The FIA European Drag Racing Championship kicks off in high gear with The Main Event
Only a few days to go and the 2019 FIA European Drag Racing Championship kicks off with The Main Event at Santa Pod Raceway. It’s a flying start of the season as with only a one weekend break, Tierp Arena in Sweden is the second stop on the tour. Anita Mäkelä (Top Fuel), Bengt Ljungdahl (Pro Stock) and Jimmy Ålund (Pro Modified) will all defend their 2018 titles. Only Top Methanol will definitely have a new champion as Dennis Habermann will skip the first half of the 2019 season. One thing is for sure, it will be a tough and close fight as in all categories the competitors have invested in new parts to challenge the reigning champions.
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, Kauhava, Hockenheim and again Tierp Arena, to come back for the big final, the European Finals at Santa Pod.
Kauhava is the new name on the tour as this brand new facility replaces Alastaro as the home of Finnish drag racing. Everybody is looking forward to see this new track that has to take Finnish drag racing to the next level.
Four to four
In all other forms of motorsport they try everything to interest women in competing in their sport and so they will all be jealous when they see The Main Event entry list. With four women, 50% of the Top Fuel entrants are female and they all have a chance of winning the race or even the championship. And it’s even better as in the form of Anita Mäkelä the quickest and fastest category of the FIA European Drag Racing Championship has a female champion. The Finnish fan favourite dominated the 2018 season with three wins and will be back with one goal, another title!
Liam Jones was the number three in the 2018 championship. Last year’s winner of the NitrOlympX proved his great form early in the season with one 3.92 and two 3.90-second passes at The Festival of Power. The CBD Asylum supported Rune Fjeld Motorsport driver is definitely one of Mäkelä’s biggest challengers.
Maja Udtian is another RF Motorsport driver to go for the title. The 21-year old Norwegian will have her first full FIA European Championship season in 2019 and has the support of some major Norwegian companies and a group of local companies from her hometown Frøya, one of many islands west of Norway.
Udtian made her first test runs in the car at The Festival of Power and will definitely be a force to be reckoned with.
The third car in the Rune Fjeld stable will be for Susanne Callin. After a fourteen year break, Callin will be back behind the wheel of the Slick Tricks Racing RF Motorsport car. At the time of writing, it looks like Callin will only take part in the two Santa Pod events.
Jndia Erbacher completes the list of four female drivers. The 24-year old daughter of multiple FIA European champion Urs Erbacher took the Top Fuel world by surprise when she finished as the runner-up in her debut race at Hockenheim 2017. In 2018 Erbacher was in a final again when she was defeated by champion Mäkelä in the European Finals at Santa Pod.
Team Erbacher will field a second car for Tethys. The second British driver in the field will fly the colours for MustardBet and as he said, he “is not planning to just make up the numbers”. Tethys will do The Main Event and Tierp Internationals and will then decide about the rest of the season.
Mikael Kågered won the FIA European Top Fuel title in 2014 and 2015 and is always a force to be reckoned with. Back for a full time FIA European Championship tour is Stig Neergaard.
The Dane skipped a few races last season, but the Lucas Oil supported driver is the reigning Main Event Top Fuel champion and wants to go for back to back wins. Neergaard can be extremely fast and with a full season ahead, he will be a real championship contender.
Two weeks after The Main Event, Tierp Arena will host the second round of the FIA European Championship. No fewer than four drivers will join the tour in Sweden, bringing the number of entrants up to eleven as Callin will not be at Tierp. First of all from Finland comes Timo Lehtimäki, the surprise winner of last year’s final Alastaro race and the number five in the 2018 FIA European Championship. Björn Mårtensson will start his season at Tierp Arena and the same is true for his Swedish countryman Dennis Nilsson, who tried to qualify for last year’s Tierp Internationals. Last but not least Patrick Pers is the fourth Swede in Tierp. Antti Horto, the runner-up in last year’s championship, and 2017 champion Duncan Micallef are sadly missed on the entry list. The Finnish and Maltese driver haven’t unveiled their plans for this season so far, but will definitely show up at one of the races later this season. The same is true for Stefan Gunnarsson, who will hopefully show up later this season as well.
