Meremere Dragsters: Fast and furious holeshot
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New Zealand’s fastest motorsport rivalry was re-ignited at Meremere Dragway on Sunday.
In the quickest side-by-side Top Alcohol dragster race seen in New Zealand, Buckland’s Chris Johnston edged Anthony Marsh (Auckland) on a holeshot to win the Top Alcohol title at the Auckland Harley Davidson IHRA Nationals meet.
The fierce and friendly duel between Johnston and the father-and-son team of Tony and Anthony Marsh had been on hold for some 12 months following an engine failure in Johnston’s dragster.
The expired big-block Chev engine has been replaced with the latest Noonan supercharged engine, bringing a performance gain that suggests the battles with the Marsh Motorsport A/Fuel car will be closer than ever.
In Sunday’s final Anthony Marsh ran quicker at 5.414s/271.3mph against Johnston’s new personal best of 5.433s/262.9mph but winning was done on the start line with Johnston’s 0.042s reaction time giving him the advantage over Marsh’s 0.120s launch.
“It’s a rivalry that goes back a long way,’ said Johnston.
“Tony helps us and we push each other. I know he’ll already be over there [the Marsh Motorsport pit] thinking about how he’s going to beat us next time.”
Johnston said sorting the new combination has provided some head scratching.
“I’ve had to throw away all my notes from the Chevy and start all over again, figuring out things like how much clutch it needs,” he said.
The 464ci Noonan engine is smaller displacement allowing the car to run lighter and the engine is also lighter, changing the balance of the car.
“The Chevy probably had more torque but this engine makes more boost and the power is higher in the rev range. We’ve only made eight passes so far and I think there’s still a wee way to go.” said Johnston.
Marsh’s weekend highlight came in the cooler Saturday evening air with a new A/Fuel personal best of 5.343s.
The other side of the Kiwi Thunder Series Group 1 spectacle saw Top Doorslammer honours claimed by Upper Hutt’s Rod Benjes, who became the first repeat winner in the series.
Benjes made a solid 6.471s pass in the final and powered clear of Barry Plumpton’s nitrous 1968 Camaro, which suffered tyre-shake early in the run.
Jodey Irving (Bucklands Beach) powered his `88 Camaro to victory in the Top Street class. Picture/Colin Smith
It was challenging day for the DB Race Cars team with their Chev Beretta.
“The car is still not behaving itself as it should but we kept working on it and ran a 6.4 in the final,” said Benjes. “It was a thrash to get out there because we found a leaking main bearing seal before the final.”
Benjes will take a slim lead in the final round of the Kiwi Thunder Doorslammer series at Masterton on March 23-24.
An exclamation point was put on the meeting with New Zealand’s quickest side-by side Doorslammer race. Featherston’s Gavin Green (Pontiac Firebird) nudged his personal best to 6.223s/233.4m/h while Mark Bardsley (Camaro) clocked 6.258s in the other lane
The other big quarter-milestone on Sunday was on two wheels with an international twist.
Dallas, Texas racer Shane Eperjesi had been brought to New Zealand to assist Christchurch’s Phil Nunn with set-up advice on his Iowa-built Grothus Drag Bikes ProMod machine.
The bike has a 1755cc nitrous-boosted Suzuki engine and after some low-7s passes Eperjesi uncorked a 6.756s/191.8mph winning run in the Competition Bike final against Ray Pratt (Auckland).
It’s the first six-second motorcycle pass on a Kiwi track for anything apart from the Top Fuel bikes of Athol Williams and Australian visitor Jay Upton.