by Sean Henshelwood
QTR Tyre Professionals International Group A
Slade Stanley may have emerged the victor in the Group A category for his second world championship crown (he won his first world title in New Zealand in 2005), but whilst two wins from two starts suggests he had it all his own way, the reality was much different.
Having finished the final of the opening round at Temora with engine woes (the big truck air scoop on the carburettor had ingested some serious mouthfuls of water during his last run, restricting the outright performance of the boat, plumes of white smoke as he crossed the line a sign that all was not well), the Stanley team and engine builder Brian Cassar had their work cut out to be ready in time for the Melton final.
“It had done a couple of pistons,” Brian Cassar [MOE Engines] admitted. “We’ve tidied her up, and we should be right to get through the weekend.”
“There’s more damage than I expected,” a cautious Stanley admitted prior to his opening run. “There’s some hairline cracks in the heads and a few other things I’m worried about. We’ll just be cautious and see what comes, if need be I’ll sit out some qualifiers to conserve the engine.”
The long faces of the Stanley team became longer after the opening qualifier. Slade was second behind the man many believed would win the Melton round, Ted Sygidus. “Brian’s [Cassar] having a look now, but the power’s not there, it feels well off,” Slade frowned.
Fortunately for the team the issue was easily fixed, in their haste to have everything back together for Melton the distributor was replaced 12 degrees retarded. “She’s got her bark back,” Slade grinned at the close of day one where he held a five one hundredths of a second advantage over ‘big’ Ted.
A surprised and overjoyed third at the close of day one was Darek Sygidus, with Rohan Smith and New Zealand’s Andrew Guthrie rounding out the five.
Whilst the Triple X team were looking strong, they weren’t without their own issues on day one, and they almost didn’t make the second qualifier. “A welsh plug has come out in the back of the engine,” Darek Sygidus confirmed as Phonsy Mullan belted away in the back of the boat with a hammer. “We knew there was water in the boat, but it was cool because it was the closest welsh plug to the intake; we didn’t work out what it was until Ted was on the ramp; she’ll be right though.”
Possibly the biggest news of the opening day at Melton was the return of Chris Kent and Alan Carr in ‘Crazy Az’, the West Australian duo having repaired their new Sprintec after Carr’s high profile ‘off’ at Temora, an accident seen by the Australian public on Channel Ten the day after the event, and as far away as the US and the UK.
“We’re rapt to be back,” team boss Chris Kent admitted. “It’s been a big week and I’d really like to thank my crew, Tremayne Jukes for the work he put in to rebuild the boat and Peter Caughey for helping us get it back into some assemblance of order. “We won’t know if it’s 100% or not because we’ll be hearing and feeling different things and I guess in the back of our mind, we’ll always feel it’s not as good as it was when it was new. It’s frustrating, but we’re here and everyone’s okay, and that’s the main thing.”
Sunday dawned wet, overnight rain making the pits difficult to negotiate, but despite the less than perfect conditions, crowds continued to file into the venue and the smiles were wide on the faces of teams in the pits. It was money time…
Whilst the battle at the top of the timesheets continued to wage between Stanley and the Sygidus brothers, focus switched to the fight for a place in the top six.
As the day went on Reg Smith, Brooke Dixon, Jake Garlick, Shaun Dixon and Bevan Muir all crept towards a finals berth but none could break into the magic 46 second bracket to challenge the leading pair. By the close of the qualifying the advantage had returned to Ted Sygidus, the recently crowned AUS#3 determined to end the year on a high. Stanley was giving it everything he had, his final two runs both in the 46.2 second range; Ted stopping the clock in the fifth and final qualifier with a 46.122. Game on…
Darek Sygidus (47.433) continued to impress but it was Brooke Dixon (47.071) who blind-sided everyone with one of her trademark attacks in the final qualifier to post the third fastest time. Reg Smith (47.576) was fifth with teenage sensation Jake Garlick (47.951) an incredible sixth.
Other notable additions to the final 12 included kiwi champion Bevin Muir (48.194), the impressive West Australian Chris Farr (48.216), Andrew Guthrie (48.226), Shaun Dixon (48.326), Daniel Walton (48.455) and a frustrated Greg Mercier (48.566).
From Mercier’s perspective, he was at a complete loss as to what was going on with his lack of pace. “We finished the national championships on a high with second to Slade at Cabarita, and a Queensland title to boot, but I have no idea what’s happening this weekend. We found an electrical issue after the last round with the rev-limiter, but we’ve tried all sorts of things this time and the shark’s just not angry…”
Things were starting to heat up, and the pressure was on Stanley, the reigning Australian champion understanding that if Ted Sygidus won the weekend, then there would be a ‘play-off’ between the pair to settle who the world champion would be, with one final head to head run. Stanley wasn’t looking 100% comfortable with the thought, but he battled on and held the advantage at the close of the first elimination final with his best lap of the weekend; 46.145, it would be all he had.
Despite running the quickest lap of the weekend in the final qualifier, Ted actually dropped a quarter of a second in his run to post a 46.473. Brooke Dixon continued to improve, and retained third with a 46.956, Nathan Pretty’s world title winning navigator Lincoln Burns looking on approvingly from the pits, his mentoring clearly motivating both Dixons, Shaun also making the six with an impressive 47.502.
Fourth fastest was Darek Sygidus (47.477), with Reg Smith continuing his strong form in his new Stinger with fifth (47.482).
