Deserved winners and records broken at The Main Event at Santa Pod Raceway

After a 2-year break, the FIA European Drag Racing Championship is back on track again. And what a start it was with The Main Event at Santa Pod Raceway. Reigning Pro Modified and Top Methanol champions Jan Ericsson and Sandro Bellio made their first move to retain their titles by claiming victory in their respective categories. As icing on the cake, Ericsson also reset the European Pro Modified ET record to 5.724 seconds. In the Top Fuel category Antti Horto was the winner, but Ida Zetterström made headlines with a new European record and made history by recording the first 3.7-second run in Europe with a stunning 3.782 seconds.    

After the coronavirus caused a 2-year break, the 2022 FIA European Drag Racing Championship kicked off with The Main Event at Santa Pod Raceway. Although the Swedish and Danish competitors were sadly missed because of their national Brexit rules, the drivers who were at Santa Pod made it to a great event, a race to remember and especially in Pro Modified there was an exciting fight for the win. That the fans missed the FIA European Championship as well, was loud and clear, as especially on the Saturday the famous Santa Pod spectator bank and grandstands were crowded.

Barrier broken

In qualifying the three Rune Fjeld Motorsport Top Fuelers suffered some traction and engine problems. On the Friday Susanne Callin and Ida Zetterström both crossed the finish line with an engine on fire. But on the Saturday it was Top Fuel rookie Zetterström who claimed the number one qualifying position with 4.08 seconds in her first official race.

Callin was second with the Slick Tricks Racing RF Motorsport car (4.38 seconds), while Antti Horto, flying the Eagle Top Fuel Racing colours, remained in third position with 4.75 seconds.

The first round of eliminations, and with only three competitors also the semi-finals, offered the spectacular racing everybody was hoping for. In his run against Callin, Horto stormed to a winning 3.808 seconds, a new personal best for the Finn and only 0.002 seconds short of Maja Udtian’s European record, set at Santa Pod in September 2019. Horto’s terminal speed of 318.75 mph was also very close to Jndia Erbacher’s European record of 318.96 mph set at Tierp Arena in 2019.

But only a few minutes later history was made by Zetterström as the Top Fuel rookie from Åland, Finland, stormed to a stunning 3.782 seconds, a new European record and the first run in Europe in the 3.7-second zone. Because the blower belt broke before the finish line, the speed was ‘only’ 301.9 mph, while Zetterström crossed the 1/8 mile speed trap at 286 mph, which proves there is more to come from this Rune Fjeld tuned combination.     

The all Finnish final was decided at the start line. Zetterström immediately went up in smoke while Horto stormed to another great 3.809 seconds, claiming the win and taking the lead in the 2022 championship race.

Jan Ericsson takes it all

With 16 entrants, Pro Modified promised to be the category with the most intense battle for the win, and so it turned out. But Friday was not the best day of qualifying, although the home favourites had nothing to complain about with an all British top three.

Nick Davies claimed the provisional number one position with 5.921 seconds, with Andy Robinson second (5.922 seconds) and Kev Slyfield third (5.94 seconds). In fourth position Michel Tooren, from The Netherlands, was the first non-British driver.

Reigning champion Jan Ericsson suffered some problems, including a broken gearbox, and was 14th after day one, while David Vegter had problems as well. The Dutch driver had to skip the second run on Friday due to electronic problems and was in 15th position.

But Saturday qualifying was absolutely great and made up for the problems on the Friday. There were numerous improvements, personal bests and the qualifying order changed after almost every run. Ericsson improved to 5.77 seconds, short from Andreas Arthusson’s European record, to storm to a stunning 5.724 seconds in his final run of the day, resetting the European record.

There was also a major improvement for Vegter as the Dutch racer recorded 5.88 seconds in his final run, to claim the third qualifying position. Davies improved to 5.87 seconds and was in second position after four runs.

In a close run, Bruno Bader was only 0.0004 seconds slower than Vegter and claimed the fourth position, with Robinson fifth (5.89 seconds) and Slyfield sixth (5.94 seconds). The elapsed times in qualifying proved how competitive and close the Pro Mod category was at Santa Pod. There were no fewer than eight drivers with a 5-second run and even the number 13 qualifier, Jon Webster was able to record 6.20 seconds. We will never know how close it would have been with the Swedish competitors in the field. Maybe we’ll find out in September.

