Santa Pod Raceway ready for FIA European Championship grand finale
Barely recovered from the record setting fifth round of the title race in Sweden, the 2018 FIA European Drag Racing Championship goes down to the wire with the European Finals at Santa Pod Raceway. In three categories at least two drivers can still claim the title, so the sixth and final race of the season is one to look forward to. In Top Fuel Anita Mäkelä extended her lead over Antti Horto with a win at Tierp Arena. In Pro Stock Bengt Ljungdahl is the leader, but Stefan Ernryd is in striking distance. Jimmy Ålund is the 2018 FIA European Pro Modified champion after the Swede ousted Michael Gullqvist from the first position with a runner-up finish at Tierp and the 2017 champion decided to withdraw his entry from the Euro Finals. In Top Methanol Timo and Dennis Habermann are separated by only 15 points and so the title race might be decided in the final run of the year.
After five races in four different countries the FIA European Drag Racing Championship is back at Santa Pod Raceway for the traditional season finale. Following back to back rounds in Germany and Sweden, the teams will have their third race in four weeks. After the record setting races at Tierp Arena and an excellent and thrilling season, expectations are high for the European Finals. In Top Fuel there will be a new champion crowned, but in the other categories the reigning champions still have a fair chance to retain their title.
A Finnish race
With a win at Tierp Arena, her second victory of the season, Anita Mäkelä extended her lead over Antti Horto to 84 points. In racing anything can happen, but it’s very unlikely that the 2016 FIA European Top Fuel champion will not add another title to her impressive list of honours.
Liam Jones is the number three in the championship. With his maiden FIA Top Fuel win at Hockenheim, the British RF Motorsport driver reduced the gap to Horto to three points, but after a bad weekend in Sweden, Jones enters his home race with a 52 point deficit to the Finn. Timo Lehtimäki is the number four in the championship, but the winner of his home race in Finland will not be at Santa Pod and will definitely drop some positions. Duncan Micallef is still the reigning champion, but the Maltese driver has been plagued by bad luck this season and is only in fifth position. The same is true for last year’s number three in the championship, Mikael Kågered. As it looks right now, the multiple champion will skip the final race of the season and not defend his sixth position in the championship standings.
Stig Neergaard has run a limited schedule in 2018, but is back at Santa Pod Raceway. The Dane won the opening round of the championship in May at the same track and is always a force to be reckoned with. Neergaard can make a choice between two cars, the reliable Top Fueler the Dane campaigned the last few season, or the new ex Brittany Force car he debuted at Hockenheim. It’s most likely Neergaard will use the new one to make some test runs for a full championship assault next year.
A great combination is of course the presence of father and daughter Urs and Jndia Erbacher. The two fan favourites had a busy, but also far from trouble free Hockenheim race and will definitely do everything they can to bounce back with a good result at Santa Pod.
A Habermann in Top Methanol
One thing is for sure, once again a Habermann will be the champion in Top Methanol this season. Timo Habermann won three races and seemed to be on his way to retain his 2017 title. But after a first round exit last week at Tierp, and a second win of the season for Dennis Habermann, the two brothers are separated by 15 points, less than the points for a round win. As Timo and Dennis have faced each other in the final three times this year, don’t be surprised to see the title decided in the last run of the season, the final of the European Finals.
Sandro Bellio is the number three in the championship, but with a deficit of 124 points to Dennis Habermann, the runner-up position is out of reach. The Belgian driver will do everything he can to end the season on a high, and that is with a win, especially after the bad luck in the Tierp final where Bellio hit the wall. Jonny Lagg is the number four in the championship. The Swede reset his personal best at almost every race this season and can now match the elapsed times of the Habermann brothers. Lagg can also interfere in the fight between Timo and Dennis Habermann.
Jürgen Nagel skipped the Scandinavian rounds of the championship, but is back at Santa Pod. The German racer is always a force to be reckoned with as he can surprise with great elapsed times.
Bengt Ljungdahl or Stefan Ernryd
After a difficult start to the season, Bengt Ljungdahl bounced back in the last three races to reduce the gap, take the lead and even create a 38 point advantage over Stefan Ernryd. The reigning champion hasn’t won a race so far this season. With runner-up positions and semi-final finishes Ljungdahl has scored many points, but he will do everything he can to finish the season on a high with a victory. Ernryd started the season with a win at Santa Pod and will definitely try to repeat that, as it might be his only chance to clinch his first title this year.
Michael Malmgren is the number three in the championship and only 18 points short of the number two position and 56 points behind Ljungdahl. Malmgren proved at Tierp in June that he can win races, but hasn’t scored enough points in the races so far to still have a fair chance to chase the title. But the runner-up position is less than one round win away, so that is still a good goal for the Swede.
Robin Norén is the number five in the championship, only 20 points short of Malmgren. Norén won his first Pro Stock race at Hockenheim and will definitely want to add another victory to his already successful season. And with a win, the young Swede can finish the 2018 title race in third position.
Jimmy Ålund’s eleventh and first
In Pro Modified Jimmy Ålund and Michael Gullqvist swapped positions at almost every race this season. Gullqvist started with a win and the number one position in the championship, but then Ålund took over the lead to give it back to the reigning champion at Hockenheim. At Tierp Gullqvist was defeated in the first round and Ålund took advantage with a runner-up finish. Ålund took over the number one position and leads the Pro Modified category with a 57 point advantage over Gullqvist. With the form he showed in the last two races, Ålund was definitely the favourite, but with a 16-car elimination ladder, many points can be won or lost. Everybody was looking forward to a thrilling final between the two Swedes, until the news came out that Gullqvist had withdrawn his Euro Finals entry after too many mechanical problems at Hockenheim and Tierp. After ten FIA European Pro Stock titles, it’s Ålund’s first Pro Mod crown.
After a great and very consistent season Jan Ericsson is the number three in the championship, 110 points short of the number two position. Andreas Arthursson has won two races this season, is the new European elapsed time record holder and the number four in the championship. But Arthursson runs a limited schedule and will not be at Santa Pod. David Vegter is the number five and one of the quickest drivers this season. The Dutch driver suffered severe engine damage at Tierp and will not be able to race at Santa Pod.
Kim Kristiansen is the number six, but 85 points behind Vegter, with Roger Johansson in seventh position, only one point short of the Danish driver. Johansson proved his great from at Tierp with a new personal best of 5.81 seconds and can destroy the dreams of the top six teams.
Pro Modified has 16 entrants for the last FIA race of the season. Apart from the four drivers mentioned before, there are some extremely quick combinations on the entry list. First of all Andy Robinson, as the British driver has reset his personal best several times this season and can now run 5.8 seconds. Michel Tooren is the second Dutch driver in the field and is looking for his first 5.9-second run. A driver who can also surprise is Norbert Kuno, as the German driver can be very quick, but is lacking consistency. From Switzerland come Marcus Hilt and Peter Wacker, while regular Santa Pod contender Jean Dulamon from France is also back for more. Last but not least there are five more British drivers and some of them have made some major progress this season. With Kev Slyfield, Bobby Wallace, Wayne Nicholson, Mick Payne and Jon Webster the home crowd has plenty to cheer for. Last but not least there is the welcome return of Mats Eriksson. The Swede made the first runs with his brand new Crown Victoria at Tierp and it looked promising with a 6.12 seconds as his best run.
Qualifying for the European Finals will start on Friday September 7th and will continue on Saturday September 8th. Eliminations will start on Sunday morning September 9th.
Link to the European Finals entry list:
Link to championship points standing after the Summit Racing Equipment Internationals: