The 400 Thunder Series picked up where it left off at the 50th Gulf Western Oil Winternationals on Saturday afternoon, with two qualifying sessions for the Professional Series to determine the lineups for Sunday’s elimination rounds. Headlined once again by a record-breaking day in Top Fuel, the pace remained hot throughout the day.
Rain unfortunately put a damp ending to what had been another quality showing from the Top Fuel field, led by the quickest side-by-side Top Fuel pass this country has seen between Peter Xiberras and Wayne Newby. The champion-elect became the second member of the elusive 4.40 club with a 4.48 run in the third qualifier, with Xiberras powering alongside to a personal best 4.55. Newby’s Rapisarda stablemate Larry Dixon was unlucky not to join the two team cars in the 4.40s, running a 4.52 with a 5 in the afternoon session before the rain curtailed his evening efforts.
Top Bike meanwhile put on an exciting display of brave and daring, with Damian Muscat spending more time on one wheel than two. Despite his best efforts, and a trip to the gravel trap, he was unable to beat Friday’s top qualifier Chris Matheson to the number 1 spot, and the bye run for round 1.
The oversubscribed field from Pro Alcohol meant that the race was on to make the field for Sunday’s eliminations. John Cannuli powered his way into the field with a 5.470 pass at the expense of Luke Marsden, but was still not enough to beat Gary Phillips to the Top Qualifier spot. Phillips’ closest title competitors Steve Ham, Steve Reed and Wayne Price all also managed to make the 8-car field, guaranteeing that the championship fight will continue onto tomorrow.
Pro Slammer was a similarly competitive proposition, with 15 qualifiers gunning for just 8 spots in eliminations. John Zappia managed to further lower his Friday benchmark to a 5.643, while the likes of Ben Bray and Scott Maclean setting 5.7 second runs to secure their starting spots. The big shock of the day however Gary Phillips being eliminated from the weekend thanks to a last-gasp effort by Robin Taylor, ending his chances at securing the Pro Slammer title.
The biggest surprise was yet to come however, and that was left to Pro Stock. Champion-elect Aaron Tremayne struggled for pace all weekend, resulting in a shock failure to qualify for the event. This was followed shortly after by Lee Bektash announcing his withdrawal from the weekend due to mechanical issues, bringing an anticlimactic ending to a stellar Pro Stock career. Aaron’s brother Tyronne Tremayne had no such issues however, as he powered to the Top Qualifer position with a sub-7 second run, with Chris Soldatos also joining him with a 6.98 for the 2nd position.
Pro Bike remained the domain of Brad Lemberg, as he backed up his 7.14 run from Friday night with a pair of 7.12s to put Top Qualifier and the round 1 bye run beyond doubt. Reigning champion Glenn Wooster climbed up to the order to 2nd for Sunday’s elimination, while Daniel Rabnott, Mark Hancock and George Vella also set representative times to secure their spot in the field.
The action wasn’t restricted to the professional brackets, with the 400 Thunder Sportsman Series also putting on a show for the huge crowd in attendance. Amongst the final qualifying sessions and early elimination rounds, no less than ten national records were broken over the course of the day. The blistering pace was headlined by Willowbank Raceway CEO Tony Wedlock, as the former Pro Stock champion set a new national DD/API benchmark in Super Stock qualifying.
The on-track action for the final day of the 50th Gulf Western Oil Winternationals will begin from 8am on Sunday morning, with the first elimination round of the Professional Series kicking off at 11:45am. 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.