The East Coast Thunder event traditionally opens the new IHRA Australia season at Sydney Dragway. This year’s event was sponsored by Atlantic Oils and included all six pro car and bike categories. The race was run in high temperatures and humidity, making it tough for crew chiefs to find a solid combination.
The Top Fuel field saw seven entries, including the return of two nitro pilots: Phil Lamattina and Peter Xiberass. Lamattina had replaced Kelly Bettes at the butterfly of the Fuchs Top Fuel dragster, with Xiberras coming back to the bracket with a new car. They joined the three Rapisarda International dragsters as well as Phil Read and Terry Sainty. While it was Rapisarda’s Wayne Newby who took top spot in qualifying with a 3.839, loud cheering was also reserved for Sainty, who ran his first 3-second pass in the all-Australian Sainty engine car with a 3.991.
The final of the nitro bracket would see Newby face Xiberass after Newby soloed to a 3.973 in the first frame and took out teammate Ashley Sanford in the semis with a 3.915 to 4.087 to face the RhinoFSD/Premiair Hire dragster. Xiberass, meanwhile had used a 4.328 to get by a troubled Sainty, who had the chutes deploy on the hit and then ran an improving 3.854 to turn back Damien Harris on a 3.911, gaining lane choice.
Xiberras had left on both his rivals up to this point and did it again here with a .050 light to a .064 over Newby. The pair passed 60-foot mark with all candles lit and Xiberras would hang on to take a gritty 3.858 to 3.880 win. At the trophy presentations Xiberras seemed somewhat shell shocked.
“I didn’t think that I’d make it so far” the quietly spoken driver admitted. “While it might be me sitting in the car on the track, this is 100-percent a team effort. There is so much more to this team than me in the car, and without my entire team of dedicated and hard-working people we would not be here celebrating with this event trophy,”he went on to say.
The Top Alcohol bracket was totally dominated by veteran driver, Gary Phillips. He led qualifying with a 5.458 to lead arch-rival Steve Reed in second with a 5.517. These two have been dueling for decades and it was therefore no surprise when both of them made their way to the final. This race was one of the major highlights of the event, as Phillips recorded a .016 reaction time while Reed had an .027 triggered green bulb.
As they made their way down the track, Phillips kept extending his lead with a 5.424 ultimately winning out to a trailing 5.503. Phillips later said that next year will be his 50th year of racing and over that time it had always been a privilege to race father, Jim Reed and his son, Steven. Phillips is the most successful Australian sportsman drag racer of all-time, with 22 championships and hundreds of event wins. As he left the trophy presentation area he turned and quipped, “and I’m not dead yet.”
The Sydney Dragway Pro Doorslammer pits saw ten cars make their way to the track, however recent Australian Pro Doorslammer champions, Moits Racing and driver Paul Mouhayet, announced that they were stepping back from racing for a while. Still there were plenty of fierce runs with an all 5-second field, headed by Steven Ham with a 5.668. Like Gary Phillips above, Ham also made his way to the bracket final, to face Ben Bray.
Ham had taken a first round 5.890 win over Emilio Spinnozi then had Geoff Gradden red light against him, with a 5.731 doing the trick. Bray, on the other hand, had qualified third with a 5.874 and used a 5.813 to make it past a blower-backfiring 6.184 from John Zappia. The semis saw him take almost a tenth of a second off the line (.049 to .142) over second qualifier, Westralian Kelvin Lyle, and he needed it as Lyle’s 5.733 would have normally trumped his slower 5.813.
This time Ham was ready for his opponent, taking an .024 to .101 lead off the line and cemented that with a crushing 5.668 to 5.758 winning run. Bray’s father, doorslammer legend Victor, told his son to “give it everything” prior to the matchup.
“I took fuel out of it and banged the blower in the lights, but it wasn’t enough – those guys deserved the win,” Bray went on to say. “This thing was just a jet today,” Ham announced at the trophy presentations. “We had a tough turn around for E2 but Stuart Rowland and my team just did an absolutely amazing job,” he added.
The Pro Stock field saw nine cars face the starter with Queensland driver, Wayne Daley in a Dodge Avenger taking the top spot thanks to a 6.915. Daley’s run came to an early end, though, when he fell in the semis to eventual finalist, Jason Hedges – 7.158 to a quicker 7.086. Hedges then faced multi-time Australian champ, Aaron Tremayne for the gold. Despite competing in the bracket for some eleven years, Hedges had never won a gold Xmas tree. Meanwhile, Tremayne had wounded a bullet in his semi-final win over a wandering Robert Dekert (whose steering wheel came off in his hands) and then replaced it within an hour.
It would be easy to think that Tremayne would be flustered by this, however the champ took a .015 to .074 lead off the line. Despite this, Hedges passed the Pontiac GXP by the 900-foot mark and sped away to his first-ever win with a 7.013, just staying ahead of a second-best 7.076.
“The car was super reliable all weekend, ”Hedges admitted. “We had some tough times over the past eleven years but we finally broke through for our first win,” he added.
The bike ranks only saw four Pro Bikes and two Top Bikes, with Glen Wooster being crowned in Pro Bike and Chris Matheson doing solo runs.