The Main Event kicks off a new season in the FIA European Drag Racing Championship

With less than a week to go, the 2017 FIA European Drag Racing Championship kicks off with The Main Event at Santa Pod Raceway. All drivers will start from zero again and they all have a fair chance of leading the championship in their respective categories after one race. But more important is the question of who will have that number one at the end of the season after six races. In  Top Fuel, reigning champion Anita Mäkelä will face some strong competition, but the same can be said about champion Michael Gullqvist in Pro Modified. Pro Stock will have a new number one at the end of the season as 10-time FIA European champion Jimmy Ålund will not defend his title. Top Methanol will see the first European champion in the new combined Funny Car and Dragster competition.

It’s becoming a tradition that FIA European drag racing championships are decided in the last race of the season. The 2016 FIA European Top Fuel championship’s fight was no exception to that rule. The title was won by Anita Mäkelä and the Finnish fan favourite is eager to win another title this season. The Finnish team invested in new AJP Stage 7 heads and will once again get tuning assistance from Dom Lagana and Jake Sanders.

Stig Neergaard was in the title race until the semi-finals of the European Finals and will do everything he can to finally get that number one on his car. The Dane will be extra motivated as he will fly the flag of Lucas Oil this season. Last year’s number three and 2015 champion Mikael Kågered is always a force to be reckoned with and this season will be no exception.

Rune Fjeld Motorsport has at least two title contenders on The Main Event entry list. Liam Jones, last year’s number four in the championship, proved to be fast, and with a bit more consistency he can go for his first race win and maybe the title. But maybe Duncan Micallef is the driver Mäkelä and Neergaard fear the most of all. With stunning numbers in the last two races of the 2016 season, the Maltese driver proved he can be a real threat when he can do the full FIA tour, and as Micallef has the funding to do so this season, you had better watch out if you want to win the title.

Antti Horto only did the Alastaro race last season, but the young Finn has more races on his calendar this season, including The Main Event, and surprised with great numbers in recent years. Special attention will go out to the Erbacher Racing Top Fueler at The Main Event. Urs Erbacher will not be in the car, but will be a nervous and interested spectator as his 22-year-old daughter Jndia exchanged her Nitro injected TMD for dad’s Top Fueler. First of all, Jndia will have to do her licence runs and if everything goes according to plan, she will also enter The Main Event qualifying and eliminations. Otherwise there is always the possibility that she will switch back to the TMD and Urs will race the Top Fueler. With seven cars entered, there is no pressure in qualifying for the 8-car field, so that might make the decision to wait until the last moment for this switch a bit easier.

At Tierp Arena the Swedes Stefan Gunnarsson and Björn Mårtensson will be back in action, and especially Gunnarsson can destroy championship dreams as he did last August with stunning 3.9-second elapsed times. Janne Ahonen will enter the series at Alastaro.

Top Methanol, one champion

Johnny Oksa and Jonny Lagg were the 2016 FIA Top Methanol Funny Car and Top Methanol Dragster champions, and for the foreseeable future, they will be the final ones. Starting this season the Funny Cars and Dragsters will race together in one category. As the Dragsters are a bit quicker, the Funny Cars will receive a 0.26-seconds head start on the tree and to determine the positions in qualifying, the index of 0.26 seconds will be subtracted from the Funny Cars elapsed times. It will be very interesting to see how this works out. Top Methanol has seven entrants at The Main Event and that is much better than expected when the combined competition was announced.

Two Funny Cars will face five Dragsters at Santa Pod Raceway. Reigning TMD champion Jonny Lagg will also try to be the first overall FIA European Top Methanol champion, but will get extremely tough competition from the Habermann brothers, Timo and Dennis. The German Werner Habermann Racing team found a great new partner in Mitsuboshi, a leading manufacturer in the market of automotive and industrial belts and their components. One of their main products is the Star Racer blower belt and the two dragsters look great in their new livery. It goes without saying that Timo and Dennis are always race and title favourites when they enter a race or a championship. Rod Harrison is also back in TMD and will be the home favourite for the many British fans.

New to the class is 17-year old Petteri Liimatainen. After a career in Junior Dragster, two trips to the States to obtain his licence, and a rain interrupted season in Super Comp/Super Pro ET,  the ‘Boy Racer Finland’ will have his first ever Top Methanol race in England. But before Liimatainen can enter the race, he will first have to complete his licence runs in the days before The Main Event. It’s great to see young drivers like Liimatainen enter the European Championship.

