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There was no shortage of incredible National Drag Racing Championship (NDRC) action on track today for what was the penultimate day of the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway – the season finale for the inaugural NDRC championship and also the Eastern Conference final for the Aeroflow National Sportsman Championship.

A full house of race fans packed the stands, enjoying not only the professional qualifying and sportsman eliminations but also the beautiful Queensland winter weather, which delivered some of the best racing conditions in the Winters’ history and saw the fans on their feet for multiple 3-second 500+kph passes across the two Top Fuel qualifying sessions, plus a 3-second/510kph XPRO Nitro Funny Car run to end the day on a high.

With Group One qualifying now complete and elimination rounds well underway across the 12 sportsman categories, racers and fans alike are gearing up for what will surely be an unmissable day of racing Sunday to conclude a history-making year for the NDRC.

In Top Fuel today, the intensity was high from the very start with Rapisarda Autosport International teammates Damien Harris and Wayne Newby running a pair of 3.8-second 500kph+ runs side-by-side for the first qualifier of the day. Not to be overlooked, Peter Xiberras immediately set down another 3-second (3.839s/510.60kph) pass during his run against Phil Read, who delivered a planned half-track run before being unfortunately shut down on the line in Q2.

In Q2, Xiberras jumped from third to the top of the timing sheets, before an answering solo run and a drive job from Harris sent the defending champ back up the order to claim the Top Qualifying honours, relegating Xiberras back to second (3.800s/516.18kph), just .009s behind Harris.

Harris currently holds the record of being the quickest and fastest Top Fuel racer in Australia, a record he took from Xiberras at The Bend earlier this year. Retaking that honour is a key focus for Xiberras this weekend, and if today’s runs are anything to go by, he is going to be putting in every effort to make it happen while looking for a hat trick after back-to-back wins in Sydney.

Newby rounded out the top three (3.813s/516.18kph) ahead of Phil Read in fourth (4.460s/278.28kph). ‘The Pom’ Steve Read was also on track today, laying down a best run of 4.982s at 251.47kph.

“It is all going good so far. I definitely had my hands full on that run, I was tank slapping it with the steering wheel,” Harris said after his Q3 top qualifying run.

“Number one is great, and we will see what tomorrow brings – we need two win lights tomorrow,” he added, alluding to needing to get to the A-Final to ensure he can take out the title.

In XPRO Nitro Funny Car, Top Qualifier Morice McMillin took it ‘into the 3s’ with the first 3-second run of the weekend for his bracket as the sun was beginning to set at Willowbank Raceway.

McMillin’s blistering 3.983s/510.11kph pass alongside Brandon Gosbell was more than enough to send the Sydneysider to the top of the timing sheets in Q3, knocking team-mate Gosbell from the top spot, seeing him forced to settle for second on the timesheets with his 4.022/503kph Q2 effort.

Newcomer Josh Leahy was third quickest behind his teammates thanks to a 4.064 second pass at 502.09kph, while championship leader Justin Walshe was fourth quickest with a 4.075 second pass at 508.44kph. Adam Murrihy rounded out the top five with a 4.243s effort, following a Q2 which saw his chutes come out immediately after the hit. Begley (4.462/451.11kph) and Chris Stipanovich finished out the race day field, with Stipanovich coming back from a Q2 fireball off the start which saw the team have to replace the engine ahead of Q3.

“I didn’t see Brandon at all, it was a bit slow early but then it just started ripping, it moved over to the right and then I brought it back over to the left, and I was a bit late on the chutes!” McMillin explained after the run.

“That is what we were trying to do, to run a three for the crowd! The surface is just so good, and we just saw Walshey run a 4.0 – nitro is just awesome!”

In Top Doorslammer, the rivalry that has been brewing all year between Top Qualifier rookie Russell Taylor (5.612s/415.24kph) and 11-time champion John Zappia continued all the way to the close of today’s qualifying, setting up what is sure to be an epic championship showdown tomorrow. In Q3, Taylor bumped Zappia from the top of the timing charts – where he sat through Q1 and Q2 – with a beautiful side-by-side pass against the veteran, seeing Zappia relegated to second spot (5.694s/409.99kph).

Earlier in the session, rookie Ronnie Palumbo made an exceptional comeback from a stuck throttle during Friday’s Q1 which saw his Monaro tag the wall, rounding out his day third quickest (5.709s/401.74kph), ahead of Rob Harrington (5.895s/394.01kph), and Neil Murphy in fifth (5.935s/385.75kph), while Peter Lovering (5.950s/386.09kph), Jack Danaher (6.082/380.41kph) and Nasser Matta (6.184/368.97kph) rounded out the race day field.

