9 June 2019


The Gulf Western Oil Winternationals lived up to its reputation for high stakes championship drama on Saturday with a single qualifying session for the professional categories deciding who would compete on race day.

All of the professional fields only seed eight cars for eliminations. With most oversubscribed, competition was intense to see who would earn a spot for Sunday's racing.

Western Australia's Damien Harris unleashed arguably the run of the day, with a 3.778 from the Rapisarda Autosport International driver qualifying number one in Top Fuel. The pass was only one thousandth of a second off the quickest Top Fuel run ever in Australia, a mark Harris set himself at last year's Gulf Western Oil Winternationals.

“It was good to come back after the weather and run that number off the trailer, “ he said following the run. “Let's hope we (the team) can work towards getting Wayne (Newby) the championship.”

The seeding for Top Fuel has delivered a nearly perfect scenario for championship anoraks. Sydney's Newby leads the points chase, but is on the opposite side of the ladder to his primary rival Kelly Bettes, meaning the pair could meet in the final to decide the title. But dark horse Ashley Sanford, who sits third in the series, could also take the championship if Newby goes out in the first round and Queensland's Bettes goes out in the semi finals – with the Californian Sanford possibility meeting reigning champion Bettes in that round of the bracket.

Pro Slammer saw a wild qualifying session as racers tried to navigate their 3000 horsepower machines down track for a single shot at making the field. Queensland's Steven Ham found his way with a 5.701 run taking top position, followed by privateer Geoff Gradden's personal best 5.77.

Facing a cool track and one chance to get it right, Ham said the team had his Camaro set up to make it A to B.

“It was a little loose out there so we just needed to ease it down the track,” he said. “It was a little bit sketchy at the top end (of the run) and I had the parachutes out early.”

The Pro Slammer championship looks to have been decided earlier than expected, with Paul Mouhayet's fourth qualifying position ahead of John Zappia’s sixth giving him the two extra points needed to wrap up a second successive title.

Pro Alcohol veteran Gary Phillips used his experience to come out on top of the category, a 5.408 second time almost a half a second ahead of the rest of the field, who struggled to find the right set up. With championship rival Steve Reed missing the field, Phillips was able to add yet another Pro Alcohol Championship to his mantelpiece taking his total to 20 in the various forms of the category over the years.

Queenslander Phillips said the team had to search longer than usual to find a tune that would match the conditions faced by teams at Willowbank Raceway yesterday, but it paid off in the end.

“The main thing was to get that first run in,” he said. “The car was getting on down there and I short shifted, but we are happy. We didn't leave too much on the table for that one.”

Top Bike's only qualifying session proved a difficult affair with no rider making it down track cleanly. Queensland's Chris Matheson leads the field with a 7.49 second pass, way off the true potential of his motorcycle.

“We were too greedy,” he admitted afterwards. “We're just going to have to soften him up.”

The 400 Thunder Pro Stock Championship was decided when Victoria's Chris Soldatos failed to qualify into the field, as championship rival Aaron Tremayne top qualified with a 6.985 pass. The title marks the eighth time the Queenslander has won a national championship in Pro Stock.

Hopes were high for another six second run in Pro Bike, with Queenslander Luke Crowley's 7.100 clocking the closest after qualifying. While much attention has been on performance in the class, the championship scenario became radically more interesting after qualifying as Victoria's Glenn Wooster missed the field, which opens up the door for Western Australia's Ryan Learmonth. If Learmonth can make it to the final round, he will win the 400 Thunder championship.

Clear conditions are expected for Sunday, where final eliminations will take place for both the 400 Thunder pro and sportsman classes. Sportsman racing begins from 9am, with the first round of Top Fuel opening pro eliminations at 11am.