The same can be said about Sandro Bellio, as the 31-year-old Belgian driver will also have to upgrade his Super Pro ET licence before he can enter his first ever Top Methanol race. Sandro Bellio will replace his father Danny in the family’s Danny’s Racing Team Chevrolet Monte Carlo, as Danny is still recovering from surgery he had to undergo last November. Last but not least Stephanie Milam will be back in her favourite class and will at least try to run new personal bests.

At Tierp Arena Mikael Larsson, Jürgen Nagel and last year’s runner-up in the FIA TMFC Championship Ari Pietilä will rejoin the tour, while reigning champion Johnny Oksa will only be at Alastaro, as the popular Finn wants to spend more time with his family this season.

At Tierp Arena Linn Engan Karlsen will make her FIA championship debut behind the wheel of the ex-Arvid Grødem Ford Mustang. The young Norwegian racer made some runs at Gardermoen in the last couple of years, but she will now have to face some strong competition.

A new champion in Pro Stock

With the absence of 10-time and reigning champion Jimmy Ålund, Pro Stock will have a new number one at the end of the season. Favourite is of course last year’s runner-up and European record holder Bengt Ljungdahl. Michael Malmgren and Thomas Lindström have multiple FIA European championships to their name and are eager to win another title.

Robin Norén will have his first trip with a Pro Stock car to Santa Pod and it’s great to see young drivers enter the full championship tour in this class as well. Simon Gustafsson makes a welcome return, while Magnus Petersson returns to what has been a track of mixed results for him. Stefan Ernryd will have his first outing in the bright green colors of his newly signed main partner Dico by Belgetti. The Swede brings the number of Pro Stock cars at Santa Pod to an excellent seven.

But what about the Tierp Arena entry list? At the second race of the season Hannu Kalliomäki, Tommy  Leindahl, Tommy Lundström, Jan Palmqvist, Sampsa Palos, Christian Sagelv and Richard  Sundblom will join the field, and with champion Jimmy Ålund also back in action, this will bring the number of cars up to fifteen!

Pro Modified

23 entrants from seven different countries make Pro Modified once again the most international and largest Pro class at The Main Event. With Michael Gullqvist and Bruno Bader the reigning champion and number three from last year will be at The Main Event. Last year’s runner-up, Mats Eriksson takes a year out to build a new car and will be sadly missed. But there are so many strong contenders at Santa Pod, even qualifying will be tough.

From Sweden come Håkan Persson, Jimmy Ålund, who will have his first FIA European outing in the Old 51, the car that was the number four in the 2016 FIA Pro Mod Championship, and fan favourite and burnout king ‘Fast Freddy’ Fagerström.

From The Netherlands will come last year’s number five in the championship, David Vegter, rookie of the year in the MSA championship Michel Tooren and Marck Harteveld in the stunning green and purple 1970 Plymouth Superbird.

After missing the first round of the MSA British Championship, Pro Dutch Racing decided to switch to a full tour in the FIA European Championship, and after almost running his first 5-second pass in his first year in drag racing, Tooren might jump into the top three of the championship as well.

Marcus Hilt is the second Swiss driver on the entry list and from Germany come Norbert Kuno in the Lucas Oil Avenger and Marco Maurischat. Kim Kristiansen will make his Santa Pod debut with an extremely fast car, as the Dane enters the ex-Marc Meihuizen Pontiac Firebird.

All the way from Kuwait comes Hussain Al Shammari. In his second FIA European season Al Shammari will enter his own nitrous assisted 1970 Camaro. Regular Santa Pod visitor Jean Dulamon is also back, but as the Frenchman will not do the Scandinavian races, a top ten spot in the championship will almost be impossible.

England is well represented with nine combinations, with Andy Robinson likely to be the quickest one of them. But don’t underestimate Philip Englefield, who reset his personal best almost every race last season, Kev Slyfield, Bobby Wallace, Rick Garrett or Chris Isaacs. Special attention will go out to the debut of the stunning turbo Ford Mustang of Jon Webster. The great looking state-of-the-art car will have his first run down the quarter mile at The Main Event. As all British drivers will only do a limited schedule, they will not play a major role in the championship fight, but can take away many points from the favourites.

Text and photos: Remco Scheelings