The stage is now set for Monday's 'race day' at the FUCHS Winternationals, with qualifying concluding Sunday in front of an enthusiastic crowd.
At the close of today's proceedings, top qualifiers had been found for Top Fuel (Mildura's Phil Lamattina), Top Doorslammer (WA's John Zappia), Top Alcohol (Hillcrest's Gary Phillips), Top Bike (Narangba's Chris Porter) and Pro Stock Motorcycle (Aussie-born US resident Rhett Lougheed) while Pro Stock enjoyed its first round of racing with eight racers making it through to Monday's race day – Wayne Daley, Tyronne Tremayne, Aaron Tremayne, Shane Tucker, Rick Chilton, American Brandon Huhtala, Chris Soldatos and top qualifier Jason Grima.
The fourth and final day of the FUCHS Winternationals will kick off tomorrow (Monday 10 June 2013) from 8.30am with the final runs for all brackets scheduled for 2.30pm.
In Top Doorslammer, Zappia and his FUCHS-Striker Monaro had the fans on their feet, running the quickest pass for the bracket in the country to reset the national elapsed time record on his way to being the top qualifier for the category - which with a 5.970 second 'bump spot' is the quickest Top Doorslammer field ever seen in Australia. The cut-off for the race field also meant another record for the event, delivering the two quickest non-qualifiers in Australian history for the bracket, with Russell Pavey (5.974s) and Andrew Sutton (5.991s) both failing to qualify.
Today's pass by Zappia (5.745s) is the quickest Top Doorslammer pass ever recorded in Australia, bettering his own 2012 Winternationals result, the existing record (also set by Zappia) and the 'under record' pass he set on Saturday (5.753 seconds) to see him officially re-write the record books. (Under ANDRA rules, for a driver to reset a record they must run a second pass within 1% of the time before the end of the same event (known as 'backing it up').
"In last night's pass the car went to the right towards the centre line so we came back and looked at the data and made some fine adjustments overnight," said Zappia.
"Today it went pretty straight and pulled very well down the track, I thought it was a good run, but it is always hard to tell times and what not. When my team showed up and said that it was even quicker (than the Saturday run) and I had not only reset the record but run quicker and set a new personal best for time and speed – I was pretty happy!
"When it comes to race day, anything can happen. We have a car that has just done two back-to-back 'five-seven' passes, so now it is time to just focus on myself and my reaction times and make sure I am ready for that first round."
In Top Fuel, Phil Lamattina retained his spot at the top of the timesheets despite American star Tommy Johnson Jr equaling his elapsed time (4.610 seconds) in today's first session. Despite the tie, the Mildura carrot farmer held on to the top spot thanks to the 331 mile per hour result which accompanied his 4.610 second pass in yesterday's qualifying.
"We are absolutely wrapped, to have the FUCHS Top Fuel dragster on top at the FUCHS Winternationals heading into race day is a great feeling," said Lamattina.
"We could have done better in today's two sessions, we should have been more aggressive and we paid the price, but luckily we were able to hold on with yesterday's effort to stay at the top – tomorrow we will be leaving no stone unturned, there will be nothing left on the table and we will be looking to take the challenge up to the rest of the field as we chase the event win."
For Johnson Jnr his 4.610 second pass is a personal best on the quarter-mile (1320ft) for the American star, who is more used to running the 1000 foot distance (the NHRA – American drag racing's sanctioning body - switched to the 1000ft distance in 2008).
"I have run a lot quicker than that on the 1000 foot distance but not on the quarter-mile as we don't race on the quarter-mile over there anymore, I have definitely enjoyed it, and it didn't even enter my mind to shut off at the 1000ft," said Johnson Jnr.
"I did shut off about 100 foot early on my pass today but that wasn't because of the distance, the car was starting to have issues and I didn't want to hurt it, so the car definitely has more in it. Tomorrow we will just go out there and just run our own race, we know what our car can run and we have a pretty good set up now so we will just take it one at a time and do everything we can to shoot for winning rounds and the race win.
