The Main Event, the lights turn green again for a challenging 2018 FIA European Drag Racing Championship

Only one week to go and the 2018 FIA European Drag Racing Championship kicks off with The Main Event at Santa Pod Raceway. After a long winter, drivers, teams and fans are looking forward to the start of the new season where everybody has to start from zero again. And at The Main Event that zero has more than one meaning. All teams can forget their gathered Santa Pod data as they will have to find a new set-up for a brand new state-of-the-art all concrete racetrack! In all four categories the 2017 champions will defend their hard fought titles, but will once again meet tough competition as in all classes last year’s top contenders are back for more.

As usual the FIA European Drag Racing Championship kicks off with The Main Event at Santa Pod Raceway. From there the teams will travel to Tierp Arena, Alastaro, Hockenheim and again Tierp Arena, to come back for the big final, the European Finals at Santa Pod. So far nothing strange, but in more than one way the 2018 season is special. First of all the brand new all concrete track at Santa Pod with which the crew chiefs will have to deal. It might take some runs, but once sorted out, European records might fall. Something else is the fact that it will be the last visit to Alastaro, as from 2019 the new track in Kauhava will be the new home for the FHRA Nitro Nationals. Alastaro will be missed, but on the other hand it opens a bright new future for Finnish drag racing.

The Maltese Lion will be hunted

With nine entrants and the top eight of the 2017 FIA European Championship all present, The Main Event will have one of the best fields ever in Top Fuel. Duncan Micallef was the 2017 champion and will be back for more. The Maltese Lion wants to be even more consistent than last year and make no mistakes. With three back to back wins and only one elimination round loss in the 2017 FIA season, we know what to expect from the Rune Fjeld Motorsport driver. But Micallef will get nothing for granted in this competitive field.

Micallef will first of all meet tough competition from his own RF Motorsport teammates. Antti Horto was last year’s runner-up and will now go for the number one plate. Running under the Eagle Racing Motorsport banner, Horto will field a new chassis acquired from Dote Racing in the States and driven by Leah Pritchett. RF Motorsport will also field a car for Liam Jones again. Last year’s number six of the championship will fly the flag for Team Asylum and defend the new colours of CBD Asylum.

Mikael Kågered was last year’s number three. The 2014 and 2015 FIA European  Top Fuel champion and his very professional looking team are always a force to be reckoned with. Stig Neergaard, last year’s number four in the title race, had a difficult season and as far as it looks right now, the Lucas Oil supported Dane will not be at all races. Neergaard will start his campaign with the ‘Eye of the Storm’ dragster, but halfway through the season this well-known car will be replace by an ex Brittany Force Monster Energy car bought from the States.

Anita Mäkelä was the 2016 champion, but the Finnish fan favourite had a 2017 season she wants to forget and wipe out with a storming 2018. The Tommi & Anita Top Fuel Racing team will be well prepared as ever, and if crew chiefs Tommi Haapanen and Sami Lehtimäki can find the team’s 2016 form, Mäkelä can go for record runs, wins and another title.

The next female Top Fuel driver at The Main Event is Jndia Erbacher. The 23-year old daughter of multiple FIA European champion Urs Erbacher took the Top Fuel world by surprise last year with a runner-up finish in her debut race at Hockenheim, to finish seventh in the championship after taking part in only three of the six races. Not on the Main Event entry list is last year’s European Finals rookie and third female driver Maja Udtian. A few weeks ago the 20-year old talented driver from Norway came out with the news that it was very unsure if she and the Nitro Vikings team would be racing this season. But in the same announcement came the positive news that Udtian will be driving one of the Rune Fjeld Motorsport Top Fuelers in 2019.

After skipping The Main Event last season, Stefan Gunnarsson will start his 2018 campaign at Santa Pod Raceway and will be a force to be reckoned with. If the Swedish team can find a bit more consistency, the number eight of last year’s championship can go for race wins. The Main Event entry list is completed by Björn Mårtensson. With nine entrants for an eight car ladder and no data for an unknown track surface, surprises are likely and title favourites can easily lose valuable points.

