AUSSIE TOP FUEL CHAMP PETER XIBERRAS RETURNS FROM WILDERNESS TO CLAIM VICTORY AT SYDNEY DRAGWAY.
PremiAir Racing team owner Peter Xiberras snapped a nine-round losing streak to defeat local racer Phil Read in the A final of the Atlantic Oils Top Fuel Slam event at Sydney Dragway, January 27-28 .
NHRA star Larry Dixon upstaged his Rapisarda Autosport International teammate Wayne Newby to win the B final and Shane Olive took out the C final on a solo when team boss Phil Lamattina failed to show up.
“It’s been a while,” said Xiberras, who also paid tribute to Sam Fenech, the much-loved Doorslammer racer who lost his life at Willowbank Raceway earlier this month.
“This one was always about Sam.”
“I wanted Sam to come here and then work out what I wanted to do and I’m just so proud that I was able to do it in his honor.”
“He’s such a beloved character and we won’t forget him. I had his brother and son come see me today and it was such a show of confidence that they still approve of what we’re doing.”
With only three rounds remaining in the 2022-23 season, the meeting would be the tipping point for teams chasing the Australian top fuel championship.
The driver under the most pressure was Xiberras, fifth in the points and looking for his first win since June 2021 to keep his championship hopes alive.
For RAI star Damien Harris, unbeaten this season, a win would all but seal his third Top Fuel title, while fourth-placed team-mate Wayne Newby needs a win to stay in contention.
The spotlight was also on LTFR duo Phil Lamattina and Shane Olive in third and sixth respectively. The Carrot King was chasing his first win since Mildura 2022 and Olive, in his second year, was looking for his second career victory.
Jim Read Racing, second in the points, also added NHRA recipient Jim Oberhofer to their talent pool for the weekend. Tuner Bruce Read, effusive in his praise of Jim “O”‘s efforts to help the team fine-tune the clutch and fuel issues that plagued the team.
Adding spice to the mix was the appearance of three-time NHRA star Larry Dixon as the third wheel on the Rapisarda Autosport International team.
In Q1, Phil Read posted a 3.811. leading the charts from Newby with a 3.816 and teammate Harris at 3.83.
The surprise package came courtesy of the RAI C Team led by Dixon, crew chief Rob Cavagnino with NHRA veteran Glen Mikres on hand. A 3.84 was an excellent effort from the hastily assembled volunteer crew.
Xiberras was fifth with a 3.96 ahead of Lamattina and Olive.
In Q2, Harris cracked the 3.80 mark with a 3.79, while Dixon collected his second 3.84. Xiberras stormed into third place with a neat 3.81.
Then, with Newby and Read in the stages, it started to rain, leading to the cancellation of the rest of the session.
Under the race regulations, the times posted in Q2 by Xiberras, Harris and Dixon were disallowed.
According to series organizer Nathan Prendergast, the rule was updated on August 2022, stating that if one session is canceled or not completed, the seeding will be a single session. So since we only had one completed session and the other only had three of seven cars on track, the seedings will be based on the first session.”
Heading into the number one qualifying spot, Harris was philosophical. “These are the rules we agreed to and we accept that misses are just one of those things that can happen. It was disappointing for us and the other teams who didn’t get a chance to run.”
On Race Day, teams encountered the most challenging weather conditions of the season.
Air temperatures above 90O F, humidity hovering around the 80 percent mark, plus the added challenge of a track temperature of 135O F.
Round one was a disaster for Rapisarda Autosport International, with all three entries beaten.
Dixon went up against Xiberras and according to Dixon the tires smoked “a car length into the run” but still had the presence to keep his foot in them. Xiberras was victorious despite throwing a belt near halfway.
Lamattina beat Harris, who blew an engine, and Olive accounted for Newby after both smoked the tires at the same time.
Read, on a solo to top qualifier, collected low ET and Top Speed bonus points from the round with a 4.13, despite dropping a couple of cylinders and blowing out a head gasket.
The penultimate round of racing got off to a spectacular start when Olive cut a red light and gifted the win and a place in the A final to his rival Xiberras.
Read joined Xiberras in the A final after taking the laurels against Harris. Both cars struggled with grip. Read dropped a cylinder on impact and was also forced to lift approximately 800 feet. Harris also had his hands full after smoking the tires and throwing a belt.
Despite dropping a few cylinders, Newby continued to account for Lamattina and Dixon on the solo clocked 3.94 after dropping a cylinder 1.9 seconds into the run.
The finals were played under much improved conditions. The air temperature was a sultry 80O F, and the track surface dropped to 105O F.
