Jonnie Lindberg wins again at Pomona, Leanders, Ålund and Svensson less fortunate
The Circle K NHRA Winternationals kicked off the 2016 American drag racing season. With Jonnie Lindberg and Ulf Leanders in Top Alcohol Funny Car, and Jimmy Ålund and Markus Svensson in Stock Eliminator, four Swedes entered the tradition-rich first race of the season at the historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Lindberg, the 2015 NHRA Lucas Oil Top Alcohol Funny Car champion and defending Winternationals winner, had the best possible start of the season by bringing another Wally to the winners circle. Leanders was defeated in the quarter finals when he was hit by tire shake, while Ålund and Svensson both pulled red lights in early rounds of eliminations.
Jonnie Lindberg dedicated his win to late friend Jarmo Pulkkinen, who died unexpectedly on January 28th . “Jarmo didn’t only help me, but so many other European racers. We talked a lot the last few years and months and even the day before he died. His last wish was, that his ashes would be strewn here at Pomona, and so, in Friday qualifying, I had Jarmo’s ashes in the parachutes, and when I deployed the chutes…….. Jarmo’s family was here too”, said Lindberg after an emotional weekend.
Lindberg’s title defense couldn’t have started any better. With the new Camaro body on the car, the reigning NHRA Lucas Oil champion started qualifying with 5.48 and 5.47-second runs, and improved to 5.421 seconds in the third run to take over the number one qualifying position from John Lombardo Jr., his closest rival at the end of last season.
In the first round of eliminations Steve Gasparelli was defeated with another solid 5.47-second pass, while in the quarter final Brian Hough couldn’t match the 5.45 seconds of the Lindberg Bros Camaro. You also need some luck to win a Wally, and so Lindberg had his lucky win in the semi-final when he was hit by tire shake, but his opponent Mike Doushgounian pulled a red light. “There was not much time between the rounds, and as we were very late in the staging lanes, I didn’t have time to go down and look at the track. So I made a guess and that was wrong”, said Lindberg about his lucky win. But before the final, he took his time to do the traditional track inspection, and it paid off. In the quickest side-by-side race in Top Alcohol Funny Car history, Lindberg defeated John Lombardo with 5.423 seconds at 271.90 mph to 5.456 at 272.83 mph. Together with his parents, crew and girlfriend Lizzy Musi, Jonnie Lindberg was presented another Wally for his second consecutive Winternationals win.
While Lindberg had made a few test runs in Arizona prior to the Winternationals, the first round of qualifying at Pomona was the first run of the season for Ulf Leanders. “Last year we tested some new things and that hurt our consistency. All we learned from last year is in the car now and with more consistency, we go for results. After the Winternationals, the Gatornationals will be our next race and we hope to do the same program as last year, but it all depends on funding”, said Ulf Leanders.
The white and red Monte Carlo started qualifying with 5.64 seconds, to improve with small steps to 5.62 and 5.605 in the third run, putting Leanders in the number twelve qualifying position. In the first round of eliminations Leanders improved again to 5.57 seconds to defeat Shane Westerfield. In the quarter final Leanders was hit by tire shake at the start, had to lift, and although the Swede still recorded 5.708 seconds, it was not enough to beat Mike Doushgounian.
Last winter multiple FIA European Pro Stock champion Jimmy Ålund bought a ‘70 Chevy Nova in the States to do some races in Stock Eliminator. Ålund only had the Wednesday before the race to do the final adjustments to the car and get used to his new cockpit. But it didn’t take long before the Swede felt comfortable, as after the first qualifying run, Ålund was fourth in the 71-car field, to stay in that position after the final run. But in eliminations Ålund was hit by bad luck. Waiting in the staging lanes before the first elimination, the car in front of him was in reverse and hit the front of the Nova. As the Swede was in the next pair, he couldn’t even take a look, and with a damaged hood and grill Ålund had to go to the start line. With an impaired concentration Ålund pulled a very unusual red light.
Markus Svensson qualified 60th and after a win in the first round of eliminations, a red light in round two made an early end to his race weekend.
Text: Remco Scheelings
Photos: Remco Scheelings