Surprising Alastaro eliminations cut short by rain
After an interesting qualifying and surprising first round of eliminations, the Top Fuel semi-finals of the FHRA Nitro Nationals promised to be even more exiting. The reigning champion Micke Kågered was out of competition and the numbers one and two in the championship, Stig Neergaard and Anita Mäkelä, had to face each other for a place in the final. But mother nature had other ideas and a thunderstorm and rain showers brought an early end to the third round of the FIA European Drag Racing Championship at Alastaro, Finland.
Alastaro Circuit, situated in the middle of the beautiful Finnish forests, hosted round three of the FIA European Drag Racing Championship. In Stig Neergaard and Anita Mäkelä, the first two races had two different winners and with the top three in the championship separated by only nine points, the FHRA Nitro Nationals could have made the difference at the half way point in the season.
With plenty of sunshine and pleasant temperatures, there were almost perfect weather conditions during qualifying for the FHRA Nitro Nationals. As Björn Mårtensson had to withdraw his entry, there were eight entrants for the 8-car elimination ladder, and so no qualifying stress for the teams. Although the Alastaro track was already much better than in the past, it was still difficult for the 8.500+bhp Top Fuelers to find enough traction over the full 1,000 ft. But elapsed times in the 4.1-second-zone were no exception any more, and that was good to see. Neergaard was the first one to break the 4.2-second barrier with 4.19 seconds to claim the provisional number one qualifying position on Friday, with a surprising Janne Ahonen in his first appearance of the 2016 season in second position. Mäkelä was third and Antti Horto fourth.
But on Saturday almost all drivers improved on their earlier performance and so there were many changes in the final qualifying order. Ahonen was the second driver to break the 4.2-second barrier with 4.18 seconds, but as Neergaard improved to 4.17 seconds, nothing changed in the number one and two positions.
There was a major improvement for Micke Kågered, as the reigning FIA European champion recorded 4.28 seconds and jumped from fifth to the third qualifying position. With her Friday elapsed time Mäkelä dropped to fourth. Timo Lehtimäki and Stefan Gunnarsson both recorded 4.4-second runs and were in fifth and sixth position.
After serious traction problems in his earlier runs, Liam Jones and the Rune Fjeld Motorsport team found what was wrong with the set-up, and although a 5.0 seconds was of course far from what they were looking for, they knew which direction they had to go now. Jones left the bump spot and was number seven qualifier.
Horto proved how quick things can change, as the Friday number four improved from 5.5 to 5.3 seconds, but dropped back to the eighth and last qualifying position.
The first round of eliminations saw great racing with three 4.1-second runs, two close finishes and two major upsets. Number two qualifier Ahonen lost traction and was defeated by number seven qualifier Jones, who seemed to have left all traction problems behind and improved to 4.19 seconds, by far his best run of the weekend.
The other major upset was the elimination of reigning FIA European Top Fuel champion Kågered. The Bahco driver recorded 4.34 seconds, but saw Gunnarsson improve to 4.31 seconds and take the win.
Neergaard had no problems and recorded 4.19 seconds, but as Horto improved to 4.22 seconds, it was a close run won by the Dane. Mäkelä improved on her qualifying performance with 4.18 seconds, the best elapsed time of the first round and her first 4.1 second of the weekend, to beat Lehtimäki.
In the semi-finals Jones had to face Gunnarsson and so there would be one new finalist in the 2016 season. A race to look forward to was the match between Neergaard and Mäkelä, the numbers one and two in the championship. With number three Kågered already out of competition, the winner of this race could take a huge advantage in the championship. But before the semi-finals could be run, thunder and rain brought an early end to the Alastaro eliminations
With his better qualifying results, Neergaard is the new leader in the championship after three races, only one point ahead of Mäkelä. Kågered is third and Jones the new number four.
FHRA Nitro Nationals statistics
Low ET: Stig Neergaard, 4.179 seconds
Top speed: Anita Mäkelä, 459.03 km/h
Link to final qualifying list and elimination ladder:
Link to championship points standings after the FHRA Nitro Nationals:
For more photos see: https://www.dragracingeurope.eu/fiaedc/nitro-nationals-2016/
Text and photos: Remco Scheelings