The Main Event kicks off a thrilling 2016 FIA European Championship season
Less than a week to go and the 2016 FIA European Drag Racing Championship kicks off with The Main Event at Santa Pod Raceway. All drivers will have to start from zero again and will do their very best to get their names on top of the championship standings after race one. In Top Fuel, reigning champion Micke Kågered will face some strong competition, but the same can be said about champions Thomas Lindström and Michael Gullqvist in Pro Stock and Pro Modified. Santa Pod’s 50th Anniversary will be celebrated in style with a fantastic opening of the 2016 FIA European Championship.
Last year’s FIA European Top Fuel Championship was decided in the last race of the season in favor of Micke Kågered. The Swede won his second consecutive championship by defeating a very strong Anita Mäkelä. With 2015’s top four of the championship back in competition again, it promises to be an even more exciting season. Don’t be surprised if the championship is decided in the last race again.
Kågered is eager to win another title. But competition will be tough for the Bahco Express driver. Anita Mäkelä, last year’s number two in the championship, was extremely disappointed with her runner-up position, as she was the fastest and quickest in the second part of season and favourite to win the title.
The extremely popular Finnish driver is back to win the title in 2016. “There are no major changes to the team or car. Dom Lagana and Jake Sanders will be with us at the Main Event. We have been updating bits and pieces but our combination works well. I know the other guys in the class have got a lot of good parts and I’m sure that there will be more racers in the threes. But we are ready, too. I have a good crew and a good car, what more could a woman hope for!” said the European record holder.
Stig Neergaard was last year’s number three, and as always, the Danish team is fast and with a bit more consistency can go for a championship this year. In his rookie year in Top Fuel Liam Jones was one of the biggest surprises of the 2015 season. In the Rune Fjeld Motorsport Top Fueler Jones reset his personal best at almost every race, to finish the season as a spectacular number four in the championship. With the 2015 experience, Jones’ next goal will be race wins and a top three finish in the championship.
Urs Erbacher is back for a full championship tour this season and that is great news for the fans and the sport. With the multiple FIA European champion, the 2016 championship has another favourite to win the title. “After five years I will take the championship back to old Switzerland,” said Erbacher, announcing his plans.
Unlike last year, Stefan Gunnarsson will not do a double programme (Top Fuel and Top Methanol Dragster) and will focus on Top Fuel only. The Swede and his crew chief Peter Lantz went to the States and came back with some new parts for the car. After licencing in 2014, Björn Mårtensson made his official Top Fuel debut in 2015 with three races in the FIA European Championship. This year, the Top Fuel driver and his Nitrobear team will do five races, starting at Santa Pod. A real Top Fuel rookie is Steve Ashdown. The former Sportsman racer will make his Top Fuel debut at The Main Event in one of Rune Fjeld’s cars. Ashdown will not play a major role in the championship, as he will not do the full tour. Jari Halinen, last year’s number six and winner of the European Finals, will skip this season and the same has to be said about Maltese Duncan Micallef, last year’s number five in the championship.
At Tierp Arena the talented young Norwegian driver Birgitte Bremnes will take over the driver seat of the Rune Fjeld Motorsport car. At Tierp we will also see Janne Ahonen back in action with his own ART team. Other drivers who will not do the full tour but can be expected at selected races are Antti Horto, Patrik Pers, Timo Lehtimäki and Tethys.
Top Methanol Dragster
Top Methanol Dragster has four entrants at The Main Event. First of all, it’s great to see 2014 FIA European champion Chris Polidano back in action with the beautiful Kalanc A/Fueler. On the other hand it’s sad to see the two Habermann brothers, Timo and 2015 champion Dennis, are missing on the entry list.
Jonny Lagg from Sweden, last year’s number three, will do the full tour and that might make him the favourite to win the championship. A TMD race at Santa Pod without Dave Wilson is no race, so the British veteran is also back in action. New in Top Methanol Dragster is Rod Harrison. The former Super Pro ET racer steps up to the TMD class and showed some promising numbers at The Festival of Power. Harrison will do a selected number of races this season.
Top Methanol Funny Car
Top Methanol Funny Car will not be contested at The Main Event, which is sad news for the British fans of this always spectacular class, but at the Tierp Internationals there are already five teams entered. Leif Andreasson will start his title defense in his home country and will get competition from Mikael Larsson, the two Finns Johnny Oksa and Ari Pietilä, and Jürgen Nagel. It’s a few years ago the German veteran visited Tierp. Oksa and Pietilä not only have the Scandinavian races in their schedule, but also want to go to Hockenheim for the first time, so the championship can still be interesting.
