Willowbank Raceway - General News: Bettes defeats USA's Sanford in New Years Thunder thriller at Willowbank

Bettes defeats USA's Sanford in New Years Thunder thriller at Willowbank

7 January 2019

 Bettes defeats USA's Sanford in New Years Thunder thriller at Willowbank

Queensland's Kelly Bettes lived up to her championship-winning reputation at New Years Thunder at Willowbank Raceway on Saturday night, recovering from a first round mistake to take out the final round from America's Ashley Sanford.

Bettes was joined in the 400 Thunder winner's circle by Paul Mouhayet (Pro Slammer), Gary Phillips (Pro Alcohol), Aaron Tremayne (Pro Stock) and Ryan Learmonth (Pro Bike).

Bettes, who was joined in the Lamattina Top Fuel Racing stable by Australian ex-pat NHRA driver Richie Crampton over the weekend, said the team were stretched at times running two cars but were happy to find their groove again. At the last round of the 400 Thunder Top Fuel Championship in Sydney, Bettes battled engine fires on several runs.

“We stretched a few things a little thin between the two cars, but it was the risk we were willing to take in fielding a two car team again,” Bettes said.

“Importantly though, we were able to feel confident after some fiery moments in Sydney, and we are mostly past those gremlins. We came from a low and turned it into a high which for us, was a great finish to what was a long, hot day of racing.

“The second LTFR car driven by Richie had a few little headaches and drama, but for a car that hasn’t been out for a couple of years and a super fresh team, I think they did great to put up a fight each round.”

The day started off poorly for Bettes when she recorded her first ever red light (foul start) in Top Fuel competition opposite championship rival Damien Harris.

“It felt very disappointing for me as a driver,” she said. “It was a great opportunity to take some valuable points from Damien early in the Championship, and I was super keen to hit the tree good straight up. Unfortunately it ended up creating my own battle in my head moving forward to the next rounds.

“Not wanting to make the same mistake again for the team, I purposely slowed and calmed myself down next round. This lead to the worse reaction time I’ve ever cut in the Top Fuel car, and while we still got the win in round two it wasn’t the way I like to represent and take the stripe.”

The Lamattina team were kept busy throughout race day maintenance wise, with Bettes praising her team's work in the hot weather.

“The centre section of the rear wing broke away at the finish line in round one and our spare was on Richie’s car and borrowed one from the Premiair team,” she explained.

“The car was clearly running strong regardless. We did have a quick engine change after round one but only due to normal wear on parts.”

Bettes was paired up against Californian Sanford for the final, in Australia's second ever Top Fuel final featuring two women. But aside from the statisticians, Australian drag racing fans have come to know that gender is unimportant in a sport where men and women regularly go head to head. Bettes' 3.87/502.31kph got to the finish line first over Sanford's troubled 4.840 pass.

“I’m sure the public have been waiting for (the match up),” Bettes said. “Ashley and I have only met in racing once before, somehow we managed to avoid running each other.

“For me it’s just another competitor that we need to beat and again, get some valuable championship points.”

While Bettes is no stranger to winning, Pro Bike saw a first time victor with Western Australia's Ryan Learmonth taking his first 400 Thunder event over Daniel Rabnott.

Learmonth was in career form, running personal bests in round one and round two before getting to the stripe in a survival-of-the-fittest final round.

“It feels awesome for my team to get this win,” he said. “So much hard work has been put into the bike and now for it all to come together at our sixth event in Pro Bike feels amazing.”

Learmonth took out tough Victorian rider Glenn Wooster in round one and then Queenslander Andrew Badcock in round two, setting up the final against Rabnott. There Learmonth had some troubles at the start line, but luckily the problems were worse for Rabnott.

“I haven’t pulled it apart yet but it looks like we fried the clutch in first gear and there never going to be recovery from that,” he said. “My bike also locked the rear wheel for about 100m in the braking area which was pretty crazy. I was lucky to get away with the win with Daniel's foot peg snapping off as he had his own troubles.”

While Learmonth has plenty of experience of his own, he drew on the support of Queensland local Luke Crowley, a former Pro Bike champ, to provide advice across the event.

“We had some help from my mate Luke this weekend and with the two of us together we finally got the gearing and ignition timing right for it to hook and drive in low gears,” Learmonth said. “The track was great but the weather was not so good so we know there’s a lot left in there.”

New South Wales' Paul Mouhayet used great consistency in his journey to the Pro Slammer win, as he returned to the lead of the 400 Thunder championship.

Mouhayet put in a powerhouse sequence of runs, going 5.754 to defeat Jason Donnelly in round one, 5.747 against Paul Cannuli in round two and then a 5.736 in the final round against Queensland hopeful Steven Ham.

The night proved a wild affair for the Pro Slammer division – especially if you were driving a Ford Mustang. Queensland's Andrew Searle spun his Mustang into the wall in round one, while Western Australia's Kelvin Lyle had a scary finish line moment in his own Mustang and got into the wall in the braking area during the third round. Both drivers emerged unhurt, though their respective cars will take plenty of work to be ready for the next event.

Queensland Pro Alcohol legend Gary Phillips continues to be the man to beat. With a massive performance advantage over the field Phillips racked up three wins from three rounds, defeating fellow Queenslander Steve Reed in the final in a 5.430 to 5.707 race, Phillips earning low ET of the event for the class.

Pro Stock also saw a familiar name on top, with Aaron Tremayne putting in a commanding performance. Like Mouhayet in Pro Slammer, Tremayne had consistency on side with passes of 7.064, 7.041 and then a final round 7.051 to defeat Victoria's Chris Soldatos, who retained the championship lead.

The 400 Thunder Series now heads to Sydney for Santo's Summer Thunder on January 18 and 19, while Willowbank looks ahead to the first round of the Queensland Drag Racing Championships for 2019 on February 16.

All images courtesy dragphotos.com.au