Australia Day celebrated in style at Sydney Dragway

There was no better place to celebrate Australia Day today than at Sydney Dragway for day one of the Saltwood @ Rosedale Australia Day Nationals.

The action-packed show was headlined by no end of spectacular drag racing performances from the 11,000hp/500kph Top Fuel racers who across their field delivered 12 three-second passes with four of those at 500kph+, and two side-by-side three performances.  

And the show-stopping entertainment wasn’t limited to Top Fuel either, with the high-powered dragsters racing on-track alongside Pro Alcohol, FuelTech Pro Mod and Pro Stock Motorcycle – all of which are enjoying two rounds of their championships this weekend – as well as qualifying for Top Doorlammer and Pro Stock alongside the Aeroflow National Sportsman Championship (sportsman report: here).

TOP FUEL

Seven Australians and one American came together at Sydney Dragway to do battle for the label of the best under the Southern Cross on Australia Day, but when US star Larry Dixon fell foul of electrical issues in the warm-up for round one, it was left to the Aussies to fight it out today, with Dixon set to make a return for Saturday’s racing.

Phil Lamattina and Peter Xiberras opened the Top Fuel proceedings in round one, with Xiberras taking the win with a 3.918 second pass at 488.98kph over Lamattina’s 4.108/394.57kph run. Defending champ Damian Harris then took on newcomer Kyle Putland, who had an anxious issue with his belts before taking the start and then encountered tyre shake at 300ft that saw him get off it early. Harris meanwhile blazed through for a 3.910/500.67kph crowd pleaser. Harris’ team-mate Wayne Newby was next to take a race one win, running straight down the track for 3.927/495.9kph over Phil Read, who struck trouble early and shut off (5.203/215.12kph). The last run was aborted, with Shane Olive unable to reverse from the burnout and Dixon unable to front.

Round two opened with Lamattina all smiles after taking on his former team-mate Olive and locking away a win with a beautiful 3.818/506.67kph run while Olive had an early shut off for a 4.594 second effort at 266.41kph. Read and Xiberras then delivered an impressive side-by-side ‘three’ second pass with Read winning on a holeshot (better reaction time) with his 3.917/456.14kph result to Xiberras’ 3.906/501.87kph effort. Putland and Newby then took to the track with Newby taking the win with a 3.831/499.56kph over Putland’s 5.466/196.2kph run which started out stout but then ended in an early shut off after turning the tyres, securing the A-Final berth in the process. Harris had a solo, securing his spot in the A-Final against his team-mate Newby with a 3.961/456.81kph pass even with issues and a thrown belt.

When it came to finals time, Olive and Read rolled out first for the C-Final, with both leaving the line well with full-candles before Read was forced to shut off after pushing the head gasket out and then shooting the belt off before being attended to by the fire crew in the braking area. Olive meanwhile kept on it all the way to the line to record a 3.972/462.9kph run and claim the C-Final win.

Next up was Peter Xiberras and Phil Lamattina, who matched up for the B-Final and delivered a second side-by-side three second show for the night to the delight of everyone watching trackside and live on 7plus. While Xiberras has become known for saying “it is a good day when you beat Phil Lamattina,” this time it was Lamattina who took out the victory with a 3.821/489.21kph pass over Xiberras’ 3.855/488.66kph effort.

Phil Lamattina (Cackling Pipes)

“We have been chasing him for a fair few race meetings – there is friendly banter and there are also words that hurt, and it is good to finally get a win on him. He always says it ‘is a good day when you beat Phil Lamattina,’ and you know what? It is a great day when you beat Peter Xiberras!” Lamattina grinned.

“Today is all about Sheridan, all about the boys, our crew and being together as a team and as long as we come home safely that is the main thing,” he added on a more serious note, referring to Sheridan Coulthard – the daughter of their long-time crew mate Gav – who passed in a car accident less than two weeks ago.

It was then time for the all Rapisarda Autosport International A-Final, with defending champion Harris taking on team-mate and former champ Newby. Both drivers left hard with brilliant side-by-side flames to the half-track where Harris ran into trouble and threw the belt, giving Newby the opportunity to drive it through to the end and light up the boards with 3.82 ET at 519.75kph, while Harris was recorded at 4.069/381.29kph.

“It has been three years (since I won a Gold Christmas Tree) and how good to do it on Australia Day. I have forgotten how to do a speech!” Newby smiled while clearly choking back his emotions.

“I am really happy for Santino, Santo and all the boys, and all our sponsors – Wild Ink, Atlantic Oils and Uplift Cranes. We really appreciate all the support. We will go have a drink now for Australia Day!”

“It was a Rapisarda win no matter what happened and that is what we aim for,” Harris said. “Thank you to Atlantic Oils for the special blend, I think I might have hurt some parts there, but we will be okay for tomorrow. Thanks to Santo Snr for the support as always.”

Wayne Newby and Damien Harris do battle in the final (Cackling Pipes)

PRO ALCOHOL

Eight Pro Alcohol racers lined up at Sydney Dragway today for the third round of their championship, and the competition was fierce from the get-go.

John Cannuli put the first win on the board for Pro Alcohol against Brett White, who had the better reaction time and was leading the way but then shut off at half-track, handing ‘JC’ and his 5.970/350.69kph run the victory. Second in the title points and round one runner-up Daniel Reed then thundered down for a 5.601/417.88kph win over Andrew Searle, who struck trouble early. Russell Mills (5.634/419.41kph) and Cruz Lovering (6.140/374.51kph) then faced off, with Mills taking the win. Rounding out the first round of racing for Pro Alcohol was Chris Hargrave and Wayne Price, with Hargrave taking the win with a 5.776/409.06kph pass over Price’s 7.179/191.36kph effort.  

Round two saw problems strike for Cannuli, with JC first having issues firing up before other teams came to his aid to allow him to stage alongside Wayne Price, before then rolling through the beams and being unable to proceed, ultimately being pushed back while Price ran straight down the centre for a 5.626/407.76kph run. Reed took another win over Searle with a 5.565/408.99kph run over Searle’s 5.653/393.51kph, while Russell Mills also took another win, this time over White – Mills recorded a 5.579/420.39kph pass over White’s 5.958/314.22kph in a side by side performance. Hargrave then took another win with a near identical pass to his round one win (5.773/408kph). Hargrave was paired up against Cruz Lovering, who was forced to deploy the fire bottles at mid-track before stopping and exiting the car.

Come the finals, Brett White ran a solo in the D Final when Cruz Lovering stopped after the burnout, running a 6.746/241.98kph pass. Cannuli also had a solo pass for the C Final when Andrew Searle shut down and pushed back, and was pleased to run a decent number after his earlier issues (5.673/383.64kph).

The B-Final paired Hargrave and Price, with the holeshot win going to Hargrave with a 5.717/256.75mph pass over Price’s 5.692/246.48mph run, with a drive job required from both racers.

Daniel Reed (Cackling Pipes)

In the A-Final, it was a rematch of the of the Sydney Nationals A-Final with Reed and Mills facing off. While Reed red-lit back in October, this time he ran through for an exceptionally close victory (5.52/423.34kph)with a winning margin of just 47 ten thousandths of a second over Mills (5.571/421.61kph) to take his first Pro Alcohol win.

“I had no idea who had won, it was great to see (the commentator) walking up with the Gold Christmas Tree as that is a key sign that it went my way!” he laughed.

“It was a cracker of a racer, and we knew it would be with Russell, he is a tough competitor with a killer combo, but the Nulon Oils/All Star Batteries Funny Car had the goods and got it done today.”

FUELTECH PRO MOD

A huge field of 13 for FuelTech Pro Mod battled it out for the second round of their 2023/2024 NDRC championship today.

Championship leader Craig Burns enjoyed a solo for the first round of racing and didn’t leave anything on the line, firing off with a .007 on the tree before running through a wheel standing 6.003/381.22 effort despite the hot conditions.  Johnny Ricca and Paul Cibotto were next up with Ricca (6.281/383.57kph) taking the win before putting in a drive job to pull his machine up in the braking area after being late on the chutes, while Cibotto put down a 8.874/248.62kph after having to steer away from the centre line. Joe Gauci would have been the next to turn on the win light (6.029/362.83kph) in the ex-Carl Cox Mustang, if it wasn’t for a red light on the tree. His opponent, Rob Campisi instead took the win despite a problematic 8.161/191.51kph run. Greg Tsakiridis and Daniel Camilleri entertained with huge burnouts before Tsakiridis went on to take victory with a 6.009/364.84kph run over 6.408/355.05kph for Camilleri. George Josevski took his first NDRC race win with a 6.018/392.37kph over Stew Walsh who went nowhere on the tree before eventually running down the track to record a 10.181/247.42kph pass. Frank Tarabay red lit while Neil Murphy ran through to cross the line first (6.338/374.38kph, before Zoran Gajic and Joseph Murina closed out the first round for the bracket with a twin drive job, with Gajic winning with a 6.019/415.32kph result over Murina’s 6.474/338.25kph.

