Queensland has a reputation for delivering some of the best drag racers going in the Pro Alcohol class and the latest young gun is threatening the established names at New Year's Thunder on January 4, 2020 at Willowbank Raceway.
Jake Donnelly made the move to Pro Alcohol earlier in the year, licensing shortly before the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals in June. This season marks his first time chasing the full 400 Thunder season and it hasn't taken long for the 24 year old to make an impression.
Donnelly qualified third at the opening event of the 400 Thunder Pro Alcohol Championship at Sydney Dragway. He earned his first race win by knocking out Victoria's Rob Ambruosi in the first round, before falling to veteran Queenslander Steve Reed by just two hundredths of a second in the semi final, despite a personal best time of 5.562 seconds.
To continue to improve, Donnelly believed it was a case of building experience in what is his rookie season in the DBS Motorsport Camaro.
“I think a lot of (the reason for improving) has just been doing a few laps,” he said. “We’ve got a good brains trust on the crew with Graeme Frawley, Luke Marsden, and the rest of the crew. We are just making small tune up changes to the car as we go and I am learning to drive it better with every lap.
“The biggest thing I've had to learn was feet swapping for the pedal clutch. I’d only ever driven Crowerglide-equipped cars before.”
A Pro Alcohol Funny Car might come across brutish, but the breed requires precision driving to reach the quickest elapsed times, including manually balancing launch RPM on the start line and hitting the gear shifts perfectly to keep the motor in its optimum range. The driver must also make their actions repeatable to provide a reliable base for tuning.
“Trying to keep my driving consistent is the biggest thing honestly, and I am slowly getting there. There is a lot more in the process of driving this car than our previous ones.”
Like all of the other 400 Thunder championship brackets on show at New Year's Thunder, Pro Alcohol will be using the spectator friendly all-run format where all of the teams race three times during the night. Donnelly has not yet raced under the format in his Pro Alcohol Funny Car, but he said he did enjoy the very similar format used by the Aeroflow Outlaw Nitro Funny Car Series.
“Honestly I don’t have an opinion on it yet, as I haven’t raced the all-run format. I enjoyed racing in the Aeroflow series so I think time will tell, but it should be good. There’s no real different approach, we’ll go out there and try to go A-to-B consistently, and hopefully progressing as the night goes on.”
While a rematch with Reed would allow Donnelly to even the score, he's aware that formidable foes are everywhere in Pro Alcohol right now.
“It’s hard to say who the toughest opposition will be, it’s a competitive field and everybody entered has the capacity to go out and go rounds. Gary Phillips and Steve Reed are always going to be some of the hardest to beat, but hopefully we can continue on from Sydney and match it with them.”
New Year's Thunder takes place at Willowbank Raceway on Saturday, January 4. As well as the 400 Thunder Pro Alcohol Championship, the event also features Top Fuel, Pro Stock and Pro Bike, plus sportsman brackets. Tickets are available online at willowbankraceway.com.au or at the gate.