Sun, Crowds, crisp Queensland winter air, the smell of nitro, tight heads-up racing and plenty of action was the recipe of success for an epic weekend of racing at the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway. With more than $185,000 in prize money on the line, the competitors from all over Australia and New Zealand were there to give it their all.
More than 40 National and Track records were broken in front of massive crowds and the 2022 Winternationals went into the books as one of the most successful events in recent years in front of huge crowds over the weekend at the event and watching the event via Livestream.
Following a day of Sportsman racing on Thursday, Day 2 of the Winternationals saw plenty of world-class racing and Friday was a day of non-stop drag racing action from 364 entrants in 21 categories.
The introduction of the new Junior Bike category provided a promising addition to the sport. Junior Bike had six entrants, only one less than Junior Dragster when it started, and Junior Dragster now consistently has fields up to 50 or more. With the introduction and support of the Aeroflow Future Stars program, this category will only continue to grow.
Already a crowd favourite, the Top Fuel Funny Cars were set to put on a show at the event, and the class of the field was the Aeroflow team with Morice McMillin behind the wheel laying down an event best of 5.007 on the board, at over 500 kilometres an hour in an incredible show for the crowd.
At times, the cool night air made it difficult for the four Funny Cars to keep the power down on the track, however this seemed to add to the excitement within the crowd with each car having header flames well over the roof putting on a spectacular show for the fans. There is little doubt that these teams are set to enter a new era of excitement and fan engagement and Anthony Begley and Adam Murrihy set to join Morice McMillin as household names. Potentially, the biggest spectacle of the event was a huge engine explosion, which blew Tim McCarthy’s Valvoline Monte Carlo body straight up into the air.
It is a bittersweet moment for fans, with Justin Walshe announcing he is stepping out of Pro Alcohol and into Top Fuel Funny Car, joining Aeroflow crew chief Brandon Gosbell as the next drivers to enter the category, this is a category on the move and is certainly only going to grow stronger.
The other Pro categories were nothing short of spectacular.
A handful of brackets were run on an ‘All Run Format”, where points are awarded for wins, losses, and the quickest elapsed time over the whole event in order to crown a champion. This style allows for both the racer to have more runs and the crowd to experience more excitement from brackets such as Pro Alcohol and Pro Slammer.
This year’s event saw a number of different formats being able to be trialled due to the extended Championship Season. Both the Pro Alcohol and Pro Slammer categories competed, under a Race within Race format, with separate events being run on both Saturday and Sunday of the event.
Pro Alcohol also saw plenty of its own action, with the Pro Alcohol Cup on Saturday also setting the top 8 qualifying position for Sunday’s racing and the converted title of Winternationals Champion at Sunday’s elimination race.
The Pro Alcohol bracket was a battle of legends and racers looking to make a name for themselves in the semi-finals. The 2021 Winternationals champion Gary Phillips got the first win at 5.64 at 206 mph over Chris Hargrave, with a loud bang over the finish line to put him in yet another final at the Winternationals. With a small margin of victory, Steven Reed had the win over Justin Walshe with a 5.48 over a 5.56 to advance to the finals. Reed, as the most consistent racer of the weekend, as well as number one qualifier, was ready to take on Phillips, an opponent he had faced three times previously at this event. Instead, he ran a solo run while still giving it his all after Phillips was unable to turn the car around in time, halting Phillips’s run of four consecutive Winternationals victories.
There is little doubt that at this year’s event, Steven Reed was the class of the field, winning both the Pro Alcohol Cup on Saturday and the Winternationals on Sunday. Steven Reed laid down a number of incredible passes in Pro Alcohol, with his Monte Carlo running quicker and faster than he has before with an amazing 5.422 at 265 miles per hour.
Pro Slammer ran over the weekend under the 400 Thunder All Run Format, with separate Race within a Race being run for this bracket as well, with both the Pro Slammer Cup and Winternationals crown on the line a quality field of Pro Slammers fronted the event
Pro Slammer saw plenty of achievements and disappointments.
Steven Ham won Saturday’s Pro Slammer Cup running a pedalling pass to defeat Sam Fenech in his AC Delco Monaro’s last event.
The highlight of Saturday’s was a sensational pass by John Zappia, who returned to the Winternationals, and drove his wheelstanding Pro Slammer to the finish line riding on the wheelie bar well past half-track, with the multiple Australian Champion soared past the finish line with a time of 5.73.
After starting his career in Pro Mod, newcomer to Pro Slammer Rob Harrington, was overjoyed with finally breaking into the five-second zone, completely passing the 5.90s and going straight into the 80s with a 5.88 elapsed time.
The Winternationals win, went to an ecstatic Paul Cannuli with a near perfect side-by-side pass with Ben Bray, recording a 5.76 at 227 MPH in his ford Mustang with Cannuli on the throttle and finally achieved a gold Christmas tree for his team.
Pro Stock saw a quality field fight tooth and nail, over their four qualifying passes, which determined the qualifying order for Sunday’s All Run Format race and ultimately the Winternationals Champion.
Aaron Tremayne ran a solid 6.93 second pass at 197.33 MPH in the final to take the win, however all of the action was happening in the other lane with Nino Cavallo in his Dodge Avenger losing traction at halftrack which saw the car turn on him, flipping and hitting the safety barrier. Cavallo was able to exit his car relatively quickly and give the crowd a wave. While Pro Stock always puts on a show, the fans got more than they bargained for with this race.
Pro Mod ran under an elimination format with a small quality field of cars entered for the event.
It was a battle of the twin turbo V8s in the semi-finals of Pro Mod with number one qualifier Collin Willshire giving it all the power he had to take the win after Jeremy Callaghan lost traction. In the other semi-final, Greg Tsakiridis secured the win over Zoran Gajic.
In the final, Greg Tsakiridis took the win over Willshire with a 5.96 ET at 222 MPH.
The action on four wheels wasn’t the only spectacle at the event, in Top Bike, Chris Matheson ran one of his quickest passes at 6.02.
The Final of Top Bike saw Chris take on Mark Drew from Western Australia on his new Harley Davidson bike. Mark ran a 6.69 second pass to Chris’ 6.75 second pass in the final. Unfortunately, Mark hit one of the timing blocks in the deep end and was disqualified handing the win to Chris Matheson.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle category didn’t disappoint with Luke Crowley Top Qualifying with a 7.001 second pass just short of the magic 6 second barrier. In the final, Luke ran 7.16 at 185.10MPH to take the win over a brave Scott White.
In addition to Nino’s crash in the Pro Stock final and Tim McCarthy’s blow over, the event saw a number of serious incidents involving Rob Taylor, Bill Fletcher and Peter Gratz. We wish all of these competitors a speedy recovery and a quick return to racing.
A summary of the Sportsman Competition will follow this report.
Look out for the 55th running of the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals next year where the record books will again be thrown in the bin.