New champion in Top Methanol
The Top Methanol category will have a new champion in 2019 as reigning champion Dennis Habermann will not defend his title. As the whole Werner Habermann Racing team will only start at Hockenheim and Santa Pod’s European Finals, Timo Habermann’s runner-up position is also vacant. After so many titles, business commitments at home, the loss of one of their main sponsors and some issues last season, the team decided to take a break from the full time European tour.
Sandro Bellio and Jonny Lagg seem to be the most likely successors as these two drivers have the full FIA tour on their calendar. The Belgian family run Chevy Monte Carlo Funny Car was close to the European record several times and Bellio won races in 2017 and finished third in the 2018 championship. But never underestimate Lagg, as the Swede proved his speed last season again and was the 2016 champion.
The 2019 season seems to be a gap year for the Top Methanol category. There are several Funny Cars and dragsters under construction or almost race ready, but so far not on the entry list at Santa Pod or Tierp. After his Tierp crash last year Johnny Oksa is in the final stages of building his new ex Ulf Leanders car. The Finn will try to be back at Kauhava.
Also missing at Tierp, but names that will definitely show up later this season are Arie Pietilä from Finland, Mikael Larsson from Sweden and German Jürgen Nagel, who has a new Funny Car under construction as well. Karlsen Motorsport bought a new engine made and tuned by Jonnie Lindberg and Linn Engan Fløysvik (formerly Karlsen) will test the new combination later this season to go for a full FIA championship in 2020.
The good news is that Monty Bugeja is back! It might have been quiet around Mr. Whippy Racing in this part of Europe, but the team had some busy seasons with racing in the States and in Malta. Matthew Carabott, son of team owner Joe Carabott, almost completed his licencing procedure in one of the two Top Methanol Dragsters the team now owns, and so it’s hopefully only a matter of time before we see Matthew enter the FIA championship as well.
At Tierp Arena two drivers will make their Top Methanol debut in the championship. Daniel Jedborn, a driver from the Competition Eliminator ranks, will have his first outing in the ex-BSG Racing A-Fueler from Stefan Gunnarsson, now owned by Stig Olsson. Krister Johansson, crew chief and tuner for Lagg, will assist in tuning the car. Another new name is Silvio Strauch from Germany. The former Competition Eliminator driver bought the Peter Schöfer Racing dragster and so we will finally see this proven fast car back in action again. It will be interesting to see how many runs these two experienced drivers will need to get familiar with their new cars and if they will be able to challenge the frontrunners.
Close Pro Stock fight
Bengt Ljungdahl won the Pro Stock title in 2017 and 2018 after a tough, season long battle with two-time runner-up Stefan Ernryd. The Dodge man is eager to beat the blue VP Racing Fuels Camaro and win his first FIA European Pro Stock title.
But looking at The Main Event and Tierp Internationals entry lists, there might be a second dangerous threat for Ljungdahl. After a two-year break from the full FIA tour, Jimmy Ålund is back with the familiar blue Camaro. With 10 FIA European Pro Stock titles to his credit and being the reigning FIA Pro Modified champion, the Swede will only come back to go quick and fast and win another title.
Is winning both FIA Pro Stock and Pro Mod titles in the same year Ålund’s new challenge?
Michael Malmgren was last year’s number three in the championship and the winner at Tierp Arena in June. The former champion proved his speed several times last season and is also a force to be reckoned with in the championship fight. The same is true for Robin Norén, the number four in last year’s championship and the proud winner of the 2018 NitrOlympX. This young team improve every year and Norén only needs a small extra step to interfere in the title fight as well.
After a one year break Simon Gustafsson is back in the FIA European Championship with a brand new built Dodge Dart RT. The Swede will do the full FIA European tour and makes the number of Pro Stock entrants at Santa Pod up to six.
