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Article Date: 10 June 2016

With talent in the 2016 City of Ipswich Winternationals Pro Class field coming from all corners of the country, it’s safe to say none of the 63 cars that packed out the field had travelled to Willowbank Raceway to go home with second place.

And as many of the cars took to the track for this first time on the afternoon of Friday 10th June, 2016, the grandstands were left with very few empty seats with fans eager to catch their first glimpse of the Pro Class racers.


Talk of the town was undoubtedly the return of Victor Bray to Drag Racing after an extended sabbatical. Widely acknowledged as the Godfather of modern Pro Slammer in Australia, Bray the perennial favourite of the Willowbank crowd took to the track and immediately dispelled any uncertainty that he was indeed back, and ready to conquer.

Drawing Gary Phillips in the first round of Qualifying, Victor unleashed one of his trademarked half-track burnouts and immediately reeled off a 5.99sec at over 234mph – impressive no doubt, but alongside him Phillips troubled the scorers with a 5.91sec at 246mph which briefly had him at Top Qualifier. Phillips would ultimately settle for third position heading in to Saturday’s Second Round Qualifiers.

Category sponsor Stuart Bishop in his brand new Camaro Pro Slammer pedalled his way to a 6.24sec, however the real story was the phenomenal 245mph trap speed considering the work he did stabbing the throttle for the length of the track. It speaks tomes of the potential of this new build.

New South Wales racer Sam Fenech didn’t even get a chance to size up against Robin Taylor thanks to Taylor’s mechanical dramas. Fenech staged solo and tore down the track for a 5.98sec at 236mph with the front left wheel barely touching the deck for the duration of the run. It was the team’s first 5sec pass.

Mark Belleri enjoyed his five seconds of fame, snagging Top Qualifier for all but one run with a 5.86sec at 246mph. Taking off down the left lane the very next run was reigning champ’ John Zappia who reminded the field why he owns the bigger trophy cabinet, screaming through the gates for a 5.82sec at 247mph riding the wheelie bars for the duration of the track. Ever the showman, Zappia put on the fireworks in the braking area with a suspected supercharger burst plate failure.


The 11-car Pro Alcohol field took to the Willowbank blacktop long after the sun had set and the lights illuminated the length of the track, much to the delight of the packed grandstands.

Luke Marsden lined up Jon Sting for the first race of Pro Alcohol and immediately set the pace with a 5.66sec at 252mph.

Victorian Wayne Price followed suit the very next run, showing he wasn’t afraid of a challenge with a solid 5.58sec at 258mph.

Looking to join the 5-second club, Mark Davison staged in the left-hand lane and, after showing early promise, soon over-powered the track and decided that the right lane might be a better fit after all, crossing the centreline and taking out a timing marker deep in the track. Chris Hargrave next to him had backed out earlier in the run and watched from a safe distance behind him.

Currently third in the Championship, Steven Reed took to the track looking to qualify well however, after pedalling and aborting the run, let Robert Ambruosi in the right lane away to a 5.65sec at 251mph.

One of the passes of the meeting to date was John Cannuli’s record-slaying 5.35sec at 256mph. It was a stunning return to form for Cannuli and the team after an incident earlier in the season. The car is singing and the team is optimistic about a strong performance at the meeting, and overall in the championship.

Current series leader and former holder of the record Gary Phillips could only sit back and watch the Cannuli camp celebrate, returning fire with a 5.96sec at 239mph, wrestling with the pedal for the duration of the track.


Winding out Friday’s testing was the flame-throwing, ground-shaking Top Fuelers which, to the crowd’s delight, rose to their claim of being the greatest show on earth.

Darren Morgan met Peter Xiberras in the first qualifier and the pair reeled off side-by-side 4-second passes to officially welcome the Fuelers to the Winters. Morgan’s 4.64sec at 315mph remained unbeaten and he goes in to Saturday as Top Qualifier.

Xiberras’ 4.84sec was enough for him to proceed to Saturday’s Qualifiers in third position.

American Pro Larry Dixon lined up for a solo pass, piloting a Rapisarda missile. It’s Dixon’s first time back to Australia since the amazing 2013 incident where his car shed a wheel and performed a complete 360-degree at half-track. Cutting a 0.095sec light Dixon backed off and rolled across the line for a 10.0sec at 78mph.

When interviewed after the pass, Racing Chief Lee Beard actively denied that they might have over-powered the track. “If anything it was sticking too much, we should have been pushing harder to get it up on the tyre. We’ll try again tomorrow. The Willowbank start line has a lot of teeth and that’s why we like coming here. We’ll get some data out of that run and be back out tomorrow.”

The final Top Fuel Qualifier saw Damien Harris meet Rapisarda team mate Wayne Newby. Harris’ RSR car sported new livery, commemorating the late Louie Rapisarda. Harris stood tall in the spotlight and rose to the challenge, showing the crowd exactly what a 4.79sec pass looked like.

“It looked like it was moving well, we’ll just have to see what went wrong,” said Santo Rapisarda when interviewed after the run. “We would have liked to have gone down without hurting it, but it’s obvious they were just out there trying to run a decent number. We’ll fix it up and be back.”

First Round Top Qualifiers for the remaining Pro Class look like this:


Corey Buttigieg 7.31sec @ 182mph

Glenn Wooster 7.45 @ 174mph

Scott White 7.45 @ 181mph


Wayne Daley 7.00sec @ 192mph

Tyronne Tremayne 7.02sec @ 195mph

Aaron Tremayne 7.03sec @ 194mph


Mark Drew 6.66sec @ 203mph

Gavin Spann 6.91sec @ 169mph

Chris Porter 7.28sec @ 174mph


Matthew McCarthy 4.57sec @ 164mph

Tim Cross 4.58sec @ 169mph

Stuart Henry 4.71sec @ 154mph

For more information on ticketing and event schedule visit www.willowbankraceway.com.au. If you can’t make it to the track and still want to be a part of the action then subscribe to the Official 400 Thunder Live Stream at http://400thunder.5stream.com/content.php?id=12620



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