In Pro Alcohol, it was anyone’s game with the provisional Top Qualifier changing from round to round. Jake Donnelly held it early, before the number one spot was taken over by series leader Russell Mills in Q2, before local hero Daniel Reed claimed the top honours with a Q3 5.413s/431.65kph run, dislodging Mills’ 5.423s/427.45kph effort and relegating Donnelly to third spot (5.486/412.79kph).

Luke Marsden (5.507s/419.25kph) was fourth quickest ahead of Wayne Price (5.549/392.16kph) and Gary Phillips (5.549s/361.13kph) – who earlier in the day had everyone on the edge of their seats when he tagged the wall during a wheelstanding run. Rounding out the race day field is Chris Hargrave (5.550s/419.08kph) and John Cannuli (5.598s/416.67kph), while Andrew Searle and Brett White were unable to make it into the eight.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, series leader Luke Crowley never yielded the Top Qualifier spot, leading the way in qualifying from the start and improving in Q2 with a 7.155s/301.78kph pass which was enough to see him hold onto the number one spot in Q3. Daniel Rabnott also enjoyed consistency in qualifying, holding on to the second quickest time throughout, with his best run (7.201s/295.74kph) coming in Q3. Tony Frost rounded out the top three with a 7.286s/301.20kph, ahead of Jason Lee (7.345s/290.51kph), Paul Andrews (7.375s/294.34kph), and Andrew Badcock (7.854s/245.21kph), who closed out the field as sixth quickest.

In Top Fuel Motorcycle, Top Qualifier Damian Muscat shaved .838s off his Q1 run in Q2 with a 6.070s/346.33kph pass which was enough to keep him in the top spot in Q3 despite the fact he was unable to run after making a mistake on the startline.

Championship leader Benny Stevens is also sitting in a comfortable position to continue his title chase closing out the three qualifying sessions as second quickest (6.757s/357.91kph), with his team-mate Aaron Deery ecstatic with the performance which saw him quick enough for third on the timesheets (6.911/304.02kph). Corey Buttigieg was fourth quickest after bettering his Q2 time by 3 seconds with an 8.072s/230.03kph Q3 solo run, with Damian Martini (12.019s/94.58kph) and John Zahra (13.452s/90.63kph) rounding out the field of six.

“We have had to work hard, that is for sure,” Muscat said.

“In testing last weekend we did quite well but also did some damage, and each round today we have incurred engine troubles which has seen the crew working very hard in between rounds, and we have managed to get it back out there each time.

“Unfortunately, in the third qualifier, the nitro switch rattled to the neutral position, which is actually still ‘on’ but I like to see it ‘full on’ so I flicked it over, but unfortunately I flicked it the wrong way without realising and basically turned my fuel off and didn’t realise until the engine started coming down off fuel and it was too late to do anything.

“That was disappointing for the crew who have worked so hard to get it back out there for the third round of qualifying. But it does save us some work tonight and we will be out there tomorrow for the first round of eliminations.

“It is always awesome to race in front of big crowds like this and Willowbank Raceway has done an awesome job to get the track to an awesome level and so smooth with so much traction, it is just great, and we can’t wait for tomorrow.”

In Pro Stock, defending champ and last year’s Winters winner Tyronne Tremayne took the Top Qualifier honours (6.908s/318.50kph) ahead of his brother, teammate and nine-time champion Aaron Tremayne (6.981s/318.13kph).

Tremayne led the way throughout each of the three qualifying sessions, while Mario Polito had the run of his day on Friday setting his first 6-second (6.993s/312.72kph) pass. Championship leader Rob Dekert rounded out the top three (6.919s/319.45kph) ahead of Rick Chilton (6.943s/309.17kph), Omar Sedmak (6.958s/315.68kph), John Barbagallo (6.989s/309.39kph), Mario Polito (6.993s/312.72kph) and Shane Tucker (7.049s/312.01kph).

It was a stressful Q3 for Tucker who was sitting on the bump spot when he was pushed back from the start line and unable to lay down a run. It came down to Tony Polito’s solo run as to whether he would make it through. Unfortunately for Polito, he would roll the beams to have no time recorded and while it was a happy ending for Tucker, this put an end to the weekend for Tony, who was hoping to make his way into the field with his Q3 performance.

It is an incredibly tight race day field, with the top eight all covered by just .141s. With 12 racers lining up and only eight positions available, Wayne Daley, Bill Perdikaris, and Ray Oxley joined Tony Polito in finding themselves outside of the field at the close of qualifying.

Q3 also hosted the delayed Gulf Western Oil Nitro Champs finals for Pro Stock, with Tyronne Tremayne taking the A-Final win over Chilton and Aaron Tremayne winning the B-Final over Mario Polito, while Sedmak took the C-Final over Oxley.

