From whichever way you looked at it, the 49th running of the Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway, generously supported by the City of Ipswich in 2016, was a record-smashing event that solidified the Winters as the premier Championship Drag Racing event on the Australian Motorsport calendar.
Bathed in glorious Queensland sunshine from the moment the gates opened on Thursday 9th June, stacked to the hilt with a massive field of over 400 entrants and aided by an expertly-prepped Willowbank track, there was never any doubt that the 2016 City of Ipswich Winternationals was going to be a memorable event and from the moment the first racers made their maiden passes down the track, crowds knew they were in for a show.
Amongst qualifying for the Sportsman categories, Thursday 9th June also played host to the inaugural running of the 400 Thunder Sportsman Shootout – an initiative to give Sportsman racers more track time, as well as the shot at a massive $11,500 prize pool.
Racers elected a Dial-In time and were given just one shot to get as close as possible to this. Their passes were then indexed against their Reaction Time, which quickly whittled down the field. Racing was fast-paced and action-packed, with fans watching from the edge of their seats as drivers and riders alike battled furiously to race consistently, with absolutely no margin for error.
Dominating their respective fields in the first-ever 400 Thunder Sportsman Shootout were Kellie Kidd in the Doored/Open Finals, Tammy Goldthorpe in the Bike Class and Garth Spooner in Junior Dragster. For a more thorough wrap-up of the Sportsman Shootout, read the comprehensive review HERE.
Friday was the first time the Pro cars took to the track, and their first day of qualifying set the tone for a weekend of record-smashing racing all throughout the Pro field. John Cannuli became the quickest Pro Alcohol racer in the country, qualifying ahead of the 11-car field with a 5.35sec@256mph. Racing in all classes stayed this hot all weekend, with fans in the grandstand and our expert commentators alike at times struggling to keep up with which records were being set or reset, so fierce was the competition.
Friday was also the Winternationals crowd’s first exposure to the six-car Top Fuel field who, as the sun set over the Willowbank quarter mile, reminded spectators why Top Fuelers are the greatest spectacle on four wheels.
Saturday morning had to be one of the highlights for both spectators and racers alike. With the clear, blue Queensland sky stretching as far as the eye could see in all directions it wasn’t long until a record-breaking Winternationals crowd lined either side of the racetrack, filling the grandstand seating on the south side of the strip and lining the grass hill on the north side for the entire length of the track. The amazing showing of support for drag racing in Australia fuelled all entrants to put on a show for the crowds, and a memory-making day of racing had crowds leaving thoroughly satisfied.
Saturday competition in Sportsman saw the massive fields slowly start to thin out, with Sportsman classes broken up by further qualifying for the slightly-smaller Pro Class fields.
Wallace Bishop Loyal Watches Pro Slammer was a rollercoaster of emotions as racing fans watched category sponsor Stuart Bishop catch on fire in the deep-end of the track. Bishop had been a serious contender in the class and was lucky to emerge from the incident unscathed. The Pro Slammers were the first of the Pro Class cars to enter competition rounds, but it wasn’t without serious mechanical carnage all throughout the field, most notably John Zappia who battled gremlins all weekend, and the Bray family who sacrificed an entire night’s sleep on Saturday evening to rebuild Victor’s engine to front up for racing on Sunday.
Highlights for the fans were without doubt the flame-throwing spectacle put on by Top Fuel drivers Larry Dixon and Wayne Newby on Saturday, running the Quickest Ever side-by-side Top Fuel pass in the country with 4.54sec and 4.55sec respectively. Saturday’s Top Fuel Qualifying is explored in more detail HERE.
Lightning struck twice for Top Fuel records at the Winters, with Dixon finding top form once again this time alongside Damien Harris on Sunday 12th June. The pair treated fans to the Fastest Ever side-by-side Top Fuel pass in the country running 332.92mph and 336.99mph respectively. Harris’ 336.99mph pass was also the Fastest Top Fuel pass ever recorded in Australia, and knocked on the door of international records held in America.
The country had never seen a Top Fuel spectacle like it, and special mention must go to the Rapisarda Autosport International team who fielded a whopping three of the six-car Top Fuel field, including flying out American Top Fuel Champion Larry Dixon to pedal one of their cars. Dixon would go on to win the Top Fuel category at the event and leaves Australia with another Australian Top Fuel record to his name.
