FHRA Nitro Nationals full of surprises

The FHRA Nitro Nationals, round three of the FIA European Drag Racing Championship, were full of drama and in the end had at least three surprise winners. In Top Fuel Timo Lehtimäki raced to victory, and although the Finn was last year’s winner as well, it was once again an upset win as he was the number eight qualifier. In Pro Modified Peter Kunc was the surprise winner after defeating Andreas Arthursson in the final, while Simon Gustafsson stunned with a win in the final over reigning champion Bengt Ljungdahl in Pro Stock. For Kunc and Gustafsson is was their first win in an FIA European Championship race. Top Methanol had less of a surprise winner in Sandro Bellio, although the Santa Pod winner didn’t see himself as a favourite at all after a far from trouble free qualifying.

For the first time the new drag racing facility of Kauhava was host to the FHRA Nitro Nationals, round three of the FIA European Drag Racing Championship. As so many times before at a new track, track conditions were the most discussed topic before and during the weekend. In all categories there were teams and drivers who were able to record good numbers, while many others were struggling. Maybe even the biggest problem was the rapidly changing track conditions that made it difficult to find a suitable set-up. Drivers who recorded great numbers in one run, had tyre shake or went up in smoke in the next run. This made the eliminations of the FHRA Nitro Nationals in all categories pretty unpredictable. But for sure, when all issues of the inaugural event are solved, Kauhava has the potential to become a great asset to the championship.

A Finnish win

Just as in all other classes, the qualifying order in Top Fuel was set on the Friday. Anita Mäkelä and her crew proved that it was possible to record great numbers at the brand new Kauhava track. On her second run the reigning champion stormed to 3.98 seconds, the first 3-second run in Finland. Even in all those years racing at Alastaro, the 4-second barrier was never broken. With 3.99 and 4.00-second runs on Saturday, Mäkelä proved that it was also possible to be consistent.

Stig Neergaard claimed the number two position with 4.054 seconds, with Antti Horto close behind with 4.059 seconds. The Finn, last year’s number two in the championship, was in the car Duncan Micallef raced last season.

In the CBD Asylum Rune Fjeld Motorsport dragster Liam Jones was the number four qualifier, with daughter and father Jndia and Urs Erbacher in fifth and sixth positions. In the third RF Motorsport car Maja Udtian suffered tyre shake and was in seventh position, with last year’s Alastaro winner Timo Lehtimäki eighth.

In the first round of eliminations there was a major upset as a mechanical issue caused an ‘up in smoke’ for Mäkelä, thus the reigning champion saw Lehtimäki claim the win. Including the last part of last season it was the first time in four races that Mäkelä was defeated! The first round was also the end of the Finnish race for Jndia and Urs Erbacher, as the Swiss duo was defeated by Jones and Horto.

Udtian saved her race day with a great pedal to beat an also troubled Neergaard. The 21-year-old Norwegian repeated that driving job with a double pedal in the semi-final against Horto and prevented an all Finnish final, as in the other semi-final Lehtimäki surprised again with a win over Jones.

But Udtian will have to wait at least one more race for her first Top Fuel win, as once again the Norwegian driver suffered tyre shake and as Lehtimäki had no problems in his run, the pedal was not enough to catch the Finn before the finish line. With 4.24 vs 4.46 seconds the win margin was not that big, but it was enough for Lehtimäki to claim the win, his second consecutive FHRA Nitro Nationals victory.

With her second runner-up finish out of three races and the early exit of Mäkelä, Udtian reduced the gap between the numbers one and two in the championship to 46 points.

And another surprise win

In Pro Modified David Vegter stunned with a great 5.86 seconds on his first qualifying run at the new Kauhava track. As nobody could beat that new track record in the next three sessions, the Dutch PTTM Drag Racing driver finished qualifying in the number one position.

Jimmy Ålund was the only other driver to break the 6-second barrier with 5.95 seconds, making the reigning champion the number two qualifier. With three good runs Kim Kristiansen was the most consistent driver in qualifying and the Danish driver’s best elapsed time of 6.12 seconds handed him the number three qualifying position, just in front of Michel Tooren.

Michael Gullqvist suffered traction problems and couldn’t do better than the seventh position. Even bigger were the problems for championship leader Jan Ericsson and Andreas Arthursson. Ericsson suffered mechanical problems and couldn’t complete a run on the Friday. On the Saturday a 6.9 second run put Ericsson in the number ten spot on the elimination ladder, while Arthursson had traction problems on both days and couldn’t do better than the twelfth and last qualifying position.

But on race day everything was different again and the eliminations were filled with major upsets. In the first round number one qualifier Vegter lost traction and was defeated by Arthursson, number three qualifier Kristiansen lost traction as well and saw Ericsson take the win, while number four qualifier Tooren was defeated by Peter Kunc in a close 6.20 and 6.22-second battle. Gullqvist was Arthursson’s next victim and after a bye run in the semi-final, the turbo Chevelle driver advanced to the final.

