12 June 2016

For the final day of racing for the 2016 City of Ipswich Winternationals, Australian drag racing fans threw their support behind the field of 406 entrants and got themselves trackside to see some of the best racing action Australia can muster. Entrants and track officials alike commented that the packed grandstands not only rivalled Saturday’s record-smashing crowd for size, but also broke attendance records for Sunday Finals at previous events.
For the first time during the 2016 meeting the drag strip was cloaked in thick layer of cloud hanging low over the track for the entire day. It did little to curb the crowd’s enthusiasm though, and it certainly didn’t deter the racers with the cooler conditions and expertly-prepared racing surface making for a day of high-drama, upset victories and record-breaking racing.
Pro Alcohol Series Champion Gary Phillips was heard to remark early in the day, “you’d better bring you’re A-Game, because if you don’t, this track is going to grab a hold of you!” It was a warning too few people headed, as the track claimed numerous victims throughout the day. In almost every category, the established leader boards were given a thorough shake up and in many instances, the presumed layout of the 400 Thunder National Championship took drastic new directions keeping fans on the edge of their seats until the end of the meeting.
Racing started early in the morning and took a brief break mid-morning for the Opening Ceremony of the final day of racing. Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale spoke, via a pre-recorded video, of the council’s commitment to motorsport and thanked the racers and those that had travelled to the event for supporting the Winternationals, Willowbank Raceway and the greater Ipswich region.
“We want to be the home of motorsport in Australia,” admitted Pisasale in an incredibly direct statement.
Willowbank CEO Tony Wedlock followed Pisasale’s video address by once again thanking entrants and spectators, as well as the volunteer crew from Willowbank Raceway. “What an outstanding event, and a fantastic lead in to the 50th running in 2017… I’m proud to head up a team that delivers a great event to Ipswich, and the world.”
CEO of the newly-formed Drag Racing governing body, the IHRA-backed 400 Thunder, Maurice Allen officialised the place of the body within Australian motorsport, and spoke of the committee’s devotion to Drag Racing in Australia. “We’re committed to driving the sport forward, and have a fantastic vision for the future of the sport,” he said in a brief but inspirational address to the event.
Before an American National Anthem to recognise the international followers of the sport, as well as American drivers and media that had travelled to support the event, followed by a moving rendition of the Australian National Anthem, racing resumed and crowds were treated to an earth-shaking display from the Pro Class racers, including the fastest-accelerating vehicles on the planet, the Top Fuelers.
As a credit to the racers and the Willowbank track staff, racing continued throughout the day without interruption and ran largely to schedule, with spectators struggling at times to find time to leave their seats between each high-octane spectacle playing out live in front of them.
Crowds bore witness to history in the making – one of several times they could make such a claim during the event - when the Top Fuelers took to the track for their Semi Finals. American gun-driver Larry Dixon and local Championship-leader Wayne Harris made the Fastest Ever Side-by-Side Top Fueler pass in Australia, running 332.92mph and 336.99mph respectively. Harris’ 336mph pass was also the fastest Top Fuel pass ever recorded in Australia, and knocked on the door of international records held in America.
Records kept tumbling and the upset victories kept coming long after the sun had set over the dragstrip, as racing continued in to the evening under the lights of Willowbank Raceway. Amazingly, seven of the nineteen Finals races were won on technicalities, with racers bowing out either due to ‘red-lighting’ (a term used to describe when a driver leaves before the green light is illuminated, indicating a void run), their opponent ‘breaking out’ (a bracket-racing term applied when a racer runs quicker than the time they’ve nominated as their ‘Dial In’ time), or simple mechanical failure – a harsh reality at the end of a four-day torture test like the Winternationals.
All Sportsman Champions from the 2016 City of Ipswich Winternationals are listed below:
Super Gas – Dale O’Dwyer
Wallace Bishop Loyal Watches Junior Dragster – Jett Willshire
Sports Turf Services Modified Bike – Brandon Gosbell
Prime Signs/Speed Elec Super Street – Matthew McKnight
Powercruise Super Sedan – Tony Rogers
Top Sportsman – Harry Somer
Knijff Earthmoving Modified –Nick Galea
Donnelly Blasting Services Supercharged Outlaws – Josh Fletcher
Competition Bike – Blaze Hansen
Speed City Pro Radial – Tim Cross
Super Stock – Wade Moran
Competition – Shane Seawright
Factory Xtreme – Scott Porter
For more event results and to find out more about the Willowbank Raceway facility, including upcoming major race meetings, visit www.willowbankraceway.com.au