A heated nitro championship battle will be decided in Darwin following an intense round five of the Burson Auto Parts Australian Top Fuel Championship, in front of record crowds at Heathcote Park Raceway.
The Summernats Slam was a new motorsport festival concept for Victoria, combining Top Fuel drag racing with burnouts, a show and shine and even fireworks.
Two days of racing began with qualifying and the completion of finals from round four of the championship, which had to be postponed due to cold track conditions at Sydney Dragway. A dramatic pedal-fest in the A Final saw Shane Olive clinch his first Top Fuel victory in the Burson Auto Parts dragster, halting Peter Xiberras in the PremiAir car.
Olive’s win was valuable not just for him, but also for his team mate Phil Lamattina, limiting how many points Xiberras could build his lead with.
Qualifying saw Damien Harris lead the way into race day at Heathcote, as the Rapisarda Autosport International team conquered the cool conditions. A 4.35 might not have created headlines at most championship rounds, but on a fresh track surface it was a pass to be proud of.
The first round of racing on Sunday saw Phil Read’s Hydraulink team taking on Olive. A solid 4.08 from Read set the Heathcote track record and grabbed the win light — but it would be traded between teams many times before the day was out. Just one pairing later Xiberras put the capacity crowd on its feet with a 4.01 to 4.04 victory against Wayne Newby to claim the record for himself, before Lamattina’s blazing 4.00 stole the mark once more against Harris.
Round two saw incredibly tight racing as every driver tried to find themselves a place in the A Final. A stunning Xiberras holeshot saw a slower 4.08 defeat a 4.05 from Harris, putting the pressure on Lamattina to match the pace in the following pair. Lamattina was up to the challenge in the Fuchs rail, as a 4.06 got by Olive’s 4.13 in an all-LTFR match. A 4.05 from Newby closed the round against Read in an odd match up, where a mistake by the starter saw Read red-lit from contention.
As twilight fell over an amazing weekend at Heathcote, just the finals were left for the 10,000 horsepower Top Fuel dragsters. Barely a soul left the spectator areas, as Victorian race fans lapped up all the nitro they could stand. Harris and Olive began the round with a C Final to remember, as a 4.005 from Harris set what would stand as the final track record for the day. Tyre shake trouble saw Olive brought back to Earth after his elation on Saturday. The B Final saw Newby stay consistent with a 4.03, as Read also struck tyre shake.
The Summernats Slam A Final had much at stake. With Xiberras taking over the lead of the championship by virtue of his round four performance, Lamattina needed victory if he was to close the points gap and keep the chase alive for Darwin. He was able to do just that in a wild, pedal-fest final, where a 4.43 proved enough for the Fuchs team against an early shut-off run from Xiberras.
“We had a couple of minor issues with the car before the final, and they were playing on my mind,” said Lamattina. “But I cleared my mind, and just did my job, don’t think too much, just drive, and I just drove the wheels off it. It got out there, shook, I pedalled it and it hooked back up, and I was just on it.”
Lamattina praised the entire LTFR operation for their efforts, which saw the team double up their trophies thanks to Olive’s round four win.
“A lot of effort goes into what we do, and it is great to reward Aaron (Hambridge) and the whole crew, especially Shane, who does a lot of work back at the shop full time. Thanks Fuchs, we had the managing director Wayne Hoiles out here yesterday, Burson Auto Parts, we can’t do it without them, and it’s absolutely fantastic,” said Lamattina.
Xiberras has a 20-point advantage over Lamattina heading into the final round of the season, the Darwin Triple Crown featuring Nitro Up North.
“We might not have taken the big trophy today but we advanced our championship position and that is what it is all about in the big scheme of things,” Xiberras said. “We are laser focused on making sure we can put together the best package possible in Darwin in a few weeks’ time so we can defend our Australian title.”
The ground-shaking Top Fuel show was matched by huge burnout displays, fireworks and more, with the motorsport festival leaving Victorian race fans in raptures. The enormous crowd presented its fair share of logistical challenges, but Top Fuel Australian event promoter Andy Lopez said it was important to recognise what had been achieved by Heathcote Park Raceway and its owner Lance Warren.
“Just a few months ago, it would have been impossible to hold an event of this scale at Heathcote, but what we saw from Lance and his team was nothing short of a miracle,” Lopez said. “We are so thankful to Lance for what he has created for Victorian drag racing and motorsport fans, and we cannot wait to return in October.
“We want to give a special thanks to the thousands of spectators who showed up to support the Summernats Slam. Between ourselves and Heathcote Park Raceway, we are going to work on the elements of event logistics that need improving and make sure the spectator experience is world class. This event was just the beginning — you’ll see so much more to come in what we believe will be a very special partnership between the Burson Auto Parts Australian Top Fuel Championship and Heathcote Park Raceway in the future.”
The sixth and final round of the Burson Auto Parts Australian Top Fuel Championship will take place at Darwin’s Hidden Valley Drag Strip on June 17/18 at Nitro Up North, as part of the Merlin Darwin Triple Crown featuring Supercars and the Australian Superbikes.
The Top Fuel teams will be joined in Darwin by those of the Australian Top Doorslammer Championship, who will be launching their brand new series alongside the nitro dragsters.