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It might be the ‘Winters’, but the National Drag Racing Championship (NDRC) intensity is heating up at Willowbank Raceway as day two of the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals comes to a close.

In what was another perfect combination of weather and track conditions, the on-track action today included a Top Fuel test plus Group One qualifying – who are all pursuing the final round of their 2023/2024 NDRC title chase this weekend – alongside the conclusion of qualifying and the beginning of eliminations for the Aeroflow National Sportsman Championship.

Today’s Top Fuel test saw the 11,000hp dragsters of Wayne Newby, Peter Xiberras, Steve Read, and defending champion and current leader Damien Harris take to the track for the first time this weekend to get a feel for the newly resurfaced track.

It was a strong start to the weekend for Newby, who is currently second in the title chase behind his Rapisarda Autosport International teammate, Damien Harris. With no team orders in play, Newby threw down the gauntlet with an early shut-off 3.821 second pass at 492kph, giving every indication that he won’t make it easy for Harris to keep his points lead this weekend.

“It was a good pass, I clicked it a bit early,” Newby said.

“I am feeling good heading into the rest of the weekend, the car is running well, and hopefully we can go ahead and win this thing – that is the plan!

“The Winters has been the biggest event for years and hopefully we should have a good crowd out here like normal.

“I encourage everyone to get their butts out here, it should be a great weekend,” he added, while thanking Uplift Cranes, Atlantic Oils, Wild Ink, Santo Rapisarda and the Rapisarda Autosport International team.

The Top Fuel racers will line up tomorrow for two rounds of qualifying ahead of Sunday’s three rounds of racing utilising the all-run format to determine the first-ever NDRC Top Fuel champion.

The XPRO Nitro Funny Cars, Top Doorslammers, Top Fuel Motorcycles, Pro Alcohol, Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle, and FuelTech Pro Mod brackets each also made their first appearance of the event this afternoon. These racers laid down their first qualifying runs, signalling their intentions for the weekend ahead of the highly anticipated inaugural NDRC final championship showdown on Sunday.

With one qualifying session complete at the close of today’s running, the following racers are leading the way for their respective brackets: Morice McMillian (XPRO Nitro Funny Car), John Zappia (Top Doorslammer), Damian Muscat (Top Fuel Motorcycle), Jake Donnelly (Pro Alcohol), Tyronne Tremayne (Pro Stock), Luke Crowley (Pro Stock Motorcycle), and Zoran Gajic (FuelTech Pro Mod).

In XPRO Nitro Funny car, defending champ Morice McMillian is looking forward to putting on a good show for race fans across the weekend. McMillian sits second in points, with only a tiny margin between him and points leader Justin Walshe.

“Going into Q1 having never been down this track before it was a bit of a case of throwing a dart and seeing where it lands, and we weren’t far off where we were trying to run. It all went to plan fairly well, and it puts us in a pretty good place from which to chase it a bit more tomorrow,” McMillin said.

“We are feeling really good heading into the rest of the weekend. We are pretty pumped as there is going to be a big crowd here tomorrow and we are just looking forward to getting on with it and getting on with race day and seeing what this awesome facility can hold!” he said, while thanking Aeroflow and Rocket Industries.

In Top Doorslammer 11-time champ John Zappia was in fine form, topping the timing sheets at the end of Q1 today. The multi-time champ is currently second in the points behind newcomer Russell Taylor, but if today’s performance is anything to go by, Zappia isn’t letting that get to him as he chases his 12th championship title, laying down a strong first qualifying run.

Zappia lined up for his Q1 run alongside Ronnie Palumbo. When Palumbo’s throttle stuck on during his burnout, the rookie – currently third in the points – had everyone on the edge of their seat as he put in an incredible drive job to avoid major damage to his Monaro, even though he was unable to escape tagging the wall.

“We got the A-motor back in it with a week and a half turnaround in Perth after The Bend and got back here and started it up today and everything sounded good,” Zappia explains.

“Going out for that run we did the burnout and I was backing it up and Palumbo’s throttle jammed and he was in my lane on two wheels and then got back into his lane, and then I saw him flying by with smoke coming off his tyres, so I thought ‘he isn’t coming back, we are on for a solo here!’

“Then we got shut down as he scraped the wall, they asked if we wanted to push back and go to the back of the field, and we decided to see how long it would take. Then he was cleared off, so we said let’s start it, the tyres are dry and warm and we will run from here.

“The Dananni Hot Shots Fuchs Lubricants Monaro left well, it spun the wheels a little, so the 60 foot time was a little slow as the tyres had cooled down a bit and they were a brand new set of Hoosiers on their run, and it ran 5.70 to put us number one for now, so I am pretty happy with that result.

“It was nice and straight, the smoothest pass I have ever had at Willowbank. It felt fast, we lost a bit of time off the line spinning the wheels, but it definitely laid me back in the seat through the middle and top end.

“Looking ahead we don’t want to say much as anything can happen at any time with these cars, we will just take it one run at a time – we will turn it up and see if we can get in the five sixties tomorrow. We will push it a bit harder each run and see where we can get it down too.

