APART from watching the weather, Willowbank Raceway officials are eagerly awaiting how this weekend’s revamped City of Ipswich Winternationals measure up.

However, all signs are positive just days out from the start of racing at the Ipswich Motorsport Precinct.

Being a part of a new 400 Thunder national series, the traditionally popular Winternats are again expected to generate massive fan interest and a valuable economic impact.

Loyal motorsport enthusiast and Ipswich Events Corporation executive chairman Paul Casos has seen Willowbank Raceway developed from virtual dust more than three decades ago to one of Australia’s most important sporting venues.

While recent developments and format changes have created some uncertainty, the Willowbank Raceway vice-president is confident of another four-day feast of drag racing.

“Everything is shaping up really well,” Casos said, happy to see more than 400 entries.

“We’ve got big fields in all of the Group One categories, which are the big ones.”

The professional brackets are Top Fuel, Pro Alcohol, Pro Slammer, Pro Stock, Top Bike and Pro Bike.

Support categories include Super Sedan, Super Stock, Super Street, Supercharged Outlaws, Top Sportsman, Competition Bike, Modified Bike and Junior Dragster.

This year is the first time the Winternationals are being run under the national 400 Thunder format.

“It (the 400 Thunder series) has been getting good crowds around Australia,” Casos said.

“With over 400 competitors this weekend, particularly the strength in the Group One brackets, is just fantastic.”

Raceway vice-president for 10 years, Casos is delighted to see all states represented on the entry list, along with international support for Ipswich’s showpiece motorsport event.

The explosive Top Fuel bracket includes American ace Larry Dixon, who will pilot a vehicle under reigning 2015 Championship- winning team Rapisarda Autosport International.

The Pro Slammer bracket will be hotly contested with 18 competitors nominated.

It features reigning Australian champion John Zappia, from Western Australia, and returning fan favourites Victor Bray and his son Ben.

Queensland-based Pro Alcohol competitor Gary Phillips is another familiar face at the Willowbank strip.

Knowing the annual event creates an economic benefit up to $7 million, Casos appreciates the support of Ipswich City Council as main sponsor. Council stepped in when previous major backer FUCHS withdrew.

“It’s a fantastic gesture,” Casos said of Council’s $30,000 financial injection.

“That just strengthens the relationship, and not only that, it also highlights the fact that the motorsport precinct here in Ipswich is of great economic value to the city.”

That includes a boost for Ipswich businesses providing accommodation, hospitality and services, catering for visitors staying a week or longer.

As for the weather, Casos is optimistic fans will get to see the top quality racing.

“All the forecasts are looking pretty good,” Casos said.

“We start on Thursday but Saturday is always a great day because you see every car running and trying to qualify.”

The finals are on Sunday.

Major event

What: 2016 City of Ipswich Winternationals.

Where: Willowbank Raceway, Ipswich Motorsport Precinct (Champions Way, Willowbank).

When: From Thursday to Sunday.

Who’s racing: More than 400 competitors from around Australia and overseas. Racers are part of an estimated 1500-strong contingent, also including team owners and associated staff.

Professional brackets: Top Fuel, Pro Alcohol, Pro Slammer, Pro Stock, Top Bike, Pro Bike.

More information can be found here.

Note: This article originally published on the Queensland Times website. – “Ipswich launchpad for drag racing spectacle”

Photo: DragPhotos.com.au