"I am really enjoying racing here in Australia, I have had a bit more time to enjoy it here at Willowbank Raceway than when I raced in Sydney in May and I have had a great time talking to the people – the fans are just great and I am really enjoying it a lot, and with the car running a lot better that makes it even easier to enjoy!"
In Top Alcohol, Hillcrest's Gary Phillips fired himself up the time sheets with a 5.522 second effort at 254.18 miles per hour to be the top qualifier for the bracket. 2012 FUCHS Winternationals Top Alcohol winner Steve Reed of Brendale was unlucky to just miss out on a spot in the field, qualifying just outside of the 5.691 second bump spot with a 5.694 second run and will watch tomorrow's proceedings from the sidelines along with fellow non-qualifiers Katherine Shaw, Wayne Newby and Debbie O'Rourke.
"We knew the car could do it, it was just a case of having a bit of bad luck in the first couple of runs, but today we went out there and I shut it off at 5.52s so it definitely could have gone faster," said Phillips, a 16 time national champion.
"We threw some new stuff at it for the second run today and it almost got there but instead it picked up the tyres and shook, but the earlier run was enough to keep us on top. I was just sorry to see Steve Reed miss out and by so little as we have been racing for 25 years together and we have the same approach – we enjoy the challenge of trying to run as good as we can while at the same time trying to not hurt our equipment.
"Tomorrow we will just take it as it comes and do the best we can for Lucas Oil Products as well as Champion Plugs and Odyssey Batteries who have come on board with us this weekend."
In Pro Stock, the field continued to wow fans by again lowering their record 'bump spot' to just 7.102 seconds during their final qualifying sessions before enjoying their first round of eliminations in the late afternoon. The record bump spot saw some star racers left on the outside looking in, including crowd favourites Rob Tucker and Kirsten Tucker-Cannuli, who were part of a world-first at Willowbank Raceway as the only father, daughter and son (Kirsten's brother and 2012 Winternationals Pro Stock winner Shane Tucker) combo to all compete in the same professional bracket at the same event.
St Marys South (NSW) resident Jason Grima continued his good form of Friday and Saturday to be the Pro Sotck top qualifier earlier today, and will be on-track during race day Monday after defeating Emilio Spinozzi in round one. Joining him will be Wayne Daley (defeated Lee Bektash), Tyronne Treamyne (defeated Ian Brown), Aaron Tremayne (defeated Denis Whiting), Shane Tucker (defeated Michael Ali), Rick Chilton (defeated Scott Porter), Chris Soldatos (defeated Bill Kotsias thanks to a better reaction time) and American Brandon Huhtala (defeated John Barbagallo).
On two-wheels, Narangba's Chris Porter (Top Bike) and Queensland-born US resident Rhett Lougheed (Pro Stock Motorcycle) retained their spots at the top of the timesheets with Lougheed backing up his mile per hour marker from Saturday – the fastest Pro Stock Motorcycle pass in the country at 189.55 miles per hour - to officially re-write the speed record for his bracket.
In the Factory Xtreme bracket, yet another record was had when Pac Performance's George Rehayem punched out the world's quickest and fastest performance for a rotary vehicle with a 6.475 second pass at 222.84 miles per hour. The bracket's Scott Porter went on to win the event from Archie Kajewski.
Today's racing also included passes from the 1320 Race Cars Competition, Super Stock, Super Compact, Gasoline Alley Harley Davidson Competition Bike, Allstar Batteries Supercharged Outlaws (including new mum Fiona Reed who is making her return just 7 weeks after welcoming her first child to the world), Knijff Earthmoving Modified, Powercruise Super Sedan, Prime Signs/Speed Elec Super Street, Gasoline Alley Harley Davidson Modified Bike, Donnelly Blasting Services Junior Dragster and Neptune Pool Care Super Gas categories.