At Tierp Arena many familiar names who will only do the Swedish and Finnish rounds are back in the championship. At this moment there are twelve names on the entry list. Former champion Thomas Lindström, Magnus Petersson, Tommy Leindahl, Sampsa Palos and Christian Sagelv are all drivers who can spoil some title dreams. After a longer break Jonas Boberg will also be back in action at Tierp.
Open as never before
After three consecutive FIA Pro Modified titles, Michael Gullqvist had to leave the crown to Jimmy Ålund last year. But to predict the name of the new champion is more difficult than ever before. With 25 entrants from eight different countries Pro Modified is once again the most international and largest Pro class at The Main Event. And looking at the entry list, the Santa Pod fans will see one of the strongest fields in many years. At least twelve of the drivers will do the full FIA tour and so last year’s top three will have to race hard to remain in the top three at the end of the season.
After ten FIA Pro Stock titles Ålund won his first FIA European Pro Modified title last year. The Swede deserved that title as he was quick, but even more importantly, by far the most consistent driver of all, winning two races, finishing as the runner-up three times and being semifinalist once. Until the halfway point of the season Gullqvist was still in the title race, but after mechanical problems at Tierp in August, the Swede skipped the last race of the season and finished in second position.
Jan Ericsson was the surprise number three last season. But the Swede deserved that spot as he scored valuable points in all the races with a runner-up finishes at Hockenheim and the European Finals as the highlights of his season.
But the combination the top three will probably fear most is last year’s number four, Andreas Arthursson with his record setting turbo Chevelle. The Swede won both Tierp Arena races in dominant style and although Arthursson took part in only three of the six races, he finished fourth in the championship.
David Vegter was the number five in 2018 and is out for revenge. With the PedalToTheMetal Drag Racing ’67 Camaro the Dutchman stunned with a record breaking run at Alastaro, but saw his season come to an early end after he suffered severe engine damage at the second Tierp race. Over the winter the team invested in a new blower and FuelTech ignition and will do everything they can to return to the top three of the championship.
Roger Johansson (Sweden) and Kim Kristiansen (Denmark) completed last year’s top seven and are also back for more.
But there is an even longer list of candidates for a race win or a top three finish in the championship. Mats Eriksson proved the great form of his new car at the end of last season, Fredrik Fagerström is always a force to be reckoned with while Michel Tooren will do the full FIA tour with the Pro Dutch Racing Cuda for the first time.
Other drivers who might do the full FIA tour for the first time are Peter Kunc and Marcus Perman, while last year’s number nine, Norbert Kuno, is on the Main Event and Tierp entry list as well and might also do some more races then the four the German did last year.
Two other drivers who will try to do the full FIA tour are John Tebenham and Dmitry Samorukov. Tebenham will field the ex-Marco Maurischat Corvette, but will first have to complete his licencing procedure. The British driver will get assistance from Maurischat and his crew chief, and Luke and Andy Robinson. Samorukov will have Adam Flamholc as his crew chief and the Russian driver can definitely surprise.
Not doing all FIA races, but a driver who already proved to be quick is Marck Harteveld with the totally rebuilt 1970 Plymouth Superbird. Regular Santa Pod visitors Marcus Hilt (Switzerland) and Jean Dulamon (France) are also back at what they can call their home track.
England is represented with no fever then eight combinations. Tebenham was mentioned before, but with Kev Slyfield, Philip Englefield and Bobby Wallace there are another three very quick drivers who can surprise. But never underestimate Chris Isaacs, Jon Webster, Nick Davies and Wayne Nicholson as well. They all proved their great form at The Festival of Power.
Seven out of the eight British drivers will not be at Tierp, but there we will see a large number of fast Scandinavian Pro Mods joining the tour. At this moment there are already 23 Pro Mods on the Tierp Internationals entry list. Åke Persson doesn’t need any further introduction, but with Rolf Simonsson, Micke Johansson, Michael Joneskog, Olof Andersson and Lars Järpler there are more drivers who can spoil championship dreams. The list is completed by Jan Brännvall and the newcomers Per Magnusson, Jere Rantaniemi (Finland) and Stian Rusånes (Norway).
So far all speculation, but after The Main Event we will know more.