For all other entrants, Sunday’s conditions couldn’t have been better. A thin layer of cloud cloaked the track in the morning keeping track temperatures cool, however with layer-upon-layer of sticky rubber having built up on the track there was plenty of bite that made Sunday’s racing some of the closest and most competitive of the weekend, as racers pedalled their way up the ladder chasing Winternationals glory, but also much-needed championship points in the first ever 400 Thunder National Championship.
Most classes were so competitive that the decider for the 400 Thunder Championship hinged on the outcome of the final races of the day, keeping the atmosphere around the pits tense and the mood on the start line electric as teams and fans alike fought for the best seats in the house to watch the culmination of not just a weekend’s, but a full season’s worth of racing.
After four days of intense racing and repairs, Sunday afternoon’s finals were marred with breakages and mechanical failure which dealt good fortune to some and heart-breaking bad luck to others with ruthless, indiscriminate objectivity. Those that managed to survive the Winternationals torture test and trumped their peers in the Sportsman Class are recognised below:
Super Gas – Dale O’Dwyer
Wallace Bishop Loyal Watches Junior Dragster – Jett Willshire
Sports Turf Services Modified Bike – Brandon Gosbell
Prime Signs/Speed Elec Super Street – Matthew McKnight
Powercruise Super Sedan – Tony Rogers
Top Sportsman – Harry Somer
Knijff Earthmoving Modified –Nick Galea
Donnelly Blasting Services Supercharged Outlaws – Josh Fletcher
Competition Bike – Blaze Hansen
Speed City Pro Radial – Tim Cross
Super Stock – Wade Moran
Competition – Shane Seawright
Factory Xtreme – Scott Porter
For more information on Sunday’s racing, view the full report HERE.
Pro Class wasn’t immune to the lottery of misfortune either, and with the night sky pierced only by the track lighting that runs the length of the Willowbank quarter mile, spectators remained firmly planted in their seats to watch the heavy-hitters of Australian drag racing duke it out one last time.
Pro Slammer’s hunger for the driveline of it’s entrants continued with competitors Ben Bray and Mark Belleri rising to meet in the Finals. With a fierce competitor alongside him in the form of Bray, a second-generation Pro Slammer Champion, Belleri continued the fine form that he’d brought to every race of the weekend and trumped Bray with a 5.795sec.
Pro Stock seemed to be dominated by the Tremayne family all weekend and that run of luck led the team all the way to the Finals, where Aaron Tremayne shaped up alongside customer Wayne Daley. After finding form off the line Daley looked set to trump his mechanic, however Tremayne managed to run down Daley in the back half of the track netting a 6.915sec against Daley’s 7.041sec, winning his third Winternationals crown.
Pro Alcohol had been the setting for some of the weekend’s fiercest racing and, after John Cannuli’s record-smashing Qualifier, seasoned pro’ Gary Phillips returned fire by finding the unbeatable form he’s been known for throughout his extensive career.
Phillips blew the doors off his own National Speed Record with a storming 270mph pass in the Semi Finals, meeting long-time rival John Cannuli for the showdown that fans had been waiting all weekend to see to take out the Winternationals win, as well as the first- ever 400 Thunder Pro Alcohol Championship.
After the National Speed Records were set earlier in the day, the Top Fuel Finals saw American hot-foot Larry Dixon meet Wayne Newby for an all-Rapisarda affair. After a weekend of near-faultless racing from all Top Fuel teams the Finals were simply a test of who could get from A to B, and in 2016 it would be Dixon who’d wear the crown. The run was Dixon’s slowest of the weekend, despite the fact that he travelled 400m in under 5-seconds and at over 250mph.
2016 City of Ipswich Winternationals Pro Class Champions:
Pro Bike – Glenn Wooster
Top Bike – Damian Muscat
Pro Slammer – Mark Belleri
Pro Alcohol – Gary Phillips
Pro Stock – Aaron Tremayne
Top Fuel – Larry Dixon
For more information on the Pro Class, read out full wrap-up HERE
2017 sees the Winternationals celebrate its Golden Jubilee 50th Anniversary, and the team at Willowbank have already started planning to make the event an unforgettable experience for entrants and spectators alike that celebrates the heritage of Drag Racing in Australia, and the special history of the biggest Drag Racing event anywhere in the world outside of North America.