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John Zappia and the Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Pro Slammer team have begun the 2018/19 400 Thunder season in the strongest way possible, taking home the win from Nitro Up North at Darwin’s Hidden Valley Drag Strip.
Zappia overcame mixed results in testing to find consistency for race day, where he defeated Paul Mouhayet in the final round with a 5.73 pass, as the Moits Racing Mustang headed for the centre line and an early shut off.
“For the first couple of runs in testing the Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Monaro blew the tyres off,” he said. “The first one I missed the burnout as there wasn’t enough water down but we left the settings the same and the track came to us for a 5.71. It was all over the track still, and I was on the verge of backing off, but I stayed on it and drove out of the slide much to my and the crew’s relief.”
Figuring the skating was down to a dew-covered race track, Zappia elected to keep his tune up the same for racing where he would first face Daniel Gregorini. A red light from the green Camaro saw Zappia’s 5.72 earn the win points and set up a match with rookie Emilio Spinozzi for round two. Another 5.72 did the job as Spinozzi spun the tyres, setting up a final round against Mouhayet, but smoke in the deep end had eyes on Zappia’s motor.
“After we went 5.72 in the first round I was too scared to touch the tune up as we had something consistent. Someone said the car looked smokey in the braking area. We did some leakdown tests and a couple of cylinders weren’t reading as well as they should have.
“We pulled the sump off to make sure there was no problem in the bottom of the motor, but it was clean, and even though the car smoked on the warm up for the second round we thought it would clear out for the run, which it did.
“Then before the third round we warmed up the motor and a cylinder on the other side of the motor started smoking! We knew we had an issue with some rings that needed replacing but with only an hour turn around for the final we had to leave it. It wouldn’t have been impossible to do but it would have been a lot of work and it was a big risk to take if we didn’t get the motor back together in time for the final.”
Zappia performed the burnout for the final round and the smoke from the exhaust resumed, creating quite the haze on track.
“I was backing up and I could see there was a heap of smoke from the engine mixed in with the smoke from the burnout, but all the gauges looked good and my brother Richard told the officials there was nothing leaking, and it was just a dodgy piston ring and it’s going to be fine, just like the last run.
“Maybe we looked like sitting ducks but as soon as we launched the smoke cleared up, it only seemed to smoke on vacuum. Through first gear I could see Paul outside but then in second gear I drove around him, I think he got really close to the centre line and got off it. My car moved around a little too, but we got to the finish line and got the job done with low ET of every round and the win.”
Darwin has had mixed results for Zappia in the past, with the unique weather and track conditions often throwing curve balls. But for now, Hidden Valley is back in Zappia’s good books.
“It turned out to be an awesome event, with new sponsor Muscle Car Warehouse welcomed aboard it must have bought us luck. We also had the owners of Crow Cams up here watching in the corporate box, they enjoyed the meeting and had a wonderful time seeing the Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Monaro back at the top.”
The next 400 Thunder Pro Slammer round takes place at Sydney Dragway on November 2-3.
Photos thanks to Phil Blondell and Craig Radcliffe.