Damien Harris faced adversity from the moment he hit the throttle in qualifying on Friday but Rapisarda Autosport International recovered on race day to take home the ANDRA Gold Christmas Tree at the Fuchs Winternationals.
Harris’ teammate and Championship leader Allan Dobson was eliminated early by Steve ‘Pommie’ Read while Anthony Begley in just his fourth competitive Top Fuel pass eliminated three-time champ Phil Read in controversial circumstances by coming to the startline slowly.
Begley would extend his campaign further by going on to defeat Steve Read in the semi final setting up a meeting with Harris who came home strong on a 4.756 from a 6.030.
“I’m pretty elated for the team, they’ve been working real hard all weekend,” said Harris. “I’ve been working with Santo Junior for 18 months now and we haven’t had a win. We’ve got close but this is just awesome for Junior and the family, I’m really pleased.
“It was a tough race day, we had to climb over some really tough competitors in Phil and John Lamattina to make the final. It was a bit of a rough start to the weekend shaking the car twice in qualifying and to come back and win it from that is just awesome.”
Gary Phillips was on a mission all weekend in his Top Alcohol Funny Car, no one could get close to the 17-times National Champion running the second fastest Top Alcohol Funny Car pass in the world on a semi final 5.424 against John Cannuli.
The crowd were expecting something big in the final but the Winternationals became the “Upsetnationals” as Phillips overpowered the track and spun the tyres allowing Jon Sting and his dragster to take the win light and his first Group One Winternationals title on a 5.589.
“It’s great,” said Sting. “We were here a year ago, qualified number two and it got rained out.
“We’ve had a bit of bad luck business-wise so we haven’t had the income to race. This was going to possibly be a farewell meeting!” laughed Sting.
“I’ve got some new crew guys, they’ve given me a bracket car and that makes it easy.”
The Pro Stock boys continued their record setting ways running consistent six-second times as Lee Bektash recorded a 6.96 at 196.39 mph on a second round solo pass followed by Aaron Tremayne on a 6.97 at 196.82 mph to defeat Nino Cavallo.
Bektash and Tremayne then met each other in the semi final for what would become the quickest side-by-side Pro Stock pass in Australia with Tremayne coming out on top on a 6.965 at 196.56 mph from a red lighting Bektash on a 6.961 at 195.28 mph.
Sibling rivalry took centre stage in the final with both Aaron and Tyronne Tremayne facing off but history repeated itself as Tyronne red lit on a 6.96 while Aaron crossed the line victorious on a 7.021.
“We were aiming to go low ET (in the final), I don’t know if the track got a little bit cool but it didn’t have the bite I threw at it and my engine was hurt pretty much from day one, we had a leaky sleeve in the engine.”
On that record setting semi final pass both competitors triggered the red light as Bektash left the line .021 second too early while Tremayne still got the win even after he hit the throttle .002 seconds early.
“I knew it’d be on against Lee. I was a bit worried about my engine but thank God it still ran real fast and he was red and I was a little bit red as well.”
Six times Top Doorslammer Champion John Zappia was the man to beat all weekend and when all was said and done, he was the man standing on the podium handing the Gold Christmas Tree to his sponsor and Winternationals naming rights holder, Fuchs Lubricants.
It wasn’t quite the 6.76s we had seen earlier in the weekend but consistent 6.80s were enough to defeat Stuart Bishop, Grant O’Rourke and lastly Daniel Gregorini in the final.
Graeme Morell continued the “Upsetnationals” theme in Top Fuel Motorcycle by taking a solo win when Neville Smith lost power after the burnout in round one. He then eliminated Mark Drew who had his first problematic run of the weekend leaving Morell to advance against Chris Matheson.
The final however was never in doubt as Matheson powered away to an easy win on a 6.374 leaving his opponent to shut off early.
Finally in Pro Stock Motorcycle Maurice Allen and Luke Crowley renewed their on track rivalry as both riders put down consistent passes in the 7.20s and 7.30s on their way to the final.
