Every year I tend to think of Santa Pod’s Main Event as soon as the calendar gets to the middle of May. The anticipation rises knowing that a new FIA European Drag Racing season is approaching and come the traditional bank holiday weekend at the end of the month – it’s time!
Throughout both the FIA car and FIM bike classes there was a really strong and competitive entry list for the meeting. Including Top Doorslammer, a class I have never seen race before, running as a non-championship exhibition class for the weekend.
As Sunday was prolonged due to being affected by the weather, Saturday turned into the better qualifying day. Many of the stronger qualifying performances were run on Saturday, none more so than when Finland’s Anita Mäkelä (3.870 at 311.38mph) and the UK’s Liam Jones (3.893 at 312.16mph) produced the quickest and fastest side-by-side Top Fuel race ever seen in Europe. A great spectacle for the fans and also impressive given it was only their second official passes of the new season.
I thought a few times during the event that it seems like the teams and the Santa Pod track crew are getting a greater handle on the new concrete track. Of course this is a hugely positive sign for the future of the Pod in terms of the quality of the racing.
The stand-out feature of the Top Fuel entrants for the Main Event was that we had an 8-car field made up of four men and four women. As so many sports have such a strange problem with gender, one of the things that has always made me proud of Drag Racing is how far ahead of the game it is – and has been for decades – regarding gender impartiality.
Judging by how well many of the teams were going and hitting good numbers straight away, it looks like being an exciting Top Fuel Championship this year. Four of the cars were qualified in the 3’s. The aforementioned race between Mäkelä and Jones placed them as the top two, then came Stig Neergaard of Denmark with a 3.917 elapsed time (new personal best) at 301mph and Switzerland’s Jndia Erbacher clocking 3.945/302mph (also a personal best and her FIRST 300mph pass!). Not far away in the 4.0’s were Susanne Callin from Sweden (4.019/299mph) and Norwegian Maja Udtian (4.054). I was especially pleased to see Callin back in European competition. Having first seen a teenaged Callin race a Top Fueller back in 2002, I know what a good driver she is and it was obvious to see that taking a few years out has not affected her ability at all.
Number 1 qualifier Anita Mäkelä stormed into the final during Monday’s eliminations by first beating Sweden’s Micke Kågered then Erbacher in the semis, with a couple of 4.0 passes that were still a little off her qualifying performance, albeit early shut-offs. Jones was the driver hitting the big numbers. In the first round he ran a strong 3.891/311mph to defeat fellow Brit Tethys (who himself ran a stout 4.037), then in the semi-final Jones went 3.940 at 305mph… but was eliminated by a red light. In the other lane, Udtian reaped the rewards of the error to complete a great weekend for her and reach her first FIA Top Fuel final.
By the evening the stage was set for an all-female TF final. The second in a row for the European Championship after Mäkelä and Erbacher had lined-up for the final at last year’s Euro Finals. Udtian’s event was finished early (by about four seconds!) when her dragster engaged reverse as she tried to stage. It would have taken some effort to beat Anita Mäkelä, who blasted down the track unopposed to a new European record of 3.842. This was one of the best Top Fuel runs I have ever seen and was made even more impressive as the speed was only(!) 296mph, showing the car was clicked off a bit before the finish line.
Top Methanol continues to disappoint with the low entry numbers. Notable by their absence were the team from Germany of brothers Dennis (reigning TM Champ) and Timo Habermann. I have read that one factor in them deciding to not stress over doing the whole Championship was suffering an unfair reprimand from an FIA official during last year. Let’s hope that the recently announced greater FIA involvement in the European Drag Racing Championships does not equate to stricter implementation of certain rules. It’s difficult enough for these teams to travel and race across Europe as it is!
For this opening Championship round there were only three cars and in eliminations the two TM Dragsters of Malta’s Monty Bugeja and Jonny Lagg from Sweden squared off. Bugeja took the win light with a 5.505 pass to beat Lagg, who had to pedal and slowed to a 5.790 losing effort. In the final Bugeja ran an improved 5.451 but was defeated on a holeshot by Belgium’s Sandro Bellio, who took the sole TM Funny Car in attendance to a 5.533 event win and an early title lead.
The Pro Stock class had six drivers competing who all hail from Sweden. I hope they each appear at every round as it will make for an interesting and competitive Championship battle. The headline was the return to full-Championship mode for ten-times Champion Jimmy Ålund.
Ålund narrowly missed out on the top spot in qualifying as his 6.575 was pipped to number 1 by veteran Michael Malmgren’s 6.573 (new personal best). Defending European Champ Bengt Ljungdahl was placed third with a 6.611 time.
In the first round Ljungdahl used a 6.621 to chase down Robin Noren (6.647) and just got to the line first by 0.001 seconds – great Drag Race! The Champ then red-lit away his semi-final to Ålund, who advanced to face Malmgren in the final.
