Top Fuel conqueror defies pressure
A WINNER-take-all final capped off the 52nd running of the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals, with Sydney racer Wayne Newby clinching his second 400 Thunder Top Fuel Championship.
Newby was joined in the pro winner's circle by Gary Phillips (Pro Alcohol), Steven Ham (Pro Slammer), Brian Pursell (Pro Stock), Chris Matheson (Top Bike) and Katie Sullivan (Pro Bike).
In the Top Fuel final round, Newby took on defending champion Kelly Bettes, with the tight points margin between the pair meaning the winner of the race would also win the overall Top Fuel title.
Both drivers had recorded strong performances earlier in the event, but the final saw each car overpower the track as the drivers fought to regain control.
Newby's time of 5.608 seconds proved enough to get by a struggling 10.210 from Bettes.
"Coming into this event with the points lead was probably the most pressure I have felt in my 30 years of racing," Newby said. "It has been a hard fought couple of months and I thought it was great for the crowd how the championship came down to the final round."
Newby recorded a personal best time of 3.780 seconds in the first round of eliminations, but then the team needed to ride their luck. "We missed the tune up a bit on the first qualifier so I was down on confidence before the first round, but my crew chief Santino Rapisarda told me it would run a 3.76 to a 3.78, and we went 3.78," Newby said.
"Everything was on the line in that last race. I was pedalling the car and had a big look at the centre line. I almost thought I had disqualified the run. But it came back and we got to the line first."
Newby's team mate Damien Harris set a new national record with a pass of 3.774 seconds in the first round.
Queenslander Gary Phillips was another to celebrate dual wins, earning his 20th Pro Alcohol championship and yet another Winternationals victory.
Like the Top Fuel final, Pro Alcohol proved to be a survival of the fittest contest as Phillips used a lacklustre 8.228 to take the win from Justin Walshe, who was nursing a damaged motor.
"We race ourselves just as much as anyone else and that in itself is an incentive to try and be better," he said.
"I will have been racing for 50 years next year and the mechanical side of it is what keeps me driven, that attention to detail,'' Phillips said. "This is (Pro Alcohol championship) number 20 and it has been tough all season."
Pro Slammer's championship winner Paul Mouhayet and his rival John Zappia bowed out in earlier rounds, leaving top qualifier Steven Ham and Scott MacLean to battle for the trophy. Ham's 5.720 took the win as MacLean was left stranded by a broken blower pulley, rolling through for a 6.272.
"We needed to repeat from yesterday," Ham said. "A to B and going rounds was the plan. Today we just repeated, repeated, repeated."
Brian Pursell earned his first Pro Stock victory in one of the feel good stories. The North Queensland driver used a stunning 6.986 personal best in the final to defeat Tyronne Tremayne's quicker 6.985.
Pursell's 0.057 reaction time to Tremayne's 0.116 proved the difference.
"This is the best feeling ever," Pursell said. "I've been trying to win the Winters in any class since 1989. We worked on our clutch and rear suspension, using our data from the Winters Warm Up test days. The car was near on perfect for the conditions."
Top Bike was another category where the title was decided on the final pass, with a 7.66 from Chris Matheson defeating Jay Upton's 8.78 and taking out the 400 Thunder Championship. Earlier, Matheson recorded the quickest pass ever on two wheels in Australia with a stunning 6.036.
"The boys put one in it (a more aggressive tune up) on the line because we couldn't get a reading earlier in the track, it's a good result," Matheson said.
Pro Bike featured a historic day as the USA's Katie Sullivan became the first woman to win the category in Australia. Her 7.004 pass defeated Ryan Learmonth's 7.181 and also backed up a 6.969 run in the semi-finals which became a new national record.
"This has been one of the best times of my life. I can't thank everybody who has helped us get here enough," Sullivan said.
The news wasn't all bad for Learmonth, whose third final round appearance in a row garnered him enough points to take out the Pro Bike 400 Thunder Championship.
Greg Tsakiridis had several loose runs on his way to the Pro Extreme title.
Jason Ellem took out Extreme Bike with a 7.34 pass to defeat Craig Edwards, and Jason Horan won Pro Radial with a 4.51 to 5.09 victory against Andrew Lange.
400 Thunder sportsman competitors raced into the night to finalise their eliminations. Winners included Tony Bellert (Competition), Jason Payne (Super Stock), Craig Edwards (Competition Bike), Matthew McKnight (Supercharged Outlaws), David Hellyer (Top Sportsman), Stephan Gouws (Modified), Dereck Brooks (Super Sedan), Dayne Brandon (Modified Bike), Josh Fletcher (Super Street), Kerry Boyde (Super Gas) and Ricki-Lee Dransfield (Junior Dragster).