In the second round for Pro Mod, Gauci had a solo 5.971/373.16kph win, before Frank Taraby bailed out of his car before the start to leave Tsakiridis to go on for a solo with a rough run – picking up wheels and driving before touching down hard, losing an exhaust pipe in the process for a 8.472/236.56kph result. Burns and Cibotto faced off next, with Cibotto getting loose in the braking area with much smoke emitting from under the car while Burns ran a straight and true 5.993/379.82kph pass. Josevski then took another win, this time over the red lighting Murino, before Ricca was forced to sit out his race against Murphy when he was unable to transit from under the bridge, before Murphy was forced into a huge drive job to keep himself off the concrete walls when he turned hard after shaking the tyres, still recording a win with a 8.58. Gajic and Camilleri rounded out round two for Pro Mod, with Camilleri red lighting and Gajic taking the win with a 5.857/418.04kph in a pass that saw a return to form.

In the finals, Tarabay came out for a solo E-Final and ran away with it, recording a 6.013/391.73kph pass to be feeling much better heading into Saturday. The D-Final paired Ricca and Campisi, with Campisi rolling through the beams and leaving before the tree was activated. Ricca meanwhile came close to the wall but pulled it back for a winning 8.049/196.76kph pass. In the C Final it was Gauci v Murphy, with Murphy all over the shop for a 8.680 pass while Gauci blazed through for the win at 5.908/410.54kph. The B-Final then called for Tsakiridis to take on Josevski, and despite issues on the startline the former was able to go on to take the win over the latter with a 5.938 pass over a 7.446.

Zoran Gajic (Cackling Pipes)

In the A-Final, it was a popular match-up with round one winner Burns lining up against Gajic who enjoyed a return to form today. Gajic had it on both ends of the race-track to take the win with a 5.904/416.35kph pass over Burn’s wheel standing 6.14/331.58kph attempt.

“Thank you so very much, this is awesome. I couldn’t be happier,” Gajic said.

“This is just the dream. Craig is such a good racer; he is very consistent. Thank you to my crew and the sponsors that help me out with the car, and thanks to NDRC and Sydney Dragway.”

Burns was smiling despite the loss: “it was a fair old wheelie and heading over to the wall and I dint want to get off it but I had to. It was a big pedal, but lots of fun, let’s do it again tomorrow!”

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE

Six Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors gave fans of two-wheeled racing action plenty to cheer about this evening, although it was a rough start for the title leader in the first pass for the bracket with Scott White unable to record a round one time after shutting down on the start line and not being allowed to refire. Ryan Learmonth and Jason Lee were up next, with Lee red lighting and Learmonth recording the win with a 7.347/290.56kph pass. Tony Frost (7.333/288.91kph) and Luke Crowley (7.242/300.16kph) took the remaining wins for round one, over Locky Ireland and Daniel Rabnott respectively.

In round two Scott White was this time able to get down the track with a 7.912/280.33kph pass, but it wasn’t enough to take the win with Ryan Learmonth instead turning on the win light with a 7.330/288.24kph effort. Frost (7.539/286.20kph) then took another win over a red-lighting Rabnott (7.516/281.02kph), before Lee enjoyed a solo with a 7.696/283.77kph result. Crowley (7.217/301.52kph) and Ireland (8.388/249.73kph) then faced off, with Crowley emerging as the victor.

In the finals, Ireland ran a solo D-Final pass but was unable to keep it under power, crossing the line in 8.250 seconds at 256.83kph. White and Rabnott faced off in the C Final with a close race seeing White take the win with a 7.330/289.49kph run over Rabnott’s 7.366/286.27kph. Lee then ran a solo in the B-Final, recording a 7.456 second pass.

Luke Crowley (Cackling Pipes)

It was then time for the A-Final, with Crowley (7.124/302.59kph) pitted against Learmonth (7.317/289.32kph) and ultimately taking the victory.