“It is good isn’t it!” Tremayne grinned when asked about his Sydney winning and Winters top qualifying performance.

“That is three wins in a row for me (as far as events he has contested)– last year’s Winters, the Riverbend Nationals, and now the Sydney Nitro Champs. That is pretty cool I think!

“Now we just have to do well tomorrow. There are some good cars out there, so we will have to see. We will just have to see if we can get through the first round, and then see how we go from there.

“Everything is going to plan, we are happy, and the car is doing well. The Winternationals has a completely different atmosphere to any other event out there, the track is pretty good, and the crowd today has been ridiculous – we are certainly having a good time!

In FuelTech Pro Mod, Top Qualifier and championship leader Craig Burns knocked last year’s Winters winner Zoran Gajic off the top of the time sheets in the final qualifying session of the weekend with a 5.861s/391.10 pass, lined up against third-place qualifier Frank Tarabay (5.870s/409.06kph) in what was also the running of the Gulf Western Oil Nitro Champs Pro Stock B-Final, with Tarabay taking the victory on a holeshot.

Gajic had been the provisional Top Qualifier during the first two sessions of the weekend, with his Q2 5.867s/409.06kph run enough to earn him second spot on the sheets. Gajic had his fair share of issues today but was still able to take the Nitro Champs A-Final win with a slow solo pass when his team-mate Paul Mouhayet was unable to front for their Q3 match-up.

Greg Tsakiridis was fourth quickest with a 5.889s/392.37kph run set in Q2, ahead of Mouhayet (5.890s/404.34kph), Stew Walsh (6.066s/374.76kph) and Steve Smith (6.139s/398.92kph), with Daniel Camilleri (6.346s/303.73kph) rounding out the field in eighth. Peter Gratz was unable to qualify after electrical issues in his Plymouth Hemi Cuda.

“Sydney was a good meet for us, everything had worked A to B, and we made the A-final against my teammate, Paul Mouhayet before the track was shut down as it got too cold, so we decided to finish it off here in Q3 at the Winternationals,” Gajic explains.

“In Q2, my diff locked up at the finish line and broke the diff, the tail shaft, and the gearbox in half. And Paul in Q2 torched a piston. We tried to get them both ready for the final, but Paul didn’t make it, and I made it but without a trans brake, so I just accepted the tree to win the final.

“It was going good until that happened, but it is still good to take the Sydney win of course and we should be all good for tomorrow.

“Heading into tomorrow’s racing, we are feeling pretty confident. We have data on board, the track is very good, and the weather looks promising. So, hopefully, a new day tomorrow can bring us some better running.”

The Aeroflow National Sportsman Championship competitors were also on track today, giving it their all to put on a great show for race fans.

With qualifying and the first Junior Dragster and Super Sedan elimination rounds completed on Friday, it was a full day of racing for the 12 NDRC Aeroflow National Sportsman Championship brackets, plus non-championship bracket, Factory Xtreme, with Sunday to host the conclusion of their battles for both event and Eastern Conference glory.

Amongst a long list of impressive racing performances put on today by the sportsman racers were race winning runs by Modified Bike Top Qualifier, Alan Annis Jnr, and Top Sportsman Top Qualifier, Neil Maxwell, who are both still in the running heading into Sunday’s final day of racing.

This weekend’s strong performance is a confidence booster for Annis Jr after having a few years away from Modified Bike.

“I didn’t really expect to be the top qualifier, this is the first Winters I have been to in three years as I had three years off and only just came back, so I didn’t expect it, but the bike is running better than we thought it would,” Annis Jnr said.

“Today has gone really well, the weather is perfect, and everything seems to be running pretty close to where it should be running.

“I am feeling confident ahead of tomorrow, but not over-confident as I have been off the bike for quite a while and there are a lot of good racers in this class, so it normally takes something pretty special to beat everyone, so we will just go out there and do our best.”

Maxwell is taking a one-race-at-a-time approach and is enjoying racing in front of the packed Willowbank crowd.

“I was very proud to top qualify, and today the car is going perfectly,” Maxwell said.

“I had a bit of luck in the round of racing we had today too, with the poor bloke in the other lane blowing the tyres off it!

“There was an absolutely unbelievable crowd out there today, and that was really, really good to see. To race in front of a packed house like that is definitely something special and we are looking forward to tomorrow, where we will be taking it one race at a time.”

The Gulf Western Oil Winternationals concludes Sunday where the Aeroflow National Sportsman Championship event and Eastern Conference winners plus the inaugural NDRC Top Fuel, XPRO Nitro Funny Car, Top Doorslammer, Top Fuel Motorcycle, as well as Pro Alcohol, Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle and FuelTech Pro Mod champions and event winners will be celebrated.

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