Gruelling Conditions Cap Season at Nationals
Text By Luke Nieuwhof/ANDRA
The Australian Nationals rounded out the longest ANDRA season in decades on Sunday at Sydney Dragway with dramatic final rounds crowning the champions in hot and windy conditions.
American Tommy Johnson Jr earned his first win on Australia soil, adding to his nine NHRA victories.
It was an all-Rapisarda Autosport International final with Johnson using a 4.807 run in the final to defeat team mate Damien Harris’ 4.933.
It capped off a week of good news for Johnson, who found out last week he would be driving for Don Schumacher Racing full time in the NHRA next season.
“Career wise the last three or four years have been real rocky and then the last seven days have been pretty stellar,” he said.
“I’m really thankful for the opportunity the Rapisardas gave me. To come back and finally get a victory in the last time I will race with them for a while, it just fits the way everything is going.
“I don’t think it’s the last time (racing for Rapisardas), it’s just the last time for a while. The people have been great, I’ve had fun, and that’s what racing is about.”
Johnson said conditions challenged the Top Fuel teams.
“It was some of the more difficult conditions we’ve raced in,” he said. “First a hot racetrack and then the wind which covered it in dust and dirt.
“It was figuring out who could go the furthest without getting loose. You could run pretty good early, then we were pulling it back as much as we could.
Top Doorslammer was an epic where John Zappia won not only the final but also a tightly fought championship, earning just enough points to overcome Peter Kapiris.
Zappia’s 6.071 in the final defeated a 6.204 from Victor Bray.
“When Pete qualified number two I thought this would be hard to do but we were just lucky the track conditions were tricky for everybody so no one had a real handle on it,” he said.
Zappia said next season he would like to see a less stressful end to the ANDRA Top Doorslammer series.
“Next season we ain’t giving no one a head start,” he said. “We are going to try and hit it hard starting in Perth to stay in front - it’s too stressful this way.”
Gary Phillips picked up not only a win in the final round of Top Alcohol against Steven Ham but also the quickest time of the event with a 5.497 blast defeating a 5.618.
Phillips said the performance had been at his fingertips all weekend.
“The thing should have been faster all event than what it was but we were just missing the ball a little bit,” he said. “We knew the car had it in there and it was sure a handful to drive in the final.”
Phillips, who wrapped up the Top Alcohol title in Darwin in August, said work on reaction times also proved fruitful.
“I finally cut a good a light, so what we learned in testing showed in racing,” he said. “I’ve always driven on the conservative side but now you need everything so I’ve got to get into it.”
Chris Soldatos experienced one of the more up and down weekends of any racer at Sydney Dragway, starting with going into the sand trap in qualifying but finishing with a 7.130 second Pro Stock win denying Jason Grima his first event victory.
“The weekend started off badly after we damaged our beautiful car, but we fixed it up and thankfully it well – we needed that luck on our side,” he said.
“The wind and the conditions just kills these cars, but we got through, the crew did a good job and I drove it alright I suppose. I never thought I would get a result like this in Pro Stock.”
Soldatos also earned the Greg Flaherty Memorial trophy for his win, recognising a former legend in the category.
Grima did not go home empty handed, taking the championship in an emotional moment for the PC Group team.
“I was ecstatic, I got really emotional, but that is part and parcel with it,” he said. “The first win will come, we’re making it easier and easier on ourselves.”
Chris Porter took a Nationals double, also winning the Top Bike championship as he defeated Graeme Morell in the final, 7.187 to a 7.931.
It came after a frantic engine change after his semi final race against Gavin Spann.
“Graeme has got us two times so it was good to get him this time,” he said. “In the semi final we lifted a cylinder and punched a rod out so we had to do a motor change. The boys flogged and got it done in two hours.”
Finally in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Maurice Allen made up for a disappointing Fuchs Nitro Thunder presented by Crow Cams, taking Nationals victory after Luke Crowley red lit in the final.
“We broke the crank in two in Calder two weeks ago, the engine went straight in the bin,” he said. “We weren’t overly confident but we knew we had an engine at least that ran. We wanted to end the season with some representation and do well for Milwaukee Tools.
“We knew we had consistency and good form. We realised the engine was as good as it needed to be. You need to gout there and have belief in what you’re doing.”
Winners in the Aeroflow Sportsman Drag Racing Championship included Greg Leahy (Competition), Darren Parker (Super Stock), Corey Buttigieg (Competition Bike), Dominic Rigoli (Super Compact), Luke Marsden (Supercharged Outlaws), Scott Bettes (Modified), Neil Constantinou (Super Sedan), Sam Taylor (Modified Bike), Carl Taylor (Super Street), Dale Duffy (Junior Dragster) and Matthew Forbes (Super Gas).
National series champions across the board include Darren Morgan (Top Fuel), Gary Phillips (Top Alcohol), John Zappia (Top Doorslammer), Jason Grima (Pro Stock), Chris Porter (Top Bike), Luke Crowley (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Greg Clayton (Competition), Darren Parker (Super Stock), Corey Buttigieg (Competition Bike), Rod Harvey (Super Compact), Luke Marsden (Supercharged Outlaws) who also won the John Storm Memorial Trophy for most points scored in a season, Craig Baker (Modified), Johnny Kapiris (Super Sedan), Gavin Dohnt (Modified Bike), Carl Taylor (Super Street), Brayden Naylor (Junior Dragster) and Matt Forbes (Super Gas).
The ANDRA Drag Racing Series and Aeroflow Sportsman Drag Racing Championship now wait until January where they will resume in earnest in Perth and Portland respectively.