“The weather is perfect, the forecast is perfect, so we are pretty confident the weekend is going to go well for everybody – so get down to Willowbank and watch!”

In Pro Alcohol, Jake Donnelly has enjoyed a strong return to Willowbank Raceway today, topping Q1 in style with his bracket-leading pass in the DBS Motorsport Pro Alcohol Funny Car this afternoon. Donnelly had won the 400 Thunder Super Thunder event last April before a chute failure sent his funny car careering into the Willowbank sand trap, causing major damage. The team have spent the last 12+ months rebuilding what is now a truly stunning race car.

“It is all going very good so far! The car felt really fast; I was probably a bit eager on the parachutes, but it is showing good potential of going pretty quick and hopefully we can get it down well tomorrow,” Donnelly said.

“Hopefully tomorrow we can stay at number one or qualify well in the fast half of the field and then see if we can go some rounds.

“It is phenomenal here, the Winters atmosphere is always the best and the new track is just amazing – I haven’t even really felt like I had to steer the car, it just goes down dead straight,” he said, while thanking Gulf Western Oil, Surface Correction and Protection, and Customline Interior.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Q1 leader Luke Crowley was pleased with the performance of his Suzuki, with plenty of changes made since the last round of the championship.

“From The Bend to now it is almost a completely different bike, we changed engine programs from a two-valve engine to a four-valve engine which basically means it has more power, and we have gone away from MSD carburettors to fuel injection for this event,” Crowley said.

“We are still getting our head around what it wants – we only came off the dyno at 10pm last night, so it is pretty fresh, and we didn’t get any track time last week.

“But to run essentially a ‘21’ (7.213) on the first pass was pretty impressive and as a team we are really happy with that. We still have a few curveballs to work out going forward for the rest of the weekend, but I think it will be on the money.

“We are hopeful we can probably run low six-nineties or something like that at maybe 200mph come Sunday,” he added, while thanking Encore Motorsports, Craig Thompson Machining and Rhett Lougheed Racing for their support.

Earlier in the day the Aeroflow National Sportsman Championship competitors across 12 brackets kicked off the on-track action with the remaining rounds of their qualifying sessions and the first Junior Dragster and Super Sedan elimination rounds.

Racing for all of the sportsman brackets will continue tomorrow and with not only the event but also Eastern Conference glory on the line as well, there’s no doubt the next two days of racing will be epic for these competitors.

Taking home the Aeroflow National Sportsman Championship Top Qualifiers honours for their respective brackets today were Alan Annis Jr (Modified Bike), Paul Neilson (Real Street), Shavaun Harvey (Junior Dragster), Lillian Hagan (Junior Drag Bike), Ray Ross (Super Street), Neil Maxwell (Top Sportsman), Luke Rosadi (Super Sedan), Kellie Kidd (Modified), Nathan Neilson (Extreme Bike), Edge Mallis (Performance Bike), Matthew McKnight (Supercharged Outlaws), and Jai Schulter (SuperComp).

Also completing their qualifying runs were non-championship bracket Factory Xtreme, with Top Qualifier Collin Willshire leading the way into tomorrow’s racing.

In Super Street, Ross continued his fine form from Thursday’s opening qualifying rounds, with the Queenslander chuffed to take the Top Qualifier honours in such a highly competitive field at Willowbank Raceway this weekend.

“I couldn’t believe I was the top qualifier with the time we ran, there are a lot of guys that run .02s to .05s so I didn’t think I was in with a chance, but it seems everyone else had troubles. I am very happy with this honour,” Ross said.

“The car is going well now – I had masses of trouble yesterday and I was working heaps in the pits between every time out, but it seems to have all come together nicely.

“I love the Winternationals, and the track is brilliant; absolutely brilliant. It is the best I have ever raced here, and I have to say it has been well worth the wait!

“Thank you to Jodie, my crew chief who does everything for me, I can’t thank her enough. And also to my sponsors, Binstead Engineering and Jason and Kevin Kent.”

Thirteen proved to be a lucky number this weekend for Kidd, with this weekend marking her 13th Winters appearance and first time top qualifying at this event in Modified.

“This is my 13th Winternationals and my very first time top qualifying in Modified at this event,” Kidd explained.

“This is also my final year in Modified as I will be stepping up to Supercharged Outlaws next season, so it is definitely icing on the cake to be the top qualifier in Modified at this event for the first time.

“We are super excited about the racing coming up, the car is super consistent, the track is so smooth, and we are running PBs for the car – it was our first time running 200mph today and also our first time in the six-sixes, so we are super excited for what’s ahead.

“I want to say a huge thank you to my family, I couldn’t do this without them and their constant support as we build the powerhouse together, and also thank you to TBRE Performance.”

The Gulf Western Oil Winternationals continue Saturday with more Aeroflow National Sportsman Championship elimination rounds and 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 qualifying – including the delayed Gulf Western Oil Nitro Champs finals for Pro Stock and FuelTech Pro Mod in Q3 – ahead of the final races for the 2023/2024 NDRC championship season, beginning on Sunday.

For tickets, go to https://bit.ly/WINTERNATIONALS
For event information and to learn more about the NDRC, visit www.ndrc.tv

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