As with Top Fuel, in Pro Stock the top four of the 2015 championship will also be at The Main Event to start their title race. With so many new cars and drivers in the class, Pro Stock might have one of its best seasons ever. Jimmy Alund will do everything to get the title back. The multiple champion impressed with a 6.48 second pass (!) in testing at Tierp, which is quicker than his own European record. Reigning champion Thomas Lindström saw his sponsor leave the team to start his own operation. The young Swede will have a new paint scheme on the car, and although he is always one of the favourites to win races, he will not go for a second consecutive championship. Lindström will skip the NitrOlympX and European Finals as in the weeks of those races the wife of one of his crewmembers and his own wife will give birth to a little one. But still there is more than enough competition left for Alund.
Last year’s numbers three and four, Michael Malmgren and Magnus Petersson, will be at Santa Pod and will be looking for a good result. New to the class as a driver is Stefan Ernryd. Lindström’s former sponsor bought a Dodge Dart from Allen Johnson and will do the full tour. Bengt Ljungdahl ran a limited schedule the last two years, but bought a state-of-the-art Camaro from Gray Motorsports and will be a strong championship contender from the beginning. That takes the Pro Stock field at Santa Pod up to six cars.
Even more cars and drivers are expected later in the season. At Tierp we will see Hannu Kalliomäki, the big surprise of the 2015 Alastaro race, and rising star and Pro Stock rookie Robin Norén. The Swedish round of the FIA championship will also be the first outing this year for Jonas Boberg with a new car, and also for Simon Gustafsson.
22 entrants from seven different countries make Pro Modified the most international and largest Pro class at The Main Event, but maybe also one of the strongest fields ever. With Michael Gullqvist, Mats Eriksson and Bruno Bader all present, last year’s top three will be at The Main Event, so nobody can afford a slow start of the season. Eriksson is out for revenge as he was so close to winning the 2015 Pro Mod title. In testing at Tierp the Green Goblin showed its potential again. Gullqvist did not do any testing at all. “A move to a new workshop over the winter took quite some time and effort and we could not start preparing for the 2016 season until late March of this year. However we have a performance benchmark from last year of setting low ET at all events and having the current ET record at every track, so I think we have a pretty strong baseline to work from. We have made some minor changes to the car and we should not be too far from getting it working, but we need a couple of runs to tune it,” said the reigning champion.
Bader is consistent and fast at all tracks and the Swiss driver can spoil the Swedish championship dream. Tero Laukkanen, the number four in the 2015 FIA championship is taking a year off, but might come back stronger than ever before in 2017. Number five and six in last year’s championship were Roger Johansson and David Vegter, and both will try to get into the top three this season. Like Eriksson, Vegter will have Adam Flamholc as his tuner and their first test outing at Malmö Raceway was very promising with a 3.97 personal best over the 1/8 mile in the first full pass.
Thomas Stiefel was the big surprise of last year’s European Finals and as the Swiss driver will also get tuning assistance from Flamholc, he might be a top three championship contender too. The same can be said about Johan Lindberg in The Old 51. As Niclas Andersson showed the last few years, the car is extremely fast and Lindberg is a proven winner. As the combination will do the full tour for the first time, the former Pro Mod champion might be one of the biggest favourites to beat Gullqvist and Eriksson.
Special attention will go out to Kuwait’s Hussain Al Shammari, who has raced in PDRA (USA) and the Arabian Drag Racing League. He will drive one of Norbert Kuno’s blower Avengers at Santa Pod, but will ship his own 1970 Camaro to Europe later this season. Of course team owner Norbert Kuno will be in the other Lucas Oil car and as his name is also on the Tierp entry list, the German might do more races than the last few years.
As almost all other names on The Main Event entry list will only do a limited schedule, they will not play a major role in the championship fight, but can take away many points from the favourites. It’s great to see the debut of Michel Tooren in the Pro Dutch Racing Cuda, formerly driven by the sadly missed Robert Joosten, and the debut of former Super Pro ET competitor Marck Harteveld in the ’70 Roadrunner Superbird. Of course England is well represented with eight combinations, with Andy Robinson likely to be the quickest one of them. From France we see regular Santa Pod visitor Jean Dulamon, and with Marcus Hilt and Roland Bolletier two more Swiss drivers will start their season in England.
Almost all British competitors will skip the Scandinavian rounds of the championship, but there we will see an even larger number of Swedish and Finnish Pro Mods joining the tour, including proven race winners as Anders Nilsson and Urban Johansson.
Text and photos: Remco Scheelings