AFTER a break of more than three months, weíre about to go racing again, this time at Sydney Dragway for Gulf Western Oil Nitro Thunder May. The meeting is the penultimate round for all the 400 Thunder Pro classes, and thereís a lot on the line for the íSlammer teams. As it stands now, it looks like Paul Mouhayet and John Zappia will be fighting it out for the championship. Itís a real shame that local racer Sam Fenech and Western Australian Kelvin Lyle are both out of contention after suffering major crashes at the Sydney and Willowbank meetings back in January.
I feel Team Bray is overdue for a win, and hope it could be on the cards at Sydney. During the break weíve made some significant changes to the combination on Benís Corvette, and letís not write off the í57 TBR Chev. Iíve been working on a few ideas to get some more speed out of Ďold faithfulí. There have been times when we have toyed with the possibility of buying a combination from a Pro Mod team in the US, like many local teams are doing these days. For some, without a doubt, it has worked out well. However, we prefer to do our own thing. Sure, sometimes that has put us behind the eight ball, but we want to make our own decisions, and, yep, that also can mean making mistakes. I reckon that going down that track has served us well over the years and makes life much more interesting and challenging.
After the two sweltering meetings in January, teams will need to finesse their tune- ups. The curveball is that on the hot tracks Pro Slammers ran some fantastic times, so what does that mean when the track for the upcoming Sydney meet is likely to be way cooler and the atmospheric conditions are more favourable? The main areas youíd look at are making changes to the timing and fuel. In terms of power, the engine will make more than enough of that, so the challenge is getting it all through the tyres and to the track.
I think you will see most of the teams out there testing before the event. All will be chasing the elusive sweet spot where all the elements come together. With cooler conditions there is more oxygen in every cubic metre of air. The blower works better because the air is thicker; it seals better and is cooler in the inlet manifold and that means you need to put more fuel in the car. The more fuel you burn, the more power you generate. All teams have programs that calculate the correct amount of fuel for the given conditions. In the past you would normally take timing out of the car, but not these days. Conventional wisdom has been turned on its head. In the past five years the compression ratio has gone from 10:1 to 12:1 and the inlet and exhaust heads have got better. We canít change overdrive, so it boils down to ignition timing, and thatís the main area where increases in ETs and speed have been happening in recent times. Over the past few years manufacturers like MSD and Electrimotion have developed timing control boxes that allow the tuner to make changes to individual cylinder timing in one-tenth-of-a-second increments, anywhere on the run.
The meeting could see performance levels go through the roof. Two or three years ago, if you said a íSlammer would be running 5.60s, people would have laughed at you. Not anymore. These days half the field is running those times; in fact, if you donít run a 5.70, you are unlikely to qualify.
There will a lot of teams out there testing the limits and pushing the boundaries. Some will be prepared to destroy an engine if thatís what it takes to win. Thatís a major factor in the escalating costs of Pro Slammer racing today, and is something I want to explore next month.
You can see parallels with what the Pro Mod guys are running in America. For example, at the NHRA Gatornationals, the top six all qualified in the 5.6 zone, and over the weekend five ET records were set. Stevie Jackson, who finished runner-up behind Todd Tutterow, set the lowest ET with a 5.64. Go back to the late 1990s, when Scotty Cannon won everything running 50 per cent overdrive and times were around 6.20, and youíll realise that whatís happening today is insane. One of the other reasons behind the drop in times and increase in speeds is that nowadays teams get to race more.
I was happy to see Daniel Gregorini take out his second Westernats title at the Perth Motorplex. He defeated John Zappia on a holeshot in the final. The meeting is one of the longest-running and most prestigious events on the Western Australian calendar. The east coast teams were invited; it was going to be an east coast versus west coast Slammer challenge, but that didnít happen because it wasnít financially viable for teams to travel across the country. The fuel bill to go from, say, Brisbane to Perth and return is around $8-10,000. Then youíve got to fly the team over plus accommodation, and on top of that you have the expense of running the car. Itís a shame, as the Motorplex is a fantastic facility and everyone loves racing there. Years ago, we had a tow fund to help offset the costs, but thatís not the case these days.
Hats off to the people behind Swan Hill Raceway that recently hosted an Outlaw Nitro Funny Cars meeting. The venue has bounced back after some major problems with the racing surface. Swan Hill is an ideal location to attract racers from South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. I would love to race there sometime in the future. To hold a round of the 400 Thunder series there would be a real boost for the sport and Iím sure that race-starved Victorian and in South droves. Australian s drag fans would come in droves.