The 400 Thunder Professional Drag Racing Season comes to a dramatic close with the running of the 51st annual Gulf Western Oil Winternationals at Queensland’s Willowbank Raceway, June 7 to 10 – here are the championship scenarios set to play out.
400 Thunder Top Fuel could see its first ever female Australian champion, with Queensland’s Kelly Bettes currently leading by 33 points from Western Australia’s Damien Harris.
Driving the Lamattina Top Fuel Racing dragster, Bettes has been on a tear in the second half of the Top Fuel season, winning the last three events and putting herself in prime position to take an unprecedented championship victory in her rookie season. Her last event win came at Gulf Western Oil Nitro Thunder in Sydney, where she was part of the first all-female Top Fuel final round in Australian history.
For the first time ever, Australian Top Fuel features an even split of men and women. Californian Ashley Sanford could finish as high as third in the series if results go her way, which would match the previous highest Australian championship result by a woman in the category’s history – set by Rachelle Splatt in 1997, a racer who will also be competing at the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals.
400 Thunder Pro Slammer features one of the most exciting championship fights ever seen in the division with 11 times champion John Zappia (Western Australia) defending his title against New South Wales upstart Paul Mouhayet.
Mouhayet, driving the Moits Racing Ford Mustang, is in his rookie season for Pro Slammer but has not let that stop him from racking up two event victories and setting a new national speed record. His mid-season charge saw him gain a critical advantage in the points, until Zappia clawed back the difference and overtook Mouhayet with wins in Adelaide and Sydney. Now Zappia has a narrow 16 point lead, the smallest of any pro category and less than one round of racing.
While both would hope to meet each other in the final, just qualifying will be difficult with amazing steps in performance including Scott MacLean’s 5.572 pass in testing last weekend, Steven Ham’s step into the 5.6 second zone, the USA’s Frankie Taylor and Queensland’s own Ben Bray who are threatening the 5.6 second mark also, Sam Fenech’s new personal best pass of 5.73 – the list goes on.
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Pro Alcohol’s 400 Thunder title remains up for grabs too, though Queensland’s Steve Reed sits on a healthy 49 point lead. For second placed Russell Mills’ championship hopes (New South Wales), he will have to rely on Reed missing qualifying for the field or losing in the first round. Pro Alcohol veteran Reed is pursuing his first national title since 1994 in the Allstar Batteries Funny Car.
Pro Stock is mathematically still open, but it would require a radical turn of events. Queensland’s Aaron Tremayne leads by 91 points in the Mega Fuels Pontiac from New South Wales’ Jason Hedges. If Tremayne does not qualify for the field and Hedges can win the event, and earn a combination of low ET, top speed and qualifying points, there remains the remote possibility of his winning the 400 Thunder championship. Thirteen cars in total will be racing, the strongest field for the season.
Pro Bike sees an all Victorian battle between Corey Buttigieg and Maurice Allen. Both are former national championship winners and the two have gone toe-to-toe throughout the season. Buttigieg’s 47 point lead means he has a two round buffer over Allen. Buttigieg has the performance advantage with a string of 7.0 second passes recently but both riders face the most challenging field of the season so far with entries including Queensland’s Luke Crowley, bringing his quick bike back from the USA for the event.
One 400 Thunder championship has already been decided, with Chris Matheson earning a fifth Top Bike national title. The dominating performances of the ‘Nitro Voodoo’ team have been rewarded 194 point lead over second placed Mark Drew.
Out of 501 total entries, 433 of those are sportsman racers, travelling from across the country to be a part of Australia’s largest drag racing event and all of the championships remain up for grabs.
Competition is a three horse race between Queenslanders Tony Bellert, Mike Bailey and Stew Walsh. Bellert and Bailey sit on the maximum 250 point cap while Walsh lies in wait 30 points back. With a hat trick of wins in the last three events, Bellert’s dragster is a favourite for the championship.
A strong 21 car field has entered for Super Stock, which features a State of Origin style battle for the championship with two Queensland and two New South Wales racers each in the fight. Maroons Wade Moran and Omar Sedmak are leading on 220 and 160 points respectively, while Blues John Kabboura and Fred Nicastri sit on 150 and 140 points. To be in with a shot, Kabboura and Nicastri will have to rely on Moran missing the field before going on to the final round themselves.
Like Super Stock, Competition Bike has a full field but at an exact 16 riders, no one will risk missing race day. This means three riders will be in contention for the championship: Queensland’s Peter Puznik and New South Wales father and son Ken and Chris Collin. Puznik and Ken have the maximum 250 points but at just 30 points behind, Chris is definitely within striking distance.
Speaking of father and son rivalry, Supercharged Outlaws features just that with Queensland’s Bill Fletcher and son Josh on 250 points each. Jim Holley from New South Wales holds third with 170 points but would need a miracle to claw back the difference before the end of the event.
While much attention is on former national Modified champion Kelly Bettes this weekend as she shoots for a Top Fuel title, it’s Queensland’s Kellie Kidd who leads the current Modified championship with 250 points, ahead of reigning champion Stephen Gouws on 220 points and Phil Bellert on 200 points.
New South Wales remains a Top Sportsman stronghold with the top two drivers, David Foreman and Darryl Stephen, both sitting on maximum points. New Year Thunder winner Daniel Morris (Queensland) is dangerous just ten points behind, with Tony Whyatt (Queensland) a further 20 back, as is former champion Steve Fowler (New South Wales).
Queensland’s Paul Doeblien and Kevin Langridge hold sway in Super Sedan on 250 and 240 points respectively, while the well travelled South Australian John Kapiris stalks on 200 points. A remarkable 91 competitors have contested Super Sedan in total this season, the most of any bracket.
But when it comes to championship scenarios, none are crazier than Modified Bike where an incredible eight riders sit on maximum points going into the points finale. New South Wales’ Joe Khoury is followed by Queensland’s Paul de Roo, Alan Annis, Steven Day, Ian Reed, Sam Taylor, Gary Khittle and Phil White. Another four riders are then still within contention further back including Sean Ricketts (NSW, 230 points), Mick Mundey (Queensland, 210 points), Craig Banks (Queensland, 200 points) and Robert Simmonds (NSW, 190 points).
Super Street’s list of championship contenders is a little smaller with Queensland’s Shaun Doeblien and New South Wales’ David McGlinn both on 250 points. Craig Warren (NSW, 220 points), Mitchell Bauer (Queensland, 210 points) and Ray Ross (Queensland, 190 points) are also capable of taking home the gold 400 Thunder championship trophy.
Finally to Junior Dragster, where three drivers can still take out the championship. Queensland’s Liezel Gouws holds a valuable 240 points, with New South Wales’ Nicolas Polito on 220 points and Queensland’s Emma Wagensveld on 210 points. 400 Thunder sportsman qualifying commences today at Willowbank Raceway, with eliminations beginning as soon as Saturday morning. With not a single division decided, the sportsman racing will be full of championship thrills.