

Ferguson has been open and honest about the incident taking full responsibility, putting it down to brain fade and muscle memory of how he used to fire his Top Alcohol Dragster with the throttle pedal. He also accidentally armed the mag switch, he couldn’t clearly identify the correct switch when all suited up in the race car compared to when he is completing engine warm ups. Fortunately no one was seriously injured the most important take away.

When racing did resume Paul Cannuli mastered the conditions with a 5.71 in the only qualifying session to lead the 12 car field into race day. His first round solo finished in a plume of smoke that procured fatal engine damage and his event as at an end.

Carbone found the wall in his first round match up against Ronnie Palumbo. His Camaro found plenty of track bite launching straight towards the wall in a high power wheelstand before making solid contact on the side of the Camaro, Carbone also took no further part in the event.

Incidents continued during the wild first round, Rob ‘Mad Professor’ Taylor made his return to Top Doorslammer racing after a terrible fire destroyed his Camaro and seriously injured him a couple years ago at Willowbank. Taylor missed finishing off his new Camaro Top Doorslammer for the event so turned to his striking C7 Corvette, after a last minute rush to have the body approved he turned up to The Bend for licensing. Sadly, Taylor’s licensing run following the first round of Top Doorslammer went sideways figuratively and literally when the Corvette stepped out of the groove and skipped sideways across track impacting the opposite wall. Stripping the car back Taylor said there wasn’t too much damage bar a lower frame rail needing to be replaced and a new body because “carbon fibre doesn’t bounce well”. Taylor will also be testing the new Camaro in December at Sydney Dragway.

WEST AUSSIE FOES DO BATTLE – John Zappia and Daniel Gregorini’s fierce rivalry to be the doorslammer king of the West has spilt onto the national scene as the pair kept finding each other on race day. Gregorini qualified handsomely in #2 with a 5.79 while Zappia had dramas leaving the Zaps Rat Monaro at the tail of field. In round one a nice 5.74 from Gregorini saw him get the upper hand against an ugly tyreshaking wall scaping run by Zap. The tables turned in round two, this time is was Gregorini with low oil pressure on the start line electing not to send the Camaro, it would have been a tough task anyway with Zappia bashing a 5.61 low ET of the event.

Just when Zappia thought his event had turned around, between round maintenance revealed the crushing reality, his event was over.

“We were just checking the bearings to make sure everything was ready to go for the finals when one of the boys said there was a hole in the block,” Zappia said. “We believe that there was a blocked fuel nozzle that leaned out cylinder number five and caused it to punch a rod out.

“The air was 180 feet above sea level, with just 40 water grains. It was brutal, powerful air. We had the most fuel going into the motor that we have ever had and the least amount of ignition timing. Even backed off, to have a 5.61 come up was incredible.”

The defeat left Gregorini in the C Final which he won with a dominant 5.68 over Adam Tassone.

RETURN TO FORM: Veteran Top Doorslammer racers Peter Kapiris and Matt Abel showed encouraging returns to form. Abel was back still sorting his 57 Chev after big accident at the Westernationals in the Perth sand trap, qualifying with a healthy 5.88. While Kapiris making his comeback to racing after a long sabbatical has been creeping up on the performances we know the Batmobile Studebaker can deliver. The pair actually faced off in round with the victor going to Kapiris 5.79 to 5.86, the again in the B Final, Abel measuring his revenge with consistency dropping 5.87 to 6.11.

YOUNG GUNS FINAL CHAOS – The story of Top Doorslammer was building to emotional volcano no matter who would be the victor between Ronnie Palumbo and Lisa Gregorini in the A Final – what happened next no one could have predicted. Both racers have had sentimental journeys, Ronnie Palumbo at his first ever Top Doorslammer meeting driving for Maurice Fabietti in memory of Sam Fenech and Palumbo’s father Frank that has been well documented. Gregorini ended her rookie season with major crash at Hidden Valley, and like Palumbo now was rolling through the water to try and win a confidence building first event.

For Palumbo the dream debut looked over when the ACDelco Monaro’s engine quit after the burnout – it was believed the fault lay with the electrimotion shut off system as the car fired straight back up later in the pits. With Palumbo stranded, Gregorini was rolling towards the beams to stage when sparks began shooting out of the exhaust headers, in a panic her crew signalled to shut off the car before reaching stage which she complied with – as a result no race equals no winner with shock and disappointment felt venue wide. Confusion then reigned as to what to do, the race deserved a result and the decision was made between both racers they wanted to run off at the next event in Perth, this was put to the NDRC who approved the request.

V-TWINS TO THE FRONT – With the all-conquering Chris Matheson four cylinder Nitro Voodoo bike in retirement at a Brisbane Motorsport Museum, who would step up and stake their claim as the next dominant force is the class.

Last season saw Rob Cassar earn a well deserved championship win aboard his nitrous Kawasaki through dedication and consistency, this season however we see a resurgence in competitor numbers and world class bikes showing up in the class.

Benny Stevens put together three bikes for the first round of the champions, the V-Twin army consisted of his own and team mate Aaron Deery, but joining the fray was another bike to be ridden by Les Holden.

