The 400 Thunder Series put on a show Friday evening with the first round of Professional Series qualifying for the 50th Gulf Western Winternationals. Headlined by a historic 4.44 Top Fuel pass by Rapisarda’s Damian Harris, the six professional brackets went hard early in their quest to earn the coveted Gold Christmas Tree.
Reigning 400 Thunder Series champion Damian Harris laid down the gauntlet early, setting a new Top Fuel Australian benchmark with a 4.443 at 335.32mph on his way to provisional top qualifier. Peter Xiberras made an encouraging competitive return, posting the 2nd quickest time at 4.789, while Terry Sainty, Darren Morgan and Larry Dixon also put down early markers.
Top Bike meanwhile is currently led by Chris Matheson, who stopped the clocks at 6.180 off the trailer. Damian Muscat on the Nitro Phoenix Harley sits second in the early going with a 6.5 second run at over 200mph, while Gavin Spann also went sub-7 seconds to place 3rd of the seven early runners.
19-time Pro Alcohol Champion Gary Phillips once again heads the field leading into the weekend, running a 5.40 pass off the trailer on his quest to secure another national title. Santo’s Super Thunder winner Jon Sting once again flew the flag for the dragster brigade with the 2nd quickest time. With only 8 cars set to make the field come Sunday’s eliminations, Luke Marsden currently finds himself on the bump in 8th with a 5.820 run as the likes of Chris Hargrave and John Cannuli look to race their way into the field.
From a seventeen-car strong Pro Slammer entry list, thirteen managed to put in a qualifying run on Friday evening, with John Zappia once again blowing the field away with a 5.65 run. Sam Fenech and Tony Defelice in their Camaros both put down solid 5.8 second runs to be 2nd and 3rd on the time sheets. The big story of the day however was the list of big names on the outside looking in, with the likes of Gary Phillips, Scott Maclean and the Gulf Western car of Ben Bray yet to secure a spot in the final 8-car field.
Pro Stock put on one of the most competitive sessions seen in many years at Willowbank, as first through to tenth were separated by just three tenths of a second. The two Tremayne brothers of Tyronne and Aaron found themselves with contrasting fortunes, as Tyronne went quickest on a 7.020 with Aaron currently not in the field. Lee Bektash in his final Pro Stock event tied the younger Tremayne to the thousandth, but finds himself second due to a lower top speed, while Wayne Daley went third quick just one thousandth slower, highlighting the close nature of the field
In Pro Bike, Champion-elect and new category National Record Holder Brad Lemberg continued his dominance of the bracket by running an imposing 7.143 at over 185 miles per hour. Daniel Rabnott was his closet challenger with a 7.3 second pass, while Geroge Vella, Mark Hancock and defending champion Glenn Wooster complete the early runners.
The action was not limited to the Professional Series, as they were accompanied by a full complement of 400 Thunder Sportsman Series racing. With no fewer than thirteen Sportsman and Exhibition brackets on display at Willowbank, headlined by the wild Factory Xtreme and Pro Radial cars, there was something for everyone on track.
Rod Harvey was one of the main highlights of the event thus far, becoming the first person to run a sub-six second pass with an Import car in Australia during qualifying for Factory Xtreme. Elsewhere, Rob Coote topped a bumper 40-car Supercharged Outlaws field with an impressive 6.346 second run, while Steve Fowler was the only racer in Top Sportsman to break into the 6-second bracket, before a parachute issue put his car into the gravel trap.
With two full days of racing still to go, the on-track action at the 50th Gulf Western Oil Winternationals will begin again from 8am Saturday morning, with Professional Series qualifying resuming from 12:55pm. Catch all the action live from trackside with tickets at the gate, or online thanks to Ovo Mobile’s livestream, which can be accessed from either the Ovo Mobile Facebook Page or on OVOPlay.