The Read v Xiberras A final was over quickly.
Xiberras led off the green, threw a belt and cruised to the finish line with a 3.84 to claim a long-awaited victory. Read dropped a cylinder on the hit, but he fought on wildly until closing around the three-quarter track.
The B final saw RAI team mates Newby and Dixon in the lurch, chasing third place on the podium.
Newby was first off the line and was in front after the eighth mile when Dixon took the lead and went on to win.
“In all the time I’ve been racing open-wheel drag cars, this is the first time I’ve ever been on the podium to finish third. It’s unbelievable,” Dixon said. “I want to thank the Rapisarda family – Santo, his sons and Gianna – for calling me and allowing me to race in Australia. Thank you to the crew and vote holder Rob Cavagnino for giving me a great car. Santo has quite the collection of trophies, and I might have to wrestle with him to take home the trophy to finish third.”
The race between LTFR teammates Olive and Lamattina was an anti-climax when the Lamattina car was a no-show.
“We’re scratching our heads about this one,” Lamattina said. “We tried to get out there, but it didn’t happen. We didn’t have time. It is not good to rush things because that is when things go wrong. We will return to the shop and work it out from there.”
West Australian Doorslammer star Kelvin Lyle dominated the weekend with two wins.
The first came during the second round of qualifying when he claimed a massive hole-in-one win over fellow West Australian John Zappia in the A final held over from the Willowbank Racecourse meeting three weeks earlier.
Earlier in Q2, Lyle stamped his authority on the field, stopping the timers with a 5.72 to lead Zappia, highly seasoned Daniel Gregorini, then locals Emilio Spinozzi and Geoff Gradden.
Lyle’s passage to the A final included a first round solo followed by a comfortable win over Northern Territory racer Matt Abel. Lyle’s reaction time was a sluggish .11 sec. Still, he was able to run a 5.80, the best of the round.
Gregorini cruised to the trophy after leading all the way against veteran Peter Kapiris and then a come-from-behind victory over local Craig Hewitt.
In the A final, Lyle was first on the green and led all the way to defeat Gregorini. Zappia drove around Spinozzi to take the win in the B final.
“I couldn’t have written it better,” Lyle said. “I wanted to win the Willowbank round to honor the memory of Sam. To then go on and win today was the icing on the cake. The track was tough and hot all day and fortunately came around a bit for the final.”
The surprise package of the meeting came in the form of Peter Kapiris. Returning to racing after an eight-year absence, he finished seventh. A defeat to Gregorini, then a solo, put the jovial Kapiris in the C final against respected local Geoff Gradden.
Kapiris chased his rival out of the blocks and inherited the lead when Gradden
losing traction allowing Kapiris to score a fairy tale victory.
“The win was great,” says Kapiris. “We had a fantastic weekend. So many supporters came to wish the team well. We came here with absolutely no expectations. I did a few runs and got my groove back, then my tuner Jeff Cutajar said ‘let’s try some things.’ He has. Bang. Off we went and won.”
Pro Mod attracted five entries. Category leader Jeremy Callaghan qualified best, defeating second qualifier Neil Murphy in the final.
HONORING SAM FENECH – The meeting featured several emotional tributes to Doorslammer racer Sam Fenech.
Many teams wore commemorative Sam Fenech Tee shirts instead of their usual race team shirts this weekend.
FULL HOUSE – Whether it was to honor the memory of Fenech, the appearance of Top Fuel at Sydney Dragway for the first time in 12 months, or the lure of discounted entry fees, the meeting attracted a capacity crowd and forced officials to close the gates close
NEW WHEELS COMING FOR LYLE – Door slammer star Kelvin Lyle drives the team carrier across the country to Western Australia, then flies to Buffalo, New York to be fitted for a new set of wheels from G-Force Race Cars. The car will arrive in Australia later this year and is likely to debut in the first round of the 2023-2024 season.
USA GUESTS IN THE HOUSE – Dixon and Jim Oberhofer are joined by veteran NHRA tuner Glen Mikres, spotted in the Dixon pit.
DIXON DIXON left Australia 36 hours after the race and headed to his hometown of Indianapolis in time to see his sons’ basketball game on Monday night. The next morning he flew to Gainesville to help a driver upgrade their license to Top Fuel. Three days later he returns to Indy.
OBERHOFER’S SUMMER BREAK – After four weeks in Australia on a working holiday with Jim Read Racing, Oberhofer left Australia two days after the meeting on his way back to family in Texas, then to North Carolina to help the Rick Ware Racing Prepare Fuel car to be driven. by Clay Millican in the 2023 NHRA Camping World Series.