Two weeks after The Main Event, Tierp Arena will host the second round of the FIA European Championship. Three drivers will join the tour in Sweden. First of all from Finland comes Timo Lehtimäki, and there is a welcome return to the Top Fuel ranks of Jöran Persåker. The Swede will campaign the (ex) Monica Öberg car with Dan Söderberg as his tuner. Tierp will also see the debut of Dennis Nilsson in a former Andersen Racing car. Nilsson completed his licencing procedure at the end of last year at Santa Pod. It will be interesting to see what the Swedish team can do in their first race. Hopefully we will also see Janne Ahonen back this season. It is hard to believe that the legendary Finnish ski jumper will not be at the final goodbye race of Alastaro.

Funny Car or Dragster, that’s the Top Methanol question

The 2017 season was the first time Top Methanol Dragsters and Funny Cars raced together in one category with a 0.26-second handicap for the quicker dragsters. Timo Habermann won the 2017 FIA European championship, with his brother Dennis in second position and 2016 TMD champion Jonny Lagg third. With seven entrants, including the top five of last year’s championship, the Top Methanol category has once again a healthy entry list, nicely spread over four dragsters and three Funny Cars.

The Werner Habermann Racing duo Timo and Dennis Habermann is back for another one-two. For the second consecutive year the two brothers will defend the colours of Mitsuboshi and their Star Racer blower belts. But apart from Lagg, the Habermanns will take a close look at Sandro Bellio. After completing his licencing procedure at The Main Event last year, the young Belgian driver made a spectacular entrance in the FIA European Top Methanol ranks with a win in his debut race, a runner-up finish in the second race, to win again and fall only 0.023 seconds short of the European record in his third outing with the family run Chevy Monte Carlo. The team made some test runs on their own Dyno Unlimited dyno and found some more horsepower last winter. With all six FIA races on their calendar, instead of the four races they attended last year, the Bellios might be hard to beat.

Another Funny Car that might surprise the dragsters is Mikael Larsson. The Swede was a regular contender in the Scandinavian FIA races, but with a new engine in the Dodge Charger, Larsson will kick off his season at Santa Pod and go for a full tour. Jürgen Nagel from Germany is the third Funny Car driver at Santa Pod, while the fourth dragster is local hero Rod Harrison. Both drivers will not do all races and therefore can’t play a major role in the championship.

At Tierp Arena more drivers will join the championship. After winning the 2016 FIA European Top Methanol Funny Car Championship, Johnny Oksa took a year off. But in Sweden, ‘the beast from Finland’ is back. With loads of new parts, a new lightweight Mustang body and tuning assistance from someone you might recognize in the form of Jonnie Lindberg, the Finn can spoil some championship dreams in the three races he will attend this season. Ari Pietilä, the 2016 runner-up in the FIA TMFC class, will also join the tour in Sweden.

Also from Finland, but in a dragster, is Petteri Liimatainen. The 18-year old Finn made his Top Methanol Dragster debut last season. Liimatainen impressed with his driving skills, but was also plagued by mechanical issues and breaking parts.

Last but not least, Linn Engan Karlsen and her Mustang Funny Car will join the championship at Tierp. The young Norwegian female driver made some major progress last season and will go for a next step this season.

Another duel between Bengt Ljungdahl and Stefan Ernryd, or someone else?

With four teams on the entry list, Pro Stock doesn’t have its strongest field at Santa Pod’s season opener. But with the top three from last year’s championship present, the fight for the first points will be tough. Bengt Ljungdahl will go for a second consecutive title, while last year’s runner-up Stefan Ernryd will do his very best to score as many points as possible early in the season, so he doesn’t have to come back like the Swede had to do last season.

Michael Malmgren was last year’s number three and the former champion wants to improve on that performance. Robin Norén was the number seven in his first full season in Pro Stock. The team had a good winter, made some test runs in Malmö and this young talented team will work hard to fight their way to the top of this high tech class.