Sadly for Jake Garlick, he failed to advance, although his 47.622 saw him mere fractions of a second from a top six berth, whilst Bevin Muir too improved (47.982), but not enough.
Perhaps the best run in the finals though was reserved for Adelaide’s Dan Walton. Walton finished tenth in the national championships after a year of ups and downs (which included a baptism at the opening round at Melton where he submerged the boat during practice), his 48.222 in the final giving him ninth for the event, a worthy result for a team that struggles against the big budget teams, his drive proof of just how competitive he could be in top flight equipment.
Shaun Dixon was first out in the top six, and it was clear nerves were playing a big part, not unexpected considering this was just his sixth event in a boat. A clean lap saw the benchmark set at 48.172, a time well shy of his best - it wouldn’t be enough to advance him to the final. Reg Smith was next and the experienced campaigner improved once again to lower the mark to a 47.336. That looked to be good enough for entry into his second consecutive final, after Darek Sygidus just managed to shave a tenth off to drop the benchmark to a 47.295.
Then came Stanley, his 46.224 was fast, but slower than the time he posted during the top 12 elimination final suggesting again that this was all he had. It looked ominous. Should Ted Sygidus emulate his qualifying round form, he almost had it in the bag. You could feel the tension on the start ramp as Sygidus backed out for his run.
Stanley held his breath as Sygidus completed his lap; 48.172, almost two seconds slower than Stanley and the slowest time posted for the top six after Brooke Dixon set another stunning lap to drop her best to a 46.476 for a berth in the final.
As he pulled onto the trailer you could see the devastation in Ted’s eyes, he was shattered. “At the end of Dezi’s [Darek] top 12 run we found a problem with the rev-limiter and we thought we’d fixed it for my run. I knew when I got to the first corner that it was over, but I pressed on. It’s devastating, we were so close. We’ve fixed it now, so it’s down to Dezi to go out there and beat Slade for me. I know he can do it,” Ted shrugged.
For Stanley the title was his, but he still had a final to complete. Brooke was first out, and she set the bar at an impressive 46.619, down on her fastest run, but quick. Darek was next out, and a clean lap saw him drop almost three quarters of a second off his best time (46.513), pushing the ‘Princess’ back to third.
Then it was Stanley’s turn. He wanted the win, but it had to be smooth and fast; it was, 46.445 almost a quarter of a second slower than his best, but good enough for the win. That was all he had though, for the second weekend in a row, ‘Hazardous’ expired on the line, the 412ci Chev dropping a cylinder in the closing stages of the lap during its last run in the Group A category. It was enough though, the result giving Slade his second world title crown to top off a fantastic 2009 season.
“That was amazing,” he admitted afterwards. “We came too close again for my liking. I have to admit though Ted really pushed me. I actually thought it was him in the boat for the final and not Darek, so we took two jet sizes out of it to lean it right off because I knew I had to give it everything we had. I’m glad we made it and I’m glad we don’t have to face a shootout, because we wouldn’t be in it. I’m absolutely rapt to have ended the year this way and would love to thank my team and sponsors for all the effort they’ve put in to get me here.
“This is it for me, it’s Unlimited Superboat time next year. We won’t have the budget to run with the leaders, but we’ll fix and tweak the old girl and see what we can extract from it.”
Whilst a comfortable win in the end for Stanley in the world championships, the result by Darek Sygidus, Brooke Dixon and Reg Smith saw them finish the championship on equal second point. “I would never have thought that coming in,” Brooke Dixon admitted with her trademark grin. “We all worked so hard this weekend, and Shaun did a great job too (in the end his result classified him sixth in the world), I’m just so proud of the team.”
For Darek Sygidus too it was a great result, and he very nearly claimed the round win after playing second fiddle to older brother Ted throughout the year. “I’m rapt,” the local driver beamed. “I was devastated after Ted’s time in the top six because I felt it was partly my fault, but we just didn’t catch the problem in time. It was nice to run with the leaders for a change, it certainly gives us motivation heading into next year, it means we’re on target for a Triple X 1-2…”
QTR Tyre Professionals International Group A
1. Slade Stanley (NSW) – 80 points
2. Reg Smith (NZ) – 75
2. Brooke Dixon (VIC) – 75
2. Darek Sygidus (VIC) – 75
5. Ted Sygidus (VIC) – 74
6. Shaun Dixon (VIC) – 69
7. Jake Garlick (QLD) – 68
8. Chris Farr (WA) – 64
9. Greg Mercier (VIC) – 62
9. Bevin Muir (NZ) – 62
11. Rohan Smith (VIC) – 58
11. Baden Gray (NZ) - 58
11. Andrew Guthrie (NZ) – 58
14. Daniel Walton (SA) – 55
15. Robert Colman (VIC) – 54
16. Chris Bollins (QLD) – 49
16. Mark Garlick (QLD) – 49
16. Tremayne Jukes (VIC) – 49
19. Rodney Krause (NSW) – 44
20. Damian O’Leary (SA) – 42
21. Brooke Lucas (QLD) – 39
22. Mick Manini (VIC) – 38
23. Chris Kent (WA) – 37
24. Greg Harriman (QLD) – 34
25. Kevin Laugesen (NSW) – 32
26. Phil Wheelans (NZ) – 30
27. Blair Gibbard (NZ) – 27
28. Alan Carr (WA) – 25
29. Shane Loughnan (VIC) – 24
30. Darryl Squires (QLD) – 22
30. Kieran Krause (NSW) - 22