400 Thunder Championship chases bring high emotion to 51st Gulf Western Oils Winternationals finals
The 2017/18 400 Thunder Sportsman Drag Racing Championship drew to a close at the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals on Sunday at Willowbank Raceway, with several categories going deep into the final rounds to determine their title holders.
Competition was one of those divisions, where the critical moment came in the semi-finals. Both Mike Bailey and Tony Bellert remained in contention and with Bailey on a solo run, Bellert needed to win his match up against tough Victorian driver Craig Geddes. Geddes proved too good in a clash where both drivers ran underneath their national records, denying Bellert and handing Bailey the 400 Thunder championship trophy.
Queensland’s Wade Moran had a nervous wait for his Super Stock championship. A first round loss was a critical blow and opened the door for fellow Queenslander Omar Sedmak. Sedmak needed to win the event, and Moran could only watch as he progressed through the first and second rounds. But another Victorian driver influenced the championship as Daniel Camilleri dropped a 7.35 second run on a 7.71 national record to defeat Sedmak, Moran winning the championship by 20 points.
Arguably the most exciting conclusion to a championship came in Competition Bike, where points leaders Ken Collin and reigning champ Peter Puznik met in the final round – with the winner to be crowned the new number one plate holder. The result was a heartbreaker for Puznik, who red lit with a -0.012 reaction time after having been underneath his national record for most of the weekend aboard his Suzuki Hayabusa.
Supercharged Outlaws was a Fletcher family one-two as Josh Fletcher claimed the 400 Thunder championship over father Bill. Both drivers came into the event on maximum points but a first round loss for Bill saw Josh take a relatively easy path to the number one.
On a weekend where former Modified champion Kelly Bettes won her first Top Fuel title, another Kellie took her place in Modified as Kellie Kidd drove to the semi finals and secured her championship. Reigning champion Stephan Gouws was an unexpected first round casualty, ensuring Kidd would not be troubled.
New South Wales’ Steven Fowler added another national title to three already on his mantelpiece with a runner up result in Top Sportsman giving him enough points to overtake Daniel Morris for the 400 Thunder Championship. Morris’ second round loss meant his 20 point lead going into the event quickly evaporated.
South Australian John Kapiris is one of Australia’s most well travelled and successful Super Sedan drivers and he showed why at the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals, storming from 50 points behind at the start of the event to clinching the 400 Thunder Championship. When Queensland’s Kevin Langridge dropped out in the first round and Paul Doeblien fell in the second round, Kapiris had the margin he needed to take the title – if he won the event. That was exactly what he did, defeating Lee Sherwin in a race that had a margin of just .002 at the stripe.
Modified Bike saw championship carnage in the opening rounds. With eight riders on the maximum points cap, it was highly likely one of them was going to take out the title, but six of those riders fell in the first round and the remaining two lost in the second. Enter New South Wales’ Sean Ricketts, who went on to the semi-finals and despite being ninth in the points at the start of the 2018 Gulf Western Oil Winternationals, took home the 400 Thunder gold Christmas tree trophy.
The Super Street points situation played out more to the script as New South Wales’ David McGlinn drove to the event win, which combined with maximum points going into the event, was an unbeatable position.
Stephan Gouws might have not reached his goals in Modified but sister Liezel preserved the family’s pride with a championship victory in Junior Dragster. With many of the hitters going out early in the event, a round-of-16 appearance fortunately provided enough points for Liezel to clinch the title from Emma Wagensveld.
400 Thunder thanks the over 500 sportsman racers who participated in the 2017/18 season, and we look forward to having you again in the next.