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One era ends, but the next is just beginning for Zappia

One of the greatest eras of domination in Australian motorsport came to an end last Sunday at Queensland’s Willowbank Raceway, where 11 times national Pro Slammer champion John Zappia finished runner up in the 400 Thunder Professional Drag Racing Series.

It has been a remarkable decade and a half for the driver of the Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Holden Monaro. When Zappia returned to the ANDRA Top Doorslammer Series in 2003, his competitors knew he was there to make an impression. In the first two seasons where Zappia chased all of the points rounds (2005-2007), he finished runner up in the championship. His breakthrough national championship happened in the 2007-2008 season and from there he would dominate ANDRA Top Doorslammer and 400 Thunder Pro Slammer racing for a decade.

Zappia led the points into the Winternationals, the final round of the 2017/18 400 Thunder Series, with Paul Mouhayet following close behind. Both cleared the first hurdle – qualifying into the record-quick field.

Zappia was the most consistent in qualifying, running 5.669 at 254.42mph off the trailer, followed by a 5.655 at 255.82 and a 5.672 at 255.82 in Q3. That placed the team third after Paul Mouhayet with a 5.653, and Steve Ham who top qualified with an impressive 5.652 in a field that had a bump spot of 5.80.

Zappia was matched up with fellow Western Australian Marty Dack for the first round and caught a lucky break when Dack red lit. That single lucky break had the potential to be a championship changer as shortly after launching, the Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Holden Monaro broke an airline to the gearbox resulting in not being able to shift gears.

“The battle could have been over right then with a mechanical failure,” Zappia said. “But Marty’s bad luck was our blessing.”

The semi final would be an epic, as Zappia took on Mouhayet in a race that would decide the entire championship. As a result of the slow elapsed time from the first round, Zappia lost lane choice – a critical factor at Willowbank.

“We changed ratios in our gearbox and stepped up the tune a little bit to take on Paul – this was a winner takes all race. I managed to cut a light and it was game on. I was in front and pulling away, but the difference for us from Paul was that I had the front wheels still in the air. The right lane hadn’t been good to many people and we found we had more traction on our left tyre than the right so the car moved right. I was waiting for the nose to come down because I knew to lift would be to lose. I stayed with it as long as I could but the wall was getting closer and I had to feather the throttle. I thought I just got away with it but I scraped up the exhaust headers and then it was time to push the clutch in, pull the chutes and watch Paul earn his first Pro Slammer Championship. Congratulations to Paul, his tuner Billy Stocklin and their whole team on a well-deserved title.”

After the race it was an unusual feeling for Zappia, who has made the Winternationals his own over the years.

“Now I know what it feels like to make that drive back when you have come so close and just missed the championships. But we put on a thrilling race for the crowd and now there is a real rivalry everyone can look forward to next season.”

Zappia is a competitor through and through and while bitterly disappointed not to win the championship, he realised the scope of his achievements.

“We’ve won 11 championships and gone runner up in three more – a couple of those came down to the very last rounds. It has been an incredible ride – and it is not over yet.

“I never thought when I returned to Top Doorslammer racing that we would have this level of success. We’ve always pushed performance boundaries, but in the old days we would only have one engine and failures used to take their toll.

“A new champion will be good for the sport and the level of competition in Pro Slammer is now unbelievable. There are four cars in the 5.6s and several others in the very low 5.7s. The pace has stepped up and this is the most exciting bracket in Australian drag racing right now.”

The start of the next season is just weeks away, with Pro Slammer teams heading to Hidden Valley Drag Strip for Nitro Up North on July 13 and 14. As well as performing all the necessary maintenance before the haul to Darwin, Zappia will be putting the Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Holden Monaro on display at the WA Hot Rod and Street Machine Spectacular at Claremont Showgrounds this weekend.

“We will be showing the car and we will also have our merchandise available including the new Biante models,” he said.

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Winternationals war is familiar territory for Zappia

John Zappia comes to the 2018 Winternationals prepared for a fight in the Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Holden Monaro.

Following a titanic duel with Paul Mouhayet this season, Zappia comes into the season-ending 400 Thunder event with a 16 point lead.

These kinds of battles are not unusual for the 11-times national championship winner. It was at the 2010 Winternationals where Zappia’s most hard fought championship win came. After going toe to toe with Robin Judd throughout the ANDRA Top Doorslammer season, the pair would meet in the final round with the outcome of the championship coming down to that last clash.

“I think I was four points behind going into the final run, even holding bonus points for low ET,” Zappia said. “We had to win that run to win the championship and that is what we did. Talk about a pressure situation.”

Thankfully pressure is where Zappia Racing thrives. Whenever challenged, the team has been able to find a way to improve, be that in the leagues of outright performance or for championship points.

“It is nerve wracking time but we have the experience of that. The whole Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots team deliver our best when we are under that pressure, we work better with pressure.”

Zappia has been paying attention to the performances of his rivals ahead of the Winternationals, with some impressive numbers recorded by Scott MacLean (5.57) and Paul Mouhayet (5.61).

“There were some pretty amazing low down numbers on Scott’s run in particular,” Zappia said. “It shows the rest of us that very low 60 foot times are possible with a 2700 pound car.

“We will see what kind of conditions we get for race weekend. The track was nearly perfect for testing and they had great air.

“I think we can go fast as well, our best at Willowbank was the 5.64 we ran at last year’s Winternationals before it was rained out.

“Drag racing is a sport where anything can happen. Scott was celebrating after his run and hurt his leg! So who knows what the Winternationals will see.

“What I do think we will witness is another 5.8 second bump spot for the eight car field – anyone who makes it into that field is going to be a threat on race day.”

Zappia Racing fans at the event seeking a rare collectible should make sure they come and see the team’s merchandise stand where the Biante 1:18 diecast model will be available.

“We are going to have stock at Willowbank but once they are gone, they are gone, so make sure you come and see us early,” Zappia said. “We will be at the track from Thursday setting up, which will be a great time to come and take an up close look at the Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Holden Monaro before we get into qualifying on the Friday.”

Photo courtesy dragphotos.com.au.

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Direct Link to Willowbank Raceway Web Site