The 43rd annual Westernationals is set to be one of the best ever, with the two major crowd drawcards of the ANDRA Drag Racing Series, Top Fuel and Top Doorslammer, on the same bill for the first time in the west.
With consecutive wins from Phil Lamattina in the opening rounds of the Top Fuel championship, it will be up to a star studded field including reigning champion Darren Morgan, Mark Sheehan, Martin Stamatis, Damien Harris and Allan Dobson to stop him.
“To have six Top Fuel cars and 20 Top Doorslammers in one place is going to be pretty cool,” Lamattina said.
“We also have one of my old sparring partners, Darren Morgan back for this round, which is great. It means that not only do we have six cars, we have six really fast cars.”
The Westernationals features the three round racing format, which means that all the cars race the first two rounds followed by an A and B Final (four quickest winners from second round) to decide the winners.
“The format is one of the great parts of the event, the crowd can come on either night and see a great show,” Lamattina said.
“If the conditions are right, we hope to put on an even more spectacular show and better our 4.631 pass at 526.6kph that we recorded during the January event.
“We have some great data for the Motorplex and we’ll need it with such a strong field. Our crew, lead by Aaron (Hambridge), is continuing to get better and better and I can’t wait to line up in the staging lanes – it’s going to be a huge event.”
Lamattina might even be glad to have Morgan on side to help him tackle what is otherwise an all Western Australian field.
Mark Sheehan is ready to lead the West Aussie charge and though he has many compatriots as drivers, his is the only locally based team.
“I think to all West Aussie teams the meetings don’t get any bigger than this, especially for the teams that don’t travel,” said Sheehan. “This is home turf and that counts for the fans on the hill watching. (There is) nothing better than winning at your home race track.
“For me personally, I know how rewarding it is for myself and the whole team when the likes of DMR, LTFR, RAI and Martin Stamatis come to town.
“There is some stiff competition there for sure, with the years of knowledge and the run data that some of these teams have, not forgetting who some of these teams are linked in with in the US. To steal a win in Top Fuel against these guys is definitely worth all the hard work.”
Coming into the Westernationals the car has been serviced and replaced with new components and the team is confident of challenging Lamattina despite his consistency at Perth Motorplex.
“One hundred percent (we are confident). This season Phil has shown so far with his consistency that LTFR are the team to beat and we know we can play the spoiler in his hunt for his second championship,” Sheehan said.
“That’s not taking anything away from the other teams entering, there may be only six cars at the next two rounds but all of the cars are capable of running into the 4.50s if the conditions are right.
“Whoever takes the win light at the next two rounds is going to have to earn it.”
Meanwhile, in the Top Doorslammer ranks Gary Phillips will take his Studebaker back to WA with an opportunity to concentrate solely on the supercharged sedan, as opposed to doing double duty with his Top Alcohol Funny Car.
“Both cars run relatively similar tune ups, with the obvious exception of the suspension, weight and supercharger overdrive, so we’re going to be using what we learned about the track last time, and hopefully just make some refinements with the Doorslammer,” he said.
“With the event running under the three round format, which sees two championship rounds completed in two days, it leaves little room for testing new ideas. We’re going over there with our proven tune up, and hopefully get some round wins with our consistency.
“It’s the first time in a while we’ve been able to run the doorslammer at a race by itself, so with it receiving 100% of our attention, we’re going to give it a red hot go. With two coveted ANDRA Gold Christmas Tree trophies up for grabs, you can bet that we’ll be trying our best to win them both for Lucas Oil Products, Champion Spark Plugs and Odyssey Batteries.”
Phillips will have stiff opposition from fellow banana benders Victor and Ben Bray, who are making the shift to an all convertor-equipped team as of this event.
With Ben’s 30th birthday falling on the weekend birthday cake may be a given, but the team will be looking to boost those celebrations with some strong results as they continue to come to grips with the new style of transmission.
“We still have a long way to go with the converter set-up, it is a complicated beast and there is so much more to it than just flipping a button to launch the car,” said Ben Bray.
“From the driver’s perspective there is a lot to adapt to when you implement a set-up like this – for instance there is no clutch pedal, how you put the car into reverse is completely different, how you stage the car has to change and so on, so there is a lot to come to grips with even before you are looking at getting good results.
“Discussions with other racers who have been down this path lead us to believe we will be looking at around 20 passes before we have it under control. I currently have nine full passes under my belt so we are certainly on our way.
“Given this, for us success this weekend might be more about making progress towards consistent passes and strong results than an event win, but that doesn’t mean we will be putting in anything less than 110% when we hit the track.”
Victor said Perth has been a happy hunting ground in recent times.
“It is the place where I set the world speed record in 2003 which stood for five and a half years (245.23 miles per hour) and also where I broke through for my first ever ‘five second’ pass,” he said.
“We will certainly be up against it this weekend as there is a heck of a lot for us to learn with the new converter set-up and with Ben having nine full passes under his belt after the opening round in Perth plus some extra testing data, it will certainly be a case of the ‘master’ leaning on the ‘apprentice’.”
The 43rd Westernationals get underway Friday February 28th with qualifying for round three of the Aeroflow Sportsman Drag Racing Championship and runs through until Sunday.
Of note is a departure from Perth Motorplex’s ‘sacred cow’ starting time of 6pm, with the feature program beginning from 5.30pm.