The 2016 Winternationals has been run, won and gone for another year – but National Champion John Zappia is still licking his wounds after a bruising time at the big event.
Zap ended up Top Qualifier for the event, and got to Round 3 to finish equal third overall with Grant O’Rourke. But it was all the drama in the Zappia Racing pits that pushed Zap and the crew to the limits all weekend with two complete engines changes, a piston, rod and liner change and the final straw was a clean break of a brand new blower belt.
“It was a tough weekend for a lot of teams, and some having heart ache like us. Russ Pavey and Stuart Bishop both had bad crashes that put their cars out of action. Ours was engine damage that kept us busy, and eventually halted our Winters effort”.
“We came out in Q1 and laid down a nice 5.82 @ 246.70mph after I had to pedal – but as I lifted through the finish line the engine let go. That run put us at the top of the field with Belleri closest with his 5.86.”
“The air was very good at Willowbank. I think it caught a lot of teams out with their tuning – certainly caught me out”.
The Zappia Racing crew replaced the engine complete overnight and presented for Q2 where the Fuchs Monaro ran 6.11 @ 248.89mph to stay at number 1 – with Grant O’Rourke jumping to No 2 with a 5.84.
“We had an intermittent ignition fault on that run from the same mag that failed to start up in Adelaide – despite being sent away, tested and told it was ok. Was misfiring in first gear, but cleared for the rest of the run. We changed the mag back to our previous original one and was ready for the final qualifier with a tune up to go quick”.
“The car launched hard and carried the wheels for ever – it was really pulling hard when at the 1,000ft it laid over and I knew something had let go. Turned out a piston burnt and a valve had let go. We still went 5.77 @ 237.50mph to Top Qualify ahead of the 17 car field”.
“Back in the pits the engine was pretty sad with bits of rod, piston and gudgeon pin all through the motor. So we had another complete engine change to carry out. Our second spare engine was installed – one we haven’t run since 2012. We set that engine up ready to go in a hurry and went out for round 1”.
Round 1 Zap drew No 16 qualifier Mark Harris in the Willy Coupe, and had a lucky break after Harris was pushed back after the burnout. 300 ft out Zap popped the blower burst panel and coasted through for a 10.28 second pass for the win.
Round 2 saw one of the biggest runs of the weekend with returning local hero Victor Bray running Zap. After two big smoky burnouts it was Zap who came out victorious with a 5.857 @ 243.81mph to Victor’s 5.963 @ 243.63mph.
“I had to pedal early on that run as the car rattled hard. Turns out we melted another piston, so the crew where busy pulling the blower and heads off, changing a liner and piston and back out again for the next round”.
“The Semi final was representative of four quickest cars in the field – Belleri vs O’Rourke, and we drew Ben Bray. The car started up in the pits fine, but on the hit in the burnout the brand new blower belt snapped – putting an end to our Winter’s battle. That’s the second time this season I had to watch the race in front of me sitting in a silent car. It was symbolic of the whole weekend really, and nothing seemed to go right. Hopefully we have got that bad one out the way and we can regroup for the start of the next season”.
Belleri and Ben Bray got through to the final, with Mark taking the well deserved win 5.796 @ 243.63mph to 5.860 @ 244.52mph.
“That was a quick final pass by Belleri – congratulations to the team. The event was one of the hardest we have done in a while – the pit looked like a Top Fuel pit area with engines and carnage everywhere. We have had so many meetings where we just put plugs and oil in and sit around waiting for the next race – but with this class anything can happen – on and off the racetrack. Big thanks to the crew for their dedication and effort at the Winters and throughout the season”.
“That ends another season for Zappia Racing, and with an inaugural 400 Thunder Pro Slammer Championship under our belts, we must thank our naming rights sponsor Fuchs Lubricants who have backed us all the way this season again. We are proud to have given them another Championship that helps promote their great products we use in the race car, and get such good performance from”.
“Another big thank you to all our Major and Supporting sponsors and all our extra supporters who really get involved with the team with their specialist knowledge and products. So many good and talented people are in our inner circle brains trust, and it makes my life easier to bring it all together”.