Allen would record the quicker ET of 7.265 but his .156 reaction time let him down as Crowley stole the win on a .042 reaction time and a 7.314 pass for a dramatic holeshot win.
Moving into the sportsman classes, as the saying goes, it’s better to be lucky than good but Jess Turner was good and lucky on her way to a first ANDRA Gold Christmas Tree at the Fuchs Winternationals.
Turner upset the likes of teammate Kenny Stewart who experienced engine troubles at the startline in round two and current Champion Craig Baker in round three on a double breakout.
The young Victorian pushed Baker all the way on a 7.921 on a 7.93 dial in from Baker’s 8.391 on an 8.43 dial in meaning Turner won on account of going less under her dial in than Baker.
Luck was again on her side as Andrew Pinkstone broke out with an 8.178 on an 8.136 dial in catapulting Turner into a solo semi final pass and again in the final when her opponent Cann Childs’ engine backfired shooting flames skyward on the start up.
“It’s unreal, it’s our first Gold Christmas Tree so we’re stoked that we won it,” Turner said.
“They say it’s better to be lucky than good and we’ve definitely had our luck along the way but we’ve also done pretty good. It’s an awesome feeling.”
Also in Modified Greg Wardle recorded a new B/HR National record with an 8.76 at 149.02 mph backing up his 8.75 at 149.05 mph in qualifying to smash the previous mark of 10.53 at 125.07 mph.
Kyle Putland made his journey from WA worthwhile by taking out the Winternationals title in Competition Eliminator defeating Omar Sedmak in the final with a 6.692 on a 6.95 dial in from an 8.321 on a 7.32. That final run backed up his round one 6.678 ET to reset the National A/A record.
Clint George rode his luck through eliminations but he was in form when it mattered to take the honours in Super Stock on a 7.397 on a 7.62 from a red lighting Mario Barbon.
Also in Super Stock Tony O’Connor’s A/MP Modified Automatic Falcon won the ANDRA Best Engineered Award for his locally built vehicle utilising custom built parts made by O’Connor’s son including an inlet manifold in what is effectively a streetcar.
Kelly Bettes remained number one all weekend throughout qualifying and was the one to beat during Super Compact eliminations but in the final Chris Hall got the win with an 8.596 on an 8.25 index from Bettes’ 8.393 on an 7.35 index.
Daryn Schuster maintained his form to win the Winternationals title in Competition Bike defeating Ross Smith in the final with an 8.398 on an 8.86 index from Smith’s 8.643 and 8.58 index. Schuster’s final ET 159.40 mph was enough to reset both ends of the D/AB National record.
Rodney Hansen took home the Gold in Supercharged Outlaws with a 6.819 on the 6.77 dial in from Jake Donnelly with a 6.778 on the 6.61.
Peter Whitbourne triggered the red light in the Super Sedan final leaving Rick Nielsen to win with a 10.353 on a 10.32 dial in in what was something of a nostalgia race between a classic Holden and Ford.
In a picture of consistency Joe Khoury ran close to his dial in all day going onto to win the Modified Bike final with a 9.420 on the 9.44 from Reegan Ward’s 8.537 on an 8.58 dial in. Brian Hotker won the ANDRA Longest Distance Award travelling 4440 kms from WA to be here this weekend.
After losing in the Super Street final at the Nationals last November Robert Winterburn finally won his first Gold Christmas Tree with an 11.326 on the 11.25 from David Cope’s 11.601 on an 11.40 dial in.
Victor Bray’s granddaughter Madison McClennan won the Junior Dragster final in what was an emotional weekend for the family after Ben Bray’s Factory Xtreme accident yesterday. Her 9.101 on the 9.09 pipped Cory Burns running a 7.971 on the 7.96.
And finally Dale O’Dwyer began on a high in Super Gas taking out previous Champion Simon Isherwood in round one then going all the way to the final where he and Loughlin Boyde both broke out. O’Dwyer won with a 9.893 from Boyde’s 9.890.