The eliminations were also exciting and filled with many great runs and several upsets. Ericsson was in a class of his own. The new European record holder recorded an incredible consistent string of 5.7-second runs to defeat Norbert Kuno in 5.794 seconds and John Tebenham in 5.799 second, to face Bruno Bader in the semi-finals. The Swiss veteran Pro Mod driver, who defeated Robinson in the quarter final, had traction problems immediately after the start while Ericsson improved to 5.786 second to claim a spot in the final.

Vegter defeated Wayne Nicholson in round one in 5.92 seconds, to improve to a winning 5.90 seconds against Slyfield in the quarter final. In the semi-final Vegter had to face Andres Arnover, the Estonian driver who saw one of his qualifying runs ending in the field at the end of the Santa Pod track after his parachutes failed to deploy. In the semi-final Vegter recorded his first 5.8 seconds of the season, to defeat the fast turbo Mustang of Arnover, who crossed the finish line with a speed of 250 mph.

In the final Vegter had the better reaction time, but in the second part of the run Ericsson found some more speed again, passed the Dutchman and took the win in another 5.79 seconds (246 mph), while Vegter recorded 5.90 seconds at 225 mph. So the orange driver was defeated by an orange car. But after the difficult start of the weekend, Vegter was also happy with his runner up position.

Sandro Bellio up to speed again

In the Top Methanol category reigning champion Sandro Bellio started his season in the best possible way. The driver from Belgium was up to speed immediately with qualifying runs of 5.54 and 5.55 seconds, to improve to a great 5.48 seconds, only 0.06 seconds short of Jonnie Lindberg’s European record, in his fourth and final run. After severe engine damage in testing at Gardermoen Raceway the week before The Main Event, Linn Fløysvik and her Karlsen Motorsport crew had a lot of work to do to fix the car and had to skip the first day of qualifying. In her first run on the Saturday the Norwegian driver recorded a good 5.96 seconds.

Unfortunately, Fløysvik was not able to start in the final, as the team was not sure the engine was alright after a test run earlier on the Sunday. Thus, Bellio had a bye run in the final and claimed the win.

It was ‘wheels up Wednesday’ for David Vegter on the Saturday. The landing was okay, and there was no damage for the Dutch driver.

Not a Top Fueler but a pram for former RF Motorsport team mates Maja Udtian and Liam Jones, now a couple and the proud parents of Matilda.

The first tiny steps on the dragstrip. Do we see a Junior Dragster coming?

Top Methanol Funny Car driver Linn Fløysvik had little Andreas with her at Santa Pod. Junior Funny Car?

After the engine damage the team suffered at Gardermoen, the Karlsen Motorsport team had a lot of work to do on the Thursday and Friday to get the Mustang back on track again.

Sandro Bellio impressed with a great 5.48 seconds. Never change a winning team.

Marck Harteveld was back in the 5.9 seconds, but pulled a red light in the first round in a rerun against John Tebenham.

It’s impossible to overlook the Voodoo Hemi Racing team in the pits

Scrutineering also includes the race suit and helmet.

Checking all the details.

Andres Arnover will take part in all rounds of the championship and with his turbo Mustang he is a force to be reckoned with. After a fire in Tierp last August, the driver from Estonia now had an excursion into the field at the end of the track after the parachutes failed to deploy. The semi-final finish was a good reward for Arnover.

The impressive turbo engine in Arnover’s Mustang.

An up in smoke for Antti Horto.

And Ida Zetterström.

Hard times for a Pro Mod tyre.

Nitro flames in the dark.

Nitrous flames from Jean Dulamon.

The workers in the pits.

Parallel folding parachutes, Susanne Callin and Antti Horto.

More parachutes, the official opening of The Main Event.

Ida Zetterström explains it to the fans

Nitro warm up in the pits.

The new European record holder and her parents.

The moment of glory for the crew when everything falls into place. 

Methanol fuel for a weekend.

David Vegter into the staging beams

Top Fuel body, Antti Horto.

Nice trophies for the winners at Santa Pod Raceway.

Santa Pod, see you in September.

Text and photos Remco Scheelings

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