“That is amazing (the ET) for these conditions. It has been a really tough day and we haven’t really been on top of it, but we have just been sneaking up little bit by little bit and obviously we got the job done,” Crowley said. “It was a great race; I could see Ryan in the corner of my helmet pretty much the whole way so he couldn’t have been too far back!”

TOP DOORSLAMMER

In Top Doorslammer, the name of the game today was qualifying, with their racing to come on Saturday’s day two of the Saltwood @ Rosedale Australia Day Nationals.

The first round of qualifying was unfortunately marred by a serious incident for the NT’s Matt Abel. In what was the fourth pass for the session, Abel left the line alongside Daniel Gregorini before his Chev Belair turned hard right with an apparent mechanical issue in the rear left, with the car crossing the track behind Gregorini before making a heavy head-on contact with the left hand track wall as the rear wheel departed the car, before coming to rest facing back the other way. Matt was thankfully able to exit the car unaided and was observed by on-track medical professionals before undergoing precautionary x-rays.  

Before Abel’s troubles, Geoff Gradden missed the session due to his chutes falling out on the line, while Paul Cannuli ran a solo for 6.372/358.51kph. Emilio Spinozzi then ran a solo but had to get off it when the car went towards the centre line (8.606/164.42kph), before Peter Lovering temporarily went to the top of the time sheets ahead of Paul with a 6.159/378.04kph effort on a solo. Gregorini crossed the line at 5.932/402.70kph, unaware of what was unfolding for Abel behind him.

After a significant delay, qualifying for Top Doorslammer resumed with Lisa Gregorini and Ronnie Palumbo lining up, with Lisa recording 6.150/384.72kph while Palumbo ran a loose 6.550/262.12kph). Next up was a Bend A-Final rematch with Russell Taylor and John Zappia matched up, with the pair delivering the first five second Doorslammer passes of the day with side by side fives – 5.805/406.17kph to the winning Taylor to Zappia’s 5.82/398.85kph. Rounding out the session was Jack Danaher, who made a 20 year dream come true by completing his first ever Top Doorslammer pass with a 7.172 effort. At the close of Q1, Taylor topped the sheets over Zappia, Daniel Gregorini, Lisa Gregorini and Lovering, with Cannuli, Palumbo, Danaher and Spinozzi rounding out the list.

In Q2 later in the evening, Taylor and Zappia were again matched up, with both racers improving but maintaining their positions on the qualifying sheets, with Taylor top qualifying with a 5.714/254.76mph effort over Zappia’s 5.814/242.28mph pass. Gregorini maintained third quickest with his Q1 time, while Gradden was able to lay down a time to advance to fourth quickest (5.998/247.52kph) ahead of Lisa Gregorini. Petr Lovering, Paul Cannuli and Palumbo remained 6th, 7th and 8th quickest thanks to their Q1 times, while Danaher (6.844) and Spinozzi (7.978) also improved their times but not their positions. Nasser Matta ran his first pass of the night after missing Q1 (8.909/169.36kph) to close out the qualifying order.

Russell Taylor (Cackling Pipes)

PRO STOCK

Two rounds of qualifying were held for Pro Stock today ahead of their racing tomorrow, with Robert Dekert taking the top spot early with a 7.020 second pass at 314.91kph. Next quickest was Chris Soldatos (7.047/314.44kph), with Omar Sedmak (7.103/307.58), Rick Chilton (7.108/311.64kph) and Tony Polito (7.162/306.33kph) rounding out the top five. Bill Perdikaris (7.188/306.54kph), debutant Ray Oxley (7.249/305.87kph), and Mario Polito (7.531/211.17kph) completed the qualifying order.

In the second round of qualifying, Soldatos improved to take the top qualifying honours with a 7.004/191.10 pass. Rick Chilton also improved to move up to third quickest behind Dekert’s Q1 time, while all other racers were unable to improve in the evening, with Sedmak and Tony Polito fourth and fifth quickest ahead of Perdikaris, Oxley and Mario Polito.

Chris Soldatos (Cackling Pipes)

The Saltwood @ Rosedale Australia Day Nationals will return to Sydney Dragway on Saturday January 27 for racing for all brackets, headlined by the 11,000hp/500kph Top Fuel dragsters, with racing on-track from 9.30am. For tickets, go to ndrc.tv.

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