NITRO THUNDER REPORT: Fenech returns to the scene in Slammer upset-fest

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The last time Sam Fenech raced a Pro Slammer he won the event, and luckily survived one of the worst high-speed wrecks seen. Over two years later Fenech is back racing a Pro Slammer again, now for Maurice Fabietti’s AC Delco team and again finished the event holding up the Gold Christmas Tree fortunately without the extra drama.

Steven Ham went into the event with a huge lead in the 400 Thunder points as nearest competitors John Zappia and Ben Bray were not in attendance, leaving Mark Hinchelwood the closest challenger nearly 100 points in arears. The AC Delco team have moved to a two car operation post-COVID with Fenech driving the older second car which has had a few new updates added before the event as it has been used for passenger rides since its racing retirement. Not only is two cars greater exposure for AC Delco, but Fenech can make an effective blocker for Hinchelwood.

The first round opened with Emilio Spinozzi in his ‘rat rod’ Chevelle, the team had an epic thrash to put the car back together after a testing crash the weekend before, and Michelle Davies who herself has been battling a temperamental Mustang since racing resumed post pandemic. Spinozzi left with the wheels up and may of had a quick pedal before pulling the chutes early on a 6.03/217MPH for the win, as power went away for the Davies Mustang, a broken driveshaft the problem and would rule her out of the event.

Hinchelwood’s championship chase had a setback after the car dropped fuel in the burnout and was shut down, it looked like it may of just been overflow from the tank. Opponent Geoff Gradden in the Sigra Saratoga has been super consistent in testing and always creeping up on the ETs with the car now a low 5.70 machine. That wasn’t the case on the now solo run, a quick pedal resulted in a 5.86/248MPH, but a solid off the trailer first shot at the track.

Final pairing the first round continued the upsets with Fenech in his debut for the AC Delco team facing championship leader Ham. Both cars left pretty even, but a quick pedal from the Ham Camaro was all Fenech needed to streak away for the win with a 5.78/251MPH covering Ham’s 6.01/249MPH.

Gradden was back into the 5.70s to start off the second round with a 5.78/250MPH against a way out of shape Spinozzi to guarantee himself a final spot. Hinchelwood was guaranteed a win on a solo with no Davies, but still looking for a good run. The AC Delco Monaro launched hard but headed for the wall and Hinchelwood wisely abandoned the power. Fenech would face Ham again in the last pairing of the round, and it was de-ja-vu for Ham. Fenech nailed Ham to the tree, a quick pedal was had from both cars, but Ham couldn’t recover the traction and Fenech raced away for a 6.02/247MPH to double down on the championship upset.

“We shook the tyres with Mark’s car,” said Team Principal Maurice Fabietti. “But Sam came through again, he had a bit of shake and had to pedal it, but we got the win, that’s the most important thing. It’s like he never left, he had done a fantastic job this weekend, all his crew have fitted great, straight in on the team.”

To start off the third round Spinozzi launched with a huge holeshot over Hinchelwood but the patched up Chevelle moved around too much and Spinozzi shut off the noise allowing Hinchelwood to score more points in the championship chase with a solid 5.85/195MPH win. Ham prevented some of the points bleeding with a bye run win, and showed his previous championship event form with an event low ET 5.70/255MPH.

Shaping up in the final was quiet achiever Gradden and comeback driver Fenech in the same situation he was on that dramatic night two years ago. At the flash of the green Fenech was gone with a .033 to .073 reaction, and had to drive the Monaro back into the groove as the it drifted towards the wall, Fenech though kept the pedal planted for a 5.74/251MPH PB and more importantly the win light. Gradden’s Saratoga was also wandering about the lane, but a 5.86/246 wasn’t going to challenge Fenech, though still a great result for the team who is now a real threat to anyone.

“Well, its been a long time since we made it to a final at a National event,” said Gradden. “In 2014 we won the Australian Nationals but since then the competition has been intense and wining times have dropped from 5.9 to 5.7 or even 5.6 seconds for the quarter mile.”

“Sigra‚Äôs Saratoga Doorslammer is one of the last cars running a clutch, 3 speed Lenco and Magneto ignition, with most teams now running 5 speed, torque converter and coil on plug ignition, but we are still improving by small steps and knocking on the door of a 5.6 pass.”

“Sam Fenech and I go back nearly 20 years since we raced Super sedan, both driving white LJ Toranas and it was great to line up against him in his return from a huge crash a while back and now driving for the AC Delco team. Sam is a great driver and the track conditions ensured that nobody was going to have an easy ride.”

Short of seeing the official points, Fenech served as an effective blocker for Hinchelwood who should of closed his gap to Ham significantly to have a championship shot with one event to go.

“Fantastic, Sam has done a great job, the crew has done a great job, AC Delco has won the final which is the main thing, and we’ve had an awesome weekend,” said Fabietti.

“It was an awesome day,” said Sam Fenech at the conclusion of the final. “We came out and ran .78 which was probably surprising to us and a few people that the car went down, we knew we would have to step it up against Geoff, he is very good competitor.”

“So we got the win, I can’t believe it, last time I was here, I got the win it just didn’t end so well. I would just like to thank Maurice Fabietti, AC Delco, the whole team, it’s a big family.”

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