Zappia, Upton strike first blows in new 400 Thunder season
John Zappia has gained some early revenge against Paul Mouhayet in the 2018/19 400 Thunder Pro Slammer season with victory in the opening round of the series at Darwin’s Hidden Valley Drag Strip, while Jay Upton won his first event in well over half a decade by defeating Chris Matheson.
Zappia, who narrowly lost last year’s championship to Mouhayet, overcame some engine issues in the Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Holden Monaro to win the final round of Nitro Up North with a 5.731 to Mouhayet’s early shut off 6.997.
“We’ve started the season the right way this time,” Zappia said. “The first couple of runs (in testing) yesterday we couldn’t get down the track, but then we went 5.71, 5.72, 5.72 and 5.73.
“We needed to change a piston and ring after the second round of racing, we thought (that cylinder) would be alright and it was. But when we started for the warm up (before the final) it started to smoke out the other side!”
Zappia’s car looked wounded, with smoke pouring from one of the exhaust headers as the Monaro performed the burnout and staged for the final, but when the light went green the engine cleared up and Zappia was able to run out to victory as reigning champion Mouhayet’s Mack/Komatsu Ford Mustang got close to the centre line, seeing him abort the pass.
“I saw the smoke when I backed up through the burnout and thought to myself, ‘I have to drive through that.’ I have a hard time seeing as it is. As soon as it was on full power it didn’t smoke too much and the car went like clockwork.
“Our turnarounds were a bit tight, we would have hated to have missed the round (because of the smokey warm up) so we took a chance and it paid off.”
Zappia’s road to the final saw him defeat a red lighting Daniel Gregorini in round one, while round two saw another easy win against a tyre smoking Emilio Spinozzi.
Mouhayet also benefited from a round one red light by Mark Hinchelwood, while a 5.804 in round two defeated Pro Slammer legend Victor Bray’s 6.00.
400 Thunder Top Bike delivered the final fans wanted to see with Jay Upton defeating defending champion Chris Matheson taking on Jay Upton in a battle of four cylinder nitro bikes.
While Matheson was quickest in testing, Upton had the race day form. His 6.516 clocking in the final proved more than enough to cover Matheson, whose bike went silent shortly after launching and rolled through for just a 17 second pass.
“That is not a bad start,” said Upton, who is intending to compete in the whole 400 Thunder season. “I wish we had have gone a little quicker, but we had a last minute drama between rounds. Thankfully we seem to have gotten over them. We have a good crew who works together well.
“We were proud to have Specialised Equipment Express as a sponsor to get us here. Nitro Up North was a fantastic event, thank you very much.”
Upton’s path to the final saw him defeat Les Holden in round one with a 6.549 to a 7.786, while round two ended up being a prelude to the final, where Upton used a 6.903 to get by Matheson’s hard chasing 7.103. It was Upton’s first national event win in over eight years.
The next round of the 400 Thunder Professional Series takes place at Sydney Dragway on November 2 and 3 with East Coast Thunder while the Sportsman Series kicks off at Springmount Raceway on August 4.
NITRO UP NORTH Professional Points Pro Slammer and Top Bike
PRO SLAMMER TOP BIKE
John Zappia 116 Jay Upton 116
Paul Mouhayet 99 Chris Matherson 84
Mark Hinchelwood 73 Les Holden 77
Frankie Taylor 71 Tony Woods 25
Ben Bray 68
Marty Dack 66
Victor Bray 54
Daniel Gregorini 53
Kelvin Lyle 53
Sam Fenech 44
Emilio Spinozzi 35