Gary Phillips has a stranglehold on the Top Alcohol championship with just two rounds remaining and this weekend at Hidden Valley Drag Strip could see the Lucas Oils Funny Car driver wrap up his 16th title in the category.
Phillips has a 93 point lead over second placed Steve Reed. If he can leave with anything greater than a 118 point lead over his nearest rival then it’s game, set, match for the cagey Queenslander.
But Phillips says the last thing on his mind is championship hunting when there is a wildcard track like Darwin to tackle first.
“It’s not my game to look that far ahead. We will go up there with an open mind and do the best we can do. But I’d rather be the target than the arrow,” he said.
Phillips is one of the few interstate drivers that has some experience on the new Darwin track surface, which was laid as part of a Northern Territory Government-funded upgrade to the venue in 2011.
But that was in a Top Doorslammer and Phillips says the Funny Car, almost half a second quicker to cover the quarter mile, is a totally different proposition.
“(Racing) the Doorslammer there gives us nothing at all, only understanding the weather conditions,” he said. “The two cars are chalk and cheese. The Doorslammer is way more forgiving. Some guys might disagree but you get away with a lot more in the TD. It may be that we’re just trying to run the Funny Car so much quicker.”
Darwin’s Hidden Valley Drag Strip provides completely different conditions to anywhere else in Australia. The track’s location in the northern tropics of the continent mean that humidity becomes a big factor.
“The conditions are so unique to that track, the humidity and the temperature up there is not matched anywhere,” Phillips said. “I have seen it up there where it is nearly raining the humidity is so high. Even racing in Townsville cannot compare to it. It’s just about like you’re racing in water, but everyone is in the same boat (so to speak).
“You have to race smart. There’s not going to be a full day of racing on the track before our first qualifying session so we are just going to play it by ear and see what it takes to do qualify into that eight car field.”
Phillips will be against the best of Australian drag racing including former national champion Steve Reed, Australia’s quickest active female racer Debbie O’Rourke, Queensland powerhouse Steven Ham, John Cannuli, Gary Busch, Rob Pilkington, Frank Intini, Jay Henning, Mark Probst and Scott Maclean.
Joining Top Alcohol will be the nitro-fuelled Top Bikes of Australian championship leader Chris Porter, Terry Burnett, Greg Durack, Dennis Grant and Gordon Crawford.
Qualifying begins at 6pm Friday August 16 with eliminations racing from 5pm Saturday August 17.