I recently decided to add posts to this blog that concentrate on what I consider to be a “Golden Era” in the respective European Drag Racing Championships. I thought it would be a great way to look back at some of the most exciting and closest years of racing we have seen in Europe. Those times where meetings were extremely hard to predict as the first round of eliminations would throw up pairings that could easily be the final round on another day. In the case of some classes it may be difficult to pick just one era.
I’m going to begin with Top Methanol Funny Car. Mainly due to the numbers sadly declining to the point where the class has now been merged with Top Methanol Dragster for 2017. I really hope to see the entrants pick up once more so the class can have its own Championship again in the future.
Top Methanol Funny Car – 2000 – 2002
Throughout 1998 and 1999 the Top Methanol Funny Car class was dominated by perennial drivers Leif Andreasson and Micke Kågered. The two Swedes were the stand out performers and their closely fought rivalry was such that they shared a European title each in that time. When 2000 began there were a larger number of teams competing in the whole Championship and producing quicker runs on a more consistent basis.
Fellow Swedish racers Leif Helander and Ulf Leanders along with Urs Erbacher from Switzerland and Dutchman Lex Joon had become event regulars and were all making improvements to their elapsed times, meaning each round of the Championship had become more exciting and far tougher to win. No longer was this a two-horse race; the increase in quality within the class meant that by the time the 2000 season was over, Europe saw its first all 5-second Top Methanol Funny Car qualifying field.
More teams finding ways to go fast meant consistency in eliminations was hard to come by. At various times in the five-event Championship Kågered, Leanders, Erbacher and Helander all made final round appearances. Despite the added depth to the category, Andreasson was the one driver who remained consistent right through the year, rising to the challenge and regaining the Championship.
The 2001 season saw the teams hailing from Sweden continue to head the standings over the course of the year. But this time the Andreasson-Kågered hold on the top two spots was broken by Ulf Leanders, who earned a couple of event wins and split them to claim the overall runner-up place.
On eliminations day at the 2001 European Finals at Santa Pod, those top three guys were joined by countryman Helander in winning through to the semi-finals. The event as a whole is an all-time favourite of mine and one of the highlights was watching Top Methanol Funny Car. In the morning’s first round Kågered set a new European record with a 5.799 run (Europe’s first 5.7), but it was Leanders winning the day beating first Andreasson in the semis and then blasting to a 5.816 to overcome Kågered’s sub-par effort in the final, proving his worth as a real contender. The event win was not enough to stop Andreasson from walking away with another European title.
During 2002 Top Methanol Funny Car saw regular 5.8-second passes – and a few 5.7’s – from the top guys. This “Golden Era” culminated at the 2002 European Finals, where four drivers entered with a chance at winning the Championship: Kågered, Joon, Erbacher and Andreasson. Leanders and Helander were there too but were out of title contention. Adding further strength to the entry list were two more drivers who joined the 5-second club in 2002: Swiss veteran Dezsoe Krivan and Jörgen Johnsson from Sweden. There was no doubt whoever came out of this one the Champion would have earned it, and it proved to be an exciting weekend.
In qualifying, Andreasson showed he wasn’t going to give up the number 1 easily, topping the standings with a 5.728 pass that, at the time, was the quickest ever in Europe. Erbacher was right behind him with an E.T. of 5.784 and in the 5.8’s were Joon and Kågered in third and fourth respectively.
By this time Kågered was an established Top Fuel driver, as well as running his Top Methanol Funny Car. Racing in two classes was tough, but at the start of eliminations on Sunday he still had the TMFC points lead. His title chances took a big blow when he suffered a huge crash going through the finish line in his Top Fueller in first-round eliminations. He avoided serious injury but had to be taken to hospital. Of course, this put him out of Top Methanol Funny Car action too and his rivals set about reeling him in.
Andreasson’s chances of retaining the title fell with a shock defeat in the first semi-final to Britain’s Steph Milam. The second semi was a big one – Joon vs Erbacher. Both men still had a mathematical chance of overhauling Kågered. Off the start line Joon got out of shape and gave best to Erbacher, who charged into the final with a 5.829 run. One of many solid passes for Erbacher during the meeting.
This would end up being the closest FIA European Championship of all as when the final rolled around, Erbacher took the event and went even quicker, running 5.790. With this win he had finished completely level on points with Kågered…the Championship went to count-back! In this situation it was decided on Kågered and Erbacher’s head-to-head record, which showed the two had met twice that year and Kågered had won both races. So despite spending most of the day in hospital, Micke Kågered was European Champion once again.
It should be noted that as much as I will always wax lyrical about the strength of this three-year period in TMFC, Leif Andreasson and Micke Kågered were the only names winning the Championship. Showing just how good these two drivers and their teams were.
In 2003 some drivers moved on to new challenges. Leif Helander and Lex Joon moved into Nitro Funny Cars, Joon would go from there to race in Top Fuel and win the European Championship in 2005. Kågered decided to focus solely on Top Fuel and has a couple of official titles to his name – he is still racing in the class and chasing more Championships. Urs Erbacher stayed in TMFC for a few more years and grabbed his first Championship in 2003, in fact he made it a hat-trick by dominating between ’03 and ’05. In 2006 he also made the move to Top Fuel, where he has raced ever since, collecting three European crowns in that class too and running some of the most impressive Top Fuel passes ever seen in Europe.
Of the drivers who stayed in Top Methanol Funny Car, Ulf Leanders finally got his first European title in 2006. He and his team have always been among the strongest in the class and over the years he has amassed a total of four. Leif Andreasson has been the stalwart of TMFC and by adding Championships in 2012 and 2015, his total of five European Championships is the most in the history of the class.
All of these legendary drivers mentioned in this blog post have won multiple races and Championships in various classes. For those few years in Top Methanol Funny Car they all competed against each other.
And it was awesome!