The nitro sights and sounds of New Years Thunder at Willowbank Raceway this Saturday, January 6 won't be contained to the ground-shaking Top Fuel dragsters.
Mixing up the volatile nitromethane fuel on only two wheels will be Queensland's Chris Matheson, taking on Western Australia's Mark Drew in a series of match races for the ages.
Matheson has been the quickest motorcycle drag racer in Australia for almost five years, ever since his personal best time of 6.04 seconds set at Willowbank Raceway in March 2013. An advance of a mere five hundredths of a second would make him the first rider in Australia to dip into the 'fives', but even small margins don't come easy when you are pushing 1500 horsepower.
“Fives would be nice, we are always trying to do that,” Matheson said. “We have been evolving over the last couple of years with new engines we have been running. Our bugbear is that we are struggling with the clutch. It is a never ending game of fine balancing the engine, the clutch and the track.”
The brutal four cylinder engine in Matheson's motorcycle has been reliable but he notes the team needed to throw out the playbook from their first years in the sport.
“The new engines are making a lot more horsepower and leave the line almost 1000rpm higher than what I used to leave at,” he said. “So all our old data is out the window and we need to get our heads around that. We have narrowed it down to the clutch and getting that combination right is our main focus this weekend.
“As far as the bike (chassis) itself, I have to say it is running on rails. The aerodynamic changes we have made make it a nicer bike at speed (over 350kph) and we have changed the brake package to include bigger calipers that stop the bike a lot better. We have reengineered the bike to make it perform all around.”
Matheson is looking forward to his encounters with Drew. The pair have a half dozen national championships between them and while Matheson has the quickest four cylinder bike, Drew rides Australia's quickest nitro Harley.
“Mark is always good competition, he is pretty consistent and he is leading the pack in the v-twins,” Matheson said. “He has got some help out this weekend to try and get him going even faster.”
That help would be Finland's Jaska Salakari, the world's quickest nitro Harley rider. Having run as quick as 6.01 seconds, Salakari is confident he can give Drew the horsepower needed to run some amazing times.
“Jaska's nitro bike is slightly different to the bikes we run in the Australian world of nitro Harleys,” Drew said. “But he is bringing a fuel system the same as he runs on his bike, which is different to anyone else in the world.
“I have asked Jaska what he thinks we could achieve when he comes to Australia and his reply was 'first a personal best, then a world nitro Harley record'. Pretty cool, I reckon.”
New Years Thunder at Willowbank Raceway on January 6, 2018, will feature a smorgasbord of drag racing action, also including the earth-shaking, 500kmh Top Fuel dragsters, Pro Slammer, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Bike in the 400 Thunder Professional Drag Racing Series as well as Supercharged Outlaws, Pro Radial, Extreme Bike, Top Sportsman, Super Sedan, Super Street and Super Gas in the 400 Thunder Sportsman Drag Racing Series.
Spectator tickets are available online at http://www.willowbankraceway.com.au/MembersArea/orders/choose_event.aspx.