VICTORIAN Top Fuel drag racer Phil Lamattina will drive at Willowbank Raceway for the first time since a terrifying accident when he competes at New Year's Thunder on January 4.

It was at the season-ending Winternationals in June 2015 where Lamattina had a 400kmh crash that brought about his temporary retirement from the sport. But time has a way of healing all wounds and it wasn't long before Lamattina and his family returned as team owners, where they won the 2017/18 400 Thunder Top Fuel Championship with Kelly Bettes at the wheel.

Now Lamattina is facing Willowbank as a driver once more, an opportunity he looks forward to.

"We've had a lot of success up there and I don't know why I love the place so much," Lamattina said.

"I can't wait to stare the track down and tell it it can't beat me. We have had so much success up there and I feel confident. I can't wait."

Lamattina's first laps back were made in October ahead of East Coast Thunder at Sydney Dragway.

He admitted there were some butterflies ahead of driving the 10,000 horsepower, 500kmh-capable dragster again.

"I was quite anxious, not nervous, just quite anxious actually and I had a little bit of doubt about the whole process," he said.

"There was a massive amount of mixed feelings and emotions. But once I jumped in and the car fired that was it, I was all good. That part there was like riding a bike, I was like, 'Okay, this is what it is all about'."

It hasn't taken long for Lamattina to be back on the pace. Before his temporary retirement, his best run over 1000 feet was 3.91 seconds. In his return at Sydney Dragway, Lamattina hit a 3.85.

"It smashed my personal best out of the park," he said.

"It seems like the cars are doing it so easy now, without leaning on the parts too much. The competition is really tight which keeps everyone on their game."

Lamattina said he feels comfortable in the driver's seat already, and for that he credited car builder, ex-pat Australian Richie Crampton. Crampton both builds and drives Top Fuel dragsters and Lamattina felt that experience in the design.

"You know the car has been built by someone who has driven," Lamattina said.

"Everything is exactly where you want it to be. It just feels so right and it is not uncomfortable in the car.

"They say it is like an armchair ride and it is, I don't feel like I am wrestling the steering at all."

Eager to improve on the opening round of the championship several weeks ago where he took a first round lose, Lamattina and crew chief Aaron Hambridge have some changes planned for the 'Carrot Kings' dragster before they get to Willowbank Raceway.

"We have changed a lot of stuff in the clutch can and with the way Aaron is running the car and clutch he is seeing big improvements in the conditions we have been dealt so far," Lamattina said.

"We want to speed up in the short times where we are still lagging behind the other competitors, but our back half is probably the strongest in the field. We will be trying to be the next one to the 3.7s."

New Year's Thunder is at Willowbank Raceway on Saturday, January 4.

As well as the 400 Thunder Top Fuel Championship, the event also features Pro Alcohol, Pro Stock and Pro Bike, plus sportsman brackets.

Tickets are available online at willowbankraceway.com.au or at the gate.



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