On the other side of the elimination ladder Kunc surprised two more times. In the quarter final Kunc stormed to a stunning 6.08 seconds to defeat championship leader Ericsson, and in the semi-final he was too quick for reigning champion Ålund.

In the final Kunc’s Finnish fairy tale was still not over. Arthursson lost traction and although Kunc also had a far from trouble free run, he claimed the win in 6.91 seconds against the 6.98 seconds for Arthursson. It was the first FIA European Championship victory for Kunc.

Sandro Bellio wins and takes the lead

In Top Methanol qualifying the two dragsters had an advantage over the three Funny Cars on the difficult Kauhava track. Johnny Lagg stormed to a great 5.43 seconds to claim the number one qualifying position, with Daniel Jedborn second with 5.85 seconds.

Sandro Bellio had traction problems, but with 6.09 seconds the Belgian number two in the championship was still the quickest Funny Car in third position. The two Finns Johnny Oksa and Ari Pietilä were fourth and fifth after four runs.

But also in Top Methanol luck changed dramatically on race day. Bellio had a bye run in the first round as Pietilä suffered mechanical problems after qualifying. In the semi-final the Belgian driver had to face Lagg, an important race for the championship standing. Lagg lost traction and in a good 5.62 seconds Bellio claimed the win to advance to the final.

On the other side of the ladder Jedborn’s engine stalled when he came back from the burn out, handing the win to Oksa, who had another bye run in the semi-final. But in his semi-final run Oksa hurt his engine and couldn’t come back for the final. Thus Bellio had a bye run and claimed the Kauhava victory, his second win of the season. Bellio is also the new leader in the championship, with Lagg in second position.

Even more upsets in Pro Stock

As usual Pro Stockers have major problems when the track conditions are difficult. The race at Kauhava was no exception, although there were at least two drivers who recorded good elapsed times in the first qualifying session. Jimmy Ålund stormed to a great 6.60 seconds, while Bengt Ljungdahl recorded 6.65 seconds to claim the number two qualifying position.

Robin Norén needed one more run to sort out the traction problems, but his 6.67 seconds handed him the number three qualifying position. Stefan Ernryd finished qualifying in fourth position, with Simon Gustafsson fifth and the struggling Michael Malmgren and Thomas Lindström sixth and seventh.

Sunday, race day, was another day and just as it was in Pro Modified, there were many upsets. Without recording the quickest numbers of all, Gustafsson ran trouble free and defeated Ernryd in the quarter finals with 6.88 seconds, before taking an even more surprising win over Ålund in the semi-finals with 6.84 seconds.

On the other side of the elimination ladder Ljungdahl came close to his qualifying form with 6.70 and 6.71-second runs to defeat Lindström and Malmgren. But in the final the reigning champion got some problems and as Gustafsson proved his consistency with a good 6.86 seconds for his first FIA European Pro Stock victory.

The Kauhava drag racing facility is located at the LSK Business Park, a former military airfield, and that is still visible at several places

The place is huge, to say the least, and the same is true for the pit area

With 2,700 metres there seems to be no end to the former airstrip and now dragstrip

When the words are long and ineffable, you know you are in Finland

To order food is a gamble, it’s better to point to what you would like to have

An ‘up in smoke’ for Timo Lehtimäki in qualifying. Race day was much better for the Finn

A happy and dedicated racing family (only mother Mona Kristin is missing here), father Paul Ingar and daughters Maja and Mari

Jump

The next-next generation, after Jari Halinen took a break from Top Fuel racing a few years ago. Kaarle is in Junior Dragster, but the truck-trailer combination is Top Fuel size

In the long Finnish winters you have plenty of time to build strange vehicles

With her second runner-up position of this season Maja Udtian closed the gap to championship leader Anita Mäkelä to 46 points

After Liam Jones first round engine damage, his crew got some help from Maja Udtian’s crew to be ready in time for the semi-finals

Another nitro victim

On the Thursday David Vegter was still hard at work to rebuild the engine he hurt in Tierp. Less than 24 hours later the Dutch Pro Mod driver stormed to a stunning 5.86 seconds to claim the number one qualifying position. Vegter is now Pro Modified track record holder at Alastaro and Kauhava

Not all burn outs were in a straight line

Racing against yourself

Anita Mäkelä is extremely popular in her home country (and also in the rest of Europe) and had to shake many hands and answer numerous questions

Urs Erbacher was in the car Tethys raced in England and Sweden and was still flying he Mustardbet colours. In qualifying Urs had to face his daughter Jndia twice

Jndia Erbacher follows the instructions of her tuner, crew chief

A warming up in the morning, Janne Ahonen and his team

Retired ski jump star and Top Fuel racer Janne Ahonen wishes Anita Mäkelä the best of luck

This must be enough tyres for four qualifying runs and three runs in eliminations

FRØY was the main sponsor for Maja Udtian at Kauhava. Paul Ingar Udtian explains a few details of a Top Fuel car to representatives of the Norwegian company

Special birthday greetings from Robin Norén

Let’s fly to the next round in Hockenheim. Kauhava, see you next year