Stevens punched his way to top qualifying position with a early shut off 6.75 ahead of the ever lurking Cassar on a 7.00 in the ten bike field. Stevens let loose in round one with a shut off 6.48 solo that had wind push the bike into the wall in the braking area. Another solo in round two when Ian Ashelford couldn’t make the call delivered a quicker 6.44 – setting up a final with Damien Muscat’s new four cylinder weapon. In amazing atmospheric conditions Stevens threw everything at the track in final coming up trumps with a 6.40 win.

There was mixed fortunes for the rest of the Fuelled Motorsport team. Les Holden ran solid on his bike despite a clutch issue the whole event, coming away with C Final win over Cassar. Deery’s event was over much earlier when a fuel pump failure hydrauliced the engine in round one, blowing the sump off and snapping a conrod.

NITRO VOODOO RIDES AGAIN – With Chris Matheson retiring the Australian Top Fuel Motorcycle brigade may have breathed a sigh of relief, that was short lived with the Nitro Voodoo team turning their attention to Nitro Harley record on a bike driven by Mark Drew. The team are in early development with the bike with their sights on the five second zone, the potential was on show in round two with Drew banging out a 6.39 for low ET of the event. Unluckily issues in the B Final gifted Danny Rickard a 7.51 solo win.

“We tested the new Hog and gathered some critical data to enable us to improve,” said Matheson. “The bike runs straight, quick, and will become very competitive once we continue our planned upgrades.”

NITRO PHEONIX RISES – Damian Muscat made his return to Top Fuel Motorcycle and brought a bazooka to the gun fight. After winning championships and setting records in a brief Nitro Harley stint a few years ago, Muscat left drag racing to concentrate on his crane business. Now back on the scene, Muscat comes fully loaded to take the class by storm once again with a four cylinder nitro bike once campaigned by Sam Wills in the US to 5.8 second ETs.

Muscat is taking a slow and steady approach learning how tune such a weapon, such is the potential of the bike Muscat won his way through to the A Final on the heels of 6.94 and 6.92 second passes that were off the throttle before half track! For the final the team were unable to complete necessary between round repairs in time to make the call.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE RESURGENCE – Like their nitro cousins Pro Stock Motorcycle is going through its own resurgence in numbers. A cohesive approach to the class by competitors to market and promote the class together through Pro Stock Motorcycle Australia is underway a seven bike showed up for round one of the series. This included some returning faces in local Jason Lee riding for the doyen of the class Trevor Birrell, and West Aussie Ryan Learmonth returning to the State where he debut for Pro Stock Motorcycle back in 2014.

For Lee, there were no serious numbers recorded, but we know it won’t be long before Birrell has that Suzuki competing at the pointy end of the field. Learmonth was blown away by the venue and the track surface itself. Arriving with some new parts on board, the traction and air conditions was the best Learmonth has ever seen catching them out on their set up. Learmonth still laid down three solid run for a runner-up finish to Luke Crowley in the B Final, and going home with a valuable learning experience, and an immense amount of new data to digest for future improvements.

A WIN AND PERSONAL BEST WITH A SMILE – Scott White was beaming after going home with the A Final win and only his third Gold Christmas Tree trophy. Not the quickest bike in the paddock, White kept creeping up on the tune after qualifying second on a 7.41, before delivering 7.30 and 7.22 round wins both over Tony Frost setting him the A Final against Glenn Wooster. The cagey White needed a good light against the quicker Wooster nailing a .032 reaction backed by a 7.17 personal best at the stripe for the win over a 7.08.

“Personal best time and personal best speed in the final – and the old bloke nailed the tree – what a surprise after a few events doing some stumbling double take on the launch – but we found the reason and fixed it,” said White. “Now we are really tuning and there is much more in it yet knowing what we now know.

“Next event will be hot so maybe not a 7.0 immediately – I’m patient – it took ten years to go from 7.20 to 7.17 but I think the next few PBs will be quicker in coming. For now leading the championship – it’s a good feeling but everyone is stepping up and I am not taking anything for granted.”

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE – With the air conditions on offer and the traction on point we expected some big numbers from the Pro Stock Motorcycle heavy hitters. Luke Crowley had qualified first with a 7.21 then fired a shot with a 7.01 in round two, that run should have seen him in the final, instead won a B Final showdown against Learmonth with a 7.12.

What happened was a miss in timing following Wooster’s round two race. We know Wooster’s Suzuki has dipped into the six second zone before, but a 6.74 win over Lee in the second round dropped jaws, that was on par with the best in the world. The timing computer showed Wooster was the winner and he went on to contest the final based on the ET, however under post race review both Wooster an Lee left before the Christmas tree had activated and should have been a double DQ. The ET was recorded from Wooster’s back wheel or wheelie bar when the tree did activate giving a Top Fuel like .820 60ft time. With the situation missed, the championship points were recalculated post-race which now sees Crowley sitting second behind event winner White. The next round of Pro Stock Motorcycle will hopefully be in Sydney on the Australia Day weekend.

Monster gallery of all the action from a grand opening that will be talked about for many reasons and an audacious start to the NDRC.


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