A tale of four champions, a double handful of Extreme Bikes, and 60 other dragbike racers at the Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway. Words: Mick Withers, Images: May Collin, Racing is Life
The Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway has become the home of the season-ending final round for all 400 Thunder Australian Championships, here’s the wrap from the 2018 event.
Professional classes allow racers to accrue points over the season. The more you earn, the more you get to include in your final tally. Bonus points are included for qualifying, low ET and top speed. It’s a good system that rewards effort. Under IHRA Australia sanction, the professional bike classes are Top Bike and Pro Stock Bike.
Competition Bike is a part of the Performance category with racers competing against class records. If a racer has a performance advantage at the start of a meeting, they get to keep it until the end of the meeting. Even if they exceed the ET or speed records, they are not penalized for doing better.
Modified Bike is a part of the Sportsman category where racers compete against self-nominated dial-ins that may be changed before each round to suit changing weather or track conditions.
In both Performance and Sportsman categories, points are earned at a number of meetings during the season but a cap limits a rider to only start the Winters with a maximum of 250 points.
At the start of the 2018 Winternationals, Top Bike racer Chris Matheson was the only dragbike racer with an unassailable points lead in his Championship. A final round win over Gavin Spann sealed Matheson’s 2017-2018 Australian Top Bike Championship.
PRO STOCK BIKE
Following the four preceding meetings, Corey Buttigieg and Maurice Allen started the Winters with 408 and 361 points respectively. For Allen to win the Championship, Buttigieg had to go out in the first round of eliminations, and Allen had to win the meeting.
The proverbial fairy tale came true and Allen ended the meeting with the 2017-2018 Australian Pro Stock Bike Championship. His final points tally of 466 better than Buttigieg’s 452 but it had all come down to the final, the very last Pro Stock Bike pass of the season.
Peter Puznik dominated the 2017-2018 Competition Bike season with two wins and a runner-up from the three completed meetings to fill his 250 points cap. Ken Collin was the only other Comp Bike racer with 250, his came from a win, a semi-final and a first round loss.
If either of these two broke, or failed to qualify — unlikely in an undersubscribed field — Blair Pennington, Chris Collin or Daryn Schuster could have won the Championship but they’d have had to win the meeting.
The way it played out was a Peter Puznik vs Ken Collin final. To win the Championship, Collin had to win the final. History shows that Puznik redlighted by .012-seconds while Collin ran a new PB 8.014 for the win and his first Australian Competition Bike Championship.
Wow. Just wow. At the commencement of qualifying, 11 Modified Bike racers were mathematically in the chase for the 2017-2018 Australian Modified Bike Championship – eight on 250 points, one on 230, one on 210 and the final one on 200. At the end of the second round of eliminations, 10 of those 11 had been eliminated.
The remaining racer was Sean Ricketts. He’d started the meeting on 230 and needed to score 70 more points to claim his first Australian Modified Bike Championship. The Sydneysider kept winning and equaled the second-placed racer’s total of 300 when he won his quarter-final race. A breakout in the semi-finals gave Ricketts a final score of 310, 10 clear of both outgoing Australian Modified Bike Champion Garry Kittle and Alan Annis.
Although not a Championship bracket in the 2017-2018 season, Extreme Bike was run at a number of 400 Thunder rounds. Under IHRA rules, any bike not running nitro can race in Extreme Bike. To date only one bike with wheelie bars has stepped up to have a go. Hopefully we’ll see a few more. A Pro Stock Bike with nitrous could be an interesting proposition.
At the end of the 2016-2017 season, Leonard Azzopardi owned both of the records at 7.215 and 201.49. In July 2017, Ace Edwards reset the ET record to 6.936 and became the second no-bar bike in Australia over 200. When the 2017-2018 season was declared closed, Ace was still the only one in the sixes but a few more riders had run 200 including Shaun Soboll who ran 202.36 in his final round defeat of Craig Edwards at the Winters.
Leonard Azzopardi holds the current speed record of 210.67.