The final goodbye to Moottoriurheilukeskus Alastaro
The 2018 FHRA Nitro Nationals at Alastaro was a historic one and not only because it was the last FIA European Drag Racing Championship race at this special place. With Jimmy Ålund winning Pro Modified and Pro Stock, it was also the first time in the history of the FIA European Drag Racing Championship that a driver won two categories in one event. Timo Lehtimäki upset the favourites in Top Fuel to take the win, while Timo Habermann extended the 2018 winning Habermann streak with a victory in Top Methanol. All qualifying and eliminations results were published on the Dragracingeurope.eu and FHRA websites during the event. In this article we look back at the highlights and other interesting things that happened during the final goodbye tour at Alastaro Circuit.
For the final FHRA Nitro Nationals at Alastaro the track crew did its very best to offer the drivers the best possible track conditions. And looking at the elapsed times in almost all categories, they did a great job with several track records as a result. With the rain on Friday morning, the burning sun in combination with the wind and cold air temperatures, it was not the easiest job to keep the track in perfect shape.
The Friday qualifying had to be reduced to one run after the rain delayed start. In Top Fuel Liam Jones set the pace with a great 4.05 seconds, to improve to 4.01 seconds on Saturday. The RF Motorsport/CDB Asylum driver claimed the number one qualifying position and was followed by the Finnish trio of Anita Mäkelä (4.04 seconds), Antti Horto (4.07 seconds) and Timo Lehtimäki, who proved that the great form he showed at Tierp was not a coincidence.
Mikael Kågered only needed one reasonable run to claim the number five position, with reigning champion Duncan Micallef (once again suffering wheel spin) in sixth. In his first outing of the season Janne Ahonen was in seventh position, while Stefan Gunnarsson was eighth after the Swede suffered a lot of damage when a fuel line failure caused a big fire immediately after the start of his run.
The Top Fuel eliminations were not the best so far this season as several drivers went up in smoke, while others suffered mechanical problems. Jones had severe traction problems, handing the win to number eight qualifier Gunnarsson. His RF Motorsport teammates Horto and Micallef had to face each other and went up in smoke as well. In a spectacular pedal fest Micallef took the win. Ahonen had to stop his car after the burn out as there was a serious problem with his engine, and in a bye run Mäkelä advanced to the semifinals. Lehtimäki was the only driver with a good run as the Finn improved to 4.13 seconds to defeat Kågered.
In the semifinals it was Mäkelä who suffered mechanical problems as there was something wrong with the throttle cable of her car, causing the fan favourite to idle to the finish line and see Micallef advance to the final in a far from perfect run. In the other semifinal Lehtimäki was the only Finnish hope left and the TIL Racing driver didn’t disappoint with a win over Gunnarsson.
Even the final was not a real race as Micallef went up in smoke at the moment the reigning champion hit the throttle and so Lehtimäki gave the home crowd something to cheer about with a 4.29 seconds win.
In three races, the Top Fuel category has had three different winners so far. At the halfway point of the season Mäkelä leads the field, with Horto 87 points behind in second position and Lehtimäki third, making the top three all Finnish. Micallef is fourth, Jones fifth and Kågered sixth. But with only 41 points between Horto and the number seven, Gunnarsson, everything is still possible.
In Pro Modified the competition was as close as it was in the first two races of the season. Michael Gullqvist was the leader after Friday qualifying with a great 5.93 seconds, and although the reigning champion improved to 5.90 seconds on Saturday, Jimmy Ålund claimed the number one qualifying position with a stunning 5.86 seconds.
Andreas Arthursson (5.98 seconds) and Kim Kristiansen (5.99 seconds) also broke the 6-second barrier. With 6.05 seconds David Vegter was the first driver in the six seconds, with Bruno Bader in sixth and Jan Ericsson in seventh position.
In the first round of eliminations number eleven qualifier Roger Johansson was the next driver in the 5-second zone with a great 5.95 seconds to surprise Kristiansen (6.02 seconds). But most attention went out to Vegter as the Dutch driver stormed to a stunning 5.856 seconds, a new personal best and track record for Alastaro. But that was not enough for a win as Vegter pulled a red light, handing the win to Rolf Simonsson. In the quarter finals there was a scary moment when Bader went to the center line and then lost control of his car. The Corvette hit the wall with the right hand side of the car and rolled to the finish line.
Ålund and Gullqvist didn’t make any mistakes and advanced to the final. Ålund defeated Laura Saksa in the first round with 5.87 seconds, to prove his consistency with a 5.92-second win over Simonsson in the semifinal.
With a string of 5.9-second runs Gullqvist defeated Peter Kunc and Jan Ericsson, to advance to the final with a holeshot win over Arthursson.
In the final Gullqvist had some tyreshake at the start line and as Ålund had no problems at all, the Old 51 driver took the win.
Just like in Top Fuel, Pro Modified had its third different winner at Alastaro, as Gullqvist won in England and Arthursson took the trophy at Tierp. Ålund is leading the championship, but Gullqvist is only 33 points behind. Arthursson is third, Ericsson fourth and in fifth position Vegter is the first non-Swedish driver.
But there was not much time for Ålund to celebrate, as the Swede had to hurry back to the start line where his Camaro was waiting for the final in Pro Stock. Although Ålund is the 10-time European Pro Stock champion, his final round appearance in Pro Stock was a bigger surprise than that in Pro Mod. Terrible tyre shake at the start line caused three aborted qualifying runs and with an elapsed time of 19 seconds Ålund was the number seven qualifier.
Reigning champion Bengt Ljungdahl had no problems and claimed the number one qualifying position with a great 6.55 seconds, with championship leader Stefan Ernryd in second position (6.63 seconds), Robin Norén third (6.68 seconds) and Tierp winner Michael Malmgren (6.69 seconds) fourth.