At Tierp Arena Pro Stock will have the field we saw a few times last year. There are already eleven names on the entry list at the moment, and we are still counting. Like he did last year, 10-time FIA European Pro Stock champion Jimmy Ålund will concentrate on the Pro Modified class and will probably only enter the Scandinavian races. But when the Swede is racing his blue Camaro, he only has one goal, to go quick and fast and win the race.

Former champion Thomas Lindström and last year’s number six Magnus Petersson will also join the FIA tour at Tierp. Other well-known names on the Tierp entry list are Hannu Kalliomäki, Tommy  Leindahl, Sampsa Palos and Christian Sagelv. But they will all have to fight back from a position outside the top four after missing the Santa Pod points.

Who can beat the champ

19 entrants from seven different countries make Pro Modified once again the most international and largest Pro class at The Main Event. Nine of them will, or have the intention to do the full FIA tour and so reigning champion Michael Gullqvist will have to race hard for his fourth consecutive title. Although the 7-time FIA Pro Mod champion was hard to beat again last year, until the halfway point of the season Jimmy Ålund in the Old 51 and David Vegter in the PedalToTheMetal Drag Racing ’67 Camaro were never far behind. The Swede and the Dutchman finished second and third and will be back for more this season.

After a not so successful season where he finished fifth in the championship, Bruno Bader will be out for revenge. When all his engine problems are solved and his consistency is back, the Swiss driver is a force to be reckoned with. Fredrik Fagerström and Kim Kristiansen were the numbers seven and eight last year, and as both start their season in England, they can go for a top five finish this season. Jan Ericsson, last year’s number nine, and Norbert Kuno might also go for a full tour and with the numbers they put on the scoreboard last year, they can both surprise the favourites.

Michel Tooren is the last one on The Main Event entry list who might do all six FIA races. After a difficult sophomore season, the Pro Dutch Racing Cuda recorded its best numbers at the last race of the season, so if the team can continue from where they left off, Tooren can be a real threat. Depending on the results in the first two FIA races, Pro Dutch Racing will decide to do the whole FIA championship, or skip Finland, focus on the MSA British Pro Modified Championship and rejoin the FIA tour at Hockenheim.

Not doing all FIA races, but drivers who already proved to be quick are Marck Harteveld with the stunning green and purple 1970 Plymouth Superbird, and Marcus Hilt. Also from Switzerland come Roland Bolleter and good old Peter Wacker, back in business after a long break from racing. Regular Santa Pod visitor Jean Dulamon is also back at what we can call his home track.

England is represented with five combinations. Andy Robinson is the quickest and fastest and can win races. It’s a pity the British multiple champion will only do a limited schedule, otherwise he would be one of the favourites for the 2018 FIA title. Other home favourites are Kev Slyfield, Bobby Wallace, Wayne Nicholson and of course  Jon Webster with his the stunning turbo Ford Mustang.

The British drivers will not be at Tierp, but there we will see a large number of ultra-fast Swedish Pro Mods joining the tour. At this moment there are already 23 Pro Mods on the Tierp Internationals entry list. Andreas Arthursson doesn’t need any further introduction with his ultra-fast turbo Chevelle, and the same is true for nitrous guru Roger Johansson.

But the two drivers the championship candidates will probably fear the most are Åke Persson and Håkan Persson. Åke Persson was the winner in Alastaro last season and finished as the runner-up in both Tierp events. Other names on the Tierp entry list are Olof Andersson, Micke Johansson, Michael Joneskog, Lars Järpler, Peter  Kunc, Matts Logren, Per Magnusson, Marcus Perman and Rolf Simonsson. Last but not least from Germany comes Marco Maurischat. The German racer concentrated on the MSA British championship the last two seasons, but is now back to face the Swedish competitors on their home ground.

So far all speculation, but after The Main Event we will know more.