Ålund took victory when his 6.596 got the better of Malmgren, whose car got out of shape close to half-track trying to keep up. This brought a close to what was a good meeting for the Pro Stocks with some very good and close racing. It’s that type of racing that makes the class exciting and I’m looking forward to that theme continuing throughout this season.
Most noticeable about the Pro Mod weekend was that 24 cars made a qualifying pass. It has been a long time since I have seen that many Pro Modifieds at Santa Pod and long may it continue. Also of note was that by the end of qualifying, 10 of the 16-car field were in the 5-second zone. Highlighting the strength in depth of this Championship.
Taking the top spot in qualifying was Dutchman David Vegter with a fantastic 5.804 (a personal best) with a rebuilt engine. Second came Jan Ericsson from Sweden clocking 5.844 (also a personal best), Ericsson had a really solid meet running consistently in the 5.8’s. Third place went to Swede Andreas Arthursson (5.865), the European E.T. record holder was making his Santa Pod debut and I was excited to see him and hoped he would run well. Arthursson went even quicker in round one of eliminations with a time of 5.819.
A familiar Pro Mod occurrence was multiple Champion Micke Gullqvist from Sweden earning the winner’s trophy. He had some luck and was getting used to some new parts in his supercharged Camaro but still ran well enough to qualify sixth with a 5.917. Along the way during eliminations he was given a bye run because Ericsson broke (that would have been a good race!) and twice faced drivers red lighting, including in the final against the “Green Goblin” of fellow Swede Mats Eriksson. In that final Gullqvist stormed to a 5.835 at 245mph, proving to his rivals that it is not a good idea to keep giving Gullqvist and his team track-time. They will figure things out!
Watching a class for the first time is always exciting. Especially when they put on a great show! The Top Doorslammers were a fun addition to this year’s Main Event. Included among the entrants was Andres Arnover from Estonia. I wanted to give a mention to Arnover and his team as I do not recall seeing a racer from Estonia at the Pod before and it’s great whenever a new nationality is represented. Unfortunately Arnover’s meet ended early when the motor broke but I hope he comes back to race here again.
Top Doorslammer is normally run over the 1/8 mile; the thing that attracted most teams to this event I think was the opportunity to race over the full ¼ mile. Some strong times were getting put down and the strongest in the class was Sweden’s Mattias Wulcan who produced a number of 5.6-second elapsed times with the best run being an ultra-quick 5.647 at 256mph. Indeed, Wulcan’s is the quickest and fastest door car I have ever seen and he looked unbeatable. Until the final…
Wulcan lined up opposite Caroline Strand, also from Sweden. Strand had herself reeled off a few 5’s over the weekend and used a 5.942 to defeat Wulcan as he fought to keep his car away from the wall and had to slow before the end. Good driving by both as Strand was slightly out of shape too on her way to the finish line.
The order of the day in eliminations for most of the bike classes was the number 1 qualifier going on to get the event win. In Top Fuel Bike Rickard Gustafsson became one of the highlights of the weekend as he fired a number of awesome 5-second runs to dominate the meeting. He shouldn’t have it so easy all season but it was great to see Gustafsson on such good form as he has come back from a heavy crash suffered last year.
Denmark’s Marcus Christiansen was the star of Super Twin. I really enjoyed the fact that so many Super Twins were making fast passes as the numbers have dwindled a little during some recent years. Despite the competition, Christiansen’s performance was ahead of everyone and he dipped into the 6.3’s on his way to victory.
Much like Gustafsson in TF Bike, the Super Street Bike event was dominated by the UK’s Steve Venables. He was the quickest in almost every session with consistent 6’s and twice setting a new European E.T. record, culminating in the final where he posted a stunning 6.854 at 213.90mph.
In Pro Stock Bike the number 1 qualifier was Finnish rider Fredrik Fredlund, but he was untimely put on the trailer with a serious breakage. This left Fredlund’s countryman Janne Koskinen to take the win. I had not seen Koskinen race before and I liked watching how his bike improved during the course of the meeting.
As is always the case the racing provided top entertainment in every category including right the way through all of the bracket classes. Off the track, the atmosphere in the pits was excellent and being able to talk with many of the drivers is a great experience. Among others I spent some time chatting to Caroline Strand and her team, who were all in understandably good spirits after winning Top Doorslammer. These chances to congratulate teams on their victories often feel like such a genuinely nice moment and you can see how pleased they are when all the hard work gets rewarded.
Thanks goes to Eurodragster.com for all of their wonderful event coverage. The 2019 Main Event was a good one. Another Championship year is underway and already drivers like Mäkelä and Gullqvist look in ominous form. Will we see some really close Championships or will someone break away from their respective pack? I cannot wait to see how it all plays out.
Now, I’m off to campaign for male equality in European Top Fuel racing!