The Gulf Western Winternationals lived up to its rep as the biggest and most prestigious event on the domestic race calendar. Near-capacity crowds flocked to Willowbank Raceway over the four days of the meeting and were treated to some of the finest and closest racing at the track in decades.
It was the first 400 Thunder meeting at the venue since January 2020 and also served as the final round of the 400 Thunder 2019 / 21 season, which began at Sydney Dragway way back in November 2019.
For many competitors, it was their first significant hit-out since the COVID-19 outbreak, so it came as no surprise to see many hot-foot racers cutting red lights and collecting centre cones over the first two days.
The car count across all categories was down on previous years, which is unsurprising as the country emerges from the fog of COVID and grapples with the uncertainty regarding border closures.
The absence of Rapisarda Autosport International from Top Fuel was a major blow, and reduced the elite category to three entries. Last-minute efforts to make a four-car Top Fuel field to include Rachelle Splatt didn’t eventuate. Splatt has announced plans to return to racing next season.
Despite grumbles from some purists regarding the credibility and legitimacy to award a 400 championship in Top Fuel due to a paucity of entries, the history books will show Peter Xiberras won his maiden TF crown at the meeting.
Near perfect air, idyllic weather and superb track prep produced a slew of new records and some fine side-by-side racing across both the Pro and Sportsman classes.
Also of note, 400 Thunder announced that Nitro Funny Cars will be a part of the 2021/22 season.
Peter Xiberras scored a perfect trifecta when he defeated Phil Lamattina in the final. The Sydney-based owner-driver claimed his first-ever Australian Top Fuel championship, his maiden win at the Winternationals, and clocked a new national record of 3.74sec on race day.
Xiberras’s qualifying pass of 3.76 seconds would have been good enough to top qualify at the NHRA New England Nationals, where Billy Torrence topped the charts with a 3.77.
“To make it to the final and pull it off is what dreams are made of,” said Xiberras. “I can’t believe it but I will take it. I want to thank the crew. They are the unsung heroes. The driver gets all the credit. We were here ’til midnight last night just making sure everything on the car was perfect and were back here at 6:30 this morning. A special thanks to my sponsors; if it wasn’t for them I’d probably be racing go-karts.”
With only five entries and several of his closest rivals missing, series leader Steve Ham was untroubled in taking his first Slammer championship. Ham also went on to win the meet after driving around veteran Sam Fenech in the final. Ham joins an elite group that has won Oz championships in more than one category. In 2014 he won Pro Alcohol.
“We won here in 2019 and to come back and do it again in 2021, what can I say?” said Ham. “All through qualifying, we had nothing. We had a bit going on and decided to put three-year-old tyres on the car and everything turned out for the best.”
Top Fuel Bike
Chris Matheson dominated Top Fuel Bike, top qualifying with the lowest ET of 6.007 seconds and going on to defeat John Zahra in the final.
Tyrone Tremayne, fourth in the points going into the meeting, captured his maiden Oz title after his three closest rivals, including his brother Aaron, all lost in round one.
“I was happy to get the win in the semi-final,” said Tremayne. “All I’ve ever wanted was to win a championship. I’ve been runner-up nine times and finally got a championship. All year my brother Aaron has given me a fast race car. I want to thank my family, mum and dad. I couldn’t do it without my crew.”
Outsider Scott Porter won his first Winters crown after scoring a narrow win over reigning champ Brian Pursell. The margin of victory was 0.009 sec.
Number two qualifier Greg Tsakiridis entered the record book as the inaugural 400 Thunder Pro Mod winner. The victory came when his nearest rival and top qualifier, Zoran Gajic, ran a 5.84 under the index of 5.85 in the first round. The lesser-known Leigh Ryan and sometime Drag Challenge Weekend racer Stew Walsh fought out the final, with Walsh coming out on top.
“I can’t tell you how excited and how happy we are,” said Walsh. “A big thanks to our team and sponsors. You know you can have all the money in the world, but if you don’t have the right guys around you, it doesn’t count. If you are passionate, you can do it.”
Joe Gauci and Tanya Thompson met in the final to decide who would become Oz champ. Honours went to Gauci with a 4.46sec to Thompson’s 5.07.
Local hero Gary Phillips’s 21st Pro Alcohol win came at the expense of long-time rival Steve Reed. Justin Walshe lowered his world record of 5.58sec for Pro Alcohol Fuel Altered to 5.56, set in round one, before going down to Phillips in the semi.
Josh Fletcher exited in round three but had enough points in the bag to be crowned 400 Thunder champ. Veteran Graeme Frawley defeated Rob Oberg in an all-Funny Car final.
With a lead of 124 points going into the event, Glenn Wooster was untroubled in securing his maiden Australian title. He also rode around Luke Crowley to win the meet. Wooster won all four rounds of the 2019/21 season.
Willowbank board member Daniel Morris clinched the title in the semi-final then lost to Steve Somer in the trophy round.
Patrick Barron steered his Chevy Beretta to his first national title. Veteran Gary Clarke won his first-ever Christmas tree after rival Tony Agius broke out in the final.
Scott Bettes took out Modified, ahead of Dallas Everett.
Chris Hall in the Mazfix Mazda RX7 took out the Factory Extreme exhibition class.
* Super Comp: Jason Simpson, runner up Niel Murphy
* Performance Bike: Ace Edwards, runner up Chris Colin
* Super Street: Shawn Taskis, runner up Ray Ross
* Modified Bike: Brian Alvisio, Phil White
* Junior Dragster: Ashleigh Pinkstone, runner up Samuel Perri