With a set of tyres borrowed from Malmgren, Ålund was back in business in eliminations. All traction problems were gone and the 10-time champion stormed to a great 6.57 seconds to defeat championship leader Ernryd. Because Norén and Malmgren suffered tyre shake and lost their first round to Sampsa Palos and Tommy Leindahl respectively, the first round exit didn’t hurt Ernryd too much in the title race. Ljungdahl defeated Leindahl in the semifinal with 6.627 seconds, while Ålund needed an almost identical 6.624 seconds to beat Palos.
In the final Ålund carried on from where he left off with a great 6.61 seconds to claim his second win of the day. It’s the first time in the history of the FIA European Drag Racing Championship that a driver has won two categories in one event.
With Ernryd, Malmgren and Ålund, just like in Top Fuel and Pro Modified, Pro Stock had three different winners this season. Ernryd is leading the championship, with Ljungdahl as the new number two and Malmgren in third position. Ålund is fourth and Norén fifth.
With severe tyre shake in England and Sweden, the Bellio family had some homework to do before Alastaro. They found something in the setup of the engine and in Saturday qualifying Sandro Bellio bounced back with a stunning 5.48 seconds, coming close to his almost record setting numbers from last season. With the 0.22 seconds advantage over the dragsters, Bellio was sure of his first pole position of the season.
But behind the Belgian driver it was extremely close with Timo Habermann second (5.435 seconds), Jonny Lagg third (5.436 seconds) and Dennis Habermann fourth (5.439 seconds)!
Mikael Larsson and Ari Pietilä were a bit further behind in fifth and sixth. With this qualifying result it was for the first time this season that the two Habermann brothers couldn’t dominate the final, as after a win in the first round, they would have to face each other in the semifinal.
In eliminations the Habermann brothers improved on their earlier performance and with a great 5.37 seconds Timo defeated Larsson and Dennis (5.42 seconds) was too quick for Lagg. In a great semifinal Timo stepped up to an even better 5.31 seconds to defeat his brother and advance to the final.
There the German driver had to face Bellio, who advanced to the final after a first round win over Pietilä and a bye run in the semifinal. In a close final Timo Habermann recorded 5.446 seconds and Bellio 5.660 seconds. With the 0.22 seconds advantage on the tree for the Funny Car, and identical reaction times for both drivers, the victory would go to Bellio with a win margin of 0.006 seconds! But Bellio had a far worse reaction time then the German driver and so Habermann crossed the finish line first. After his win at Santa Pod, and Dennis Habermann winning at Tierp, it was the second win for Timo and the third win this season for Werner Habermann Racing.
It won’t be a surprise that Timo Habermann is leading the championship at the halfway point of the season, with Dennis Habermann 49 points behind in second position. Lagg is third and Bellio is the first of the Funny Cars in fourth position.
The last time that this most photographed road sign shows the drag racers the right direction to their Finnish race track
The Alastaro tower and bridge
The beach, the characteristic Alastaro background
One of the great Alastaro memories, the drivers coming back from their run, welcomed and almost touched by the fans
Kauhava is the new home for the FHRA Nitro Nationals and Finnish drag racing. LSK Business Park, where the new track is located, presented themselves in the pits and attracted a lot of attention
David Vegter lost some speed in his last runs at Tierp and in Alastaro qualifying. The reason was found in a problem with the converter. After solving the problem on Saturday night, the Dutch driver stormed to a stunning 5.856 seconds in the first round of eliminations, a new personal best and track record for Pro Modified. As it was the last race at Alastaro, the name Vegter will be in the Alastaro record books forever
Janne Ahonen suffered serious engine problems in the burn out of the first round of eliminations. The engine revved up too high and caught fire. It was the end of a race day for the popular Finn
After the fire in qualifying, Stefan Gunnarsson’s fire suit was so badly damaged that it was not safe to wear it again in eliminations. Sandro Bellio had a spare fire suit, but that was not certified for Top Fuel. Sandro gave his spare fire suit, that was certified for Top Methanol, to Jonny Lagg, so Lagg could give his Top Fuel certified fire suit to Gunnarsson. With some help of his fellow racers Gunnarsson could start in eliminations and reached the semifinals
Former European champion, two-time NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car champion, and Funny Car driver for Head Racing, Jonnie Lindberg, was back in Europe to assist Mikael Larsson and Janne Ahonen with the tuning of their cars
What is that hand looking for?
For some people all doors open
The Top Methanol Dragster top trio, separated by only 0.004 seconds in qualifying, Dennis Habermann, Jonny Lagg and Timo Habermann
Jimmy Ålund made history with two wins and he was extremely happy with it
The Ken Black Racing Pro Stock engine in Jimmy Ålund’s Camaro, always with a black cover
The Liberty transmission of a Pro Stocker
Bruno Bader had a bad crash in the quarter finals and was taken to hospital for a check. The Corvette suffered severe damage to the right hand side
The Finnish tradition for the first time winner, the dunk in the water barrel. It was for sure not Timo Habermann’s first win, but still the crew couldn’t resist the water
Antti Horto welcomed many of his loyal sponsors at his home track and explained the technology of a Top Fuel dragster
The 4.01 seconds in qualifying was a good reason for a big smile for Liam Jones
Anita Mäkelä is of course also very popular in her own country and took the time to sign numerous T-shirts
Anita Mäkelä has a good sense of humor, even after two runs in eliminations where she idled to the finish line in 26.8 and 18.7 seconds. “I have never had so much track time”
Duncan Micallef goes up in smoke and lets the tyres suffer
The view from the drivers on the Alastaro track. What will they see next year?