Jari Halinen surprises, as Micke Kågered retains his title
Reigning champion Micke Kågered entered the European Finals as the leader in the FIA European Top Fuel Championship. But after a dominant win at Tierp and a strong Euro Finals qualifying, Anita Mäkelä was more and more the favourite to win the title in eliminations. Despite that, Kågered did it again, won the rounds he needed to win, and claimed his second consecutive FIA Top Fuel title. Jari Halinen played an unexpected, but major role in the outcome of the championship and race. The Finn didn’t qualify for eliminations, but could enter the race as alternate, to defeat Mäkelä in the first round and win the final from just crowned champion Kågered.
At the Scandinavian Internationals, Anita Mäkelä showed her great form and that she was on a mission. With a dominant win, the Finnish fan favourite closed the gap to Hockenheim and Alastaro winner Micke Kågered to 18 points, less than the 20 points you get for a round win.
And as Mäkelä also won the Main Event at the same track, she seemed to have a slight advantage over Kågered, especially when Dom Lagana (crew chief together with Sami Lehtimäki and Tommi Haapanen) announced he would skip the US Nationals (where he had to work for team Torrence) to be with the team at Santa Pod.
Stig Neergaard was number three in the championship, but the Dane was 98 points behind leader Kågered, and so it would be a race between former Top Methanol rivals Kågered and Mäkelä .
Stig Neergaard was the leader after that first session, but in the second qualifying in the dark, it was Mäkelä who stormed to a great 4.01 seconds to take over the lead. The number two in the championship was the only driver in the night session to run an almost full pass on the already too cold track.
Stefan Gunnarsson was the surprising second after day one, and behind Jari Halinen championship leader Kågered was only in fifth position. But almost everything changed on day two. One thing didn’t change, as Mäkelä improved to 4.010 seconds to stay in the number one position. But in the same run in the other lane Kågered stormed to 4.025 seconds to jump into the number two qualifying position. This meant that the two rivals could meet in the final for a traditional ‘the winner takes it all’.
Liam Jones impressed again in his first Top Fuel season and reset his personal best to 4.05 seconds, to claim the number three qualifying position. Fourth was Urs Erbacher, while Stefan Gunnarsson qualified again for the eight car field, making his first season in Top Fuel even more perfect.
Behind Duncan Micallef, Stig Neergaard was only seventh, with Patrik Pers number eight and last qualifier. As at Tierp, Jari Halinen had all kind of small problems and couldn’t make a full pass. With 5.7 seconds the Finn was not in the field. But suddenly things changed for the very disappointed Halinen, as Pers had engine damage and had to withdraw from eliminations, making way for Halinen to take part in eliminations as the first alternate.
Earlier than hoped and expected the championship was decided. As the number one qualifier Mäkelä had to face first alternate Halinen. And where everything went wrong in qualifying for Halinen, everything fell into place now, with the other way around for the title favourite. Mäkelä was away first and in front when her engine let go, and although she still recorded 4.13 seconds, it was not enough to beat the now trouble free 4.02 seconds of Halinen.
With Kågered still in the line-up to make his run against Neergaard, the Bahco driver knew he had his second consecutive title. And to win it in style, Kågered stormed to 4.01 seconds to advance to the semi-finals.
There was a big surprise in the first round when Erbacher had to face Gunnarsson and the rookie defeated the multiple champion on a big holeshot. Jones reset his personal best once again to bring it to 4.02 seconds, to defeat Rune Fjeld Motorsport teammate Micallef.
In the semi-finals Kågered had to face Jones, and with a win, the British driver would take over the third position in the championship from Neergaard. But Jones ran into problems and so Kågered was in the final.
The second semi-final was already decided before the light turned green as Gunnarsson suffered engine problems and was pushed back, leaving the win to Halinen.
In the final the surprises were still not over. Both Halinen and Kågered lost blower belts at half-track, but it was Halinen who crossed the finish line first, to take his first ever FIA European championship event win. An unexpected and glorious moment for the Finn who was so disappointed after qualifying. And so, with a first time winner and a champion, only happy faces at the Euro Finals podium.
Behind champion Kågered, Mäkelä is the 2015 runner-up, and of course that’s a disappointment for the Finnish racer who was so quick this season. Neergaard stayed in the number three position, but only three points behind the Dane Top Fuel rookie Jones finished his first season in fourth position. Micallef was fifth.
European Finals statistics
Low ET: Anita Mäkelä, 4.010 seconds
Top speed: Jari Halinen, 304.86 mph
Link to final qualifying list:
Link to elimination ladder
Link to championship final points standing 2015
For more photos see: FIA European Drag Racing Championship facebook
Text: Remco Scheelings
Photos: Remco Scheelings