Back to action at Santa Pod for a flying start of the FIA European Drag Racing Championship

After a far too long and also wet winter, the engines can finally be fired up again and the thousands of horsepower unleashed. It’s time for the traditional opener of the FIA European Drag Racing Championship, The Main Event at Santa Pod Raceway! Ida Zetterström (Top Fuel), Linn Fløysvik (Top Methanol), Jan Ericsson (Pro Modified) and Michael Malmgren (Pro Stock) are the reigning champions, but one thing is sure, in at least three categories a new champion will be crowned at the end of the season. What to expect in England, who are the favourites and who might surprise? It will once again be a tough fight with a title race that could go down to the wire.

The FIA European Drag Racing Championship will be fought over five rounds again this season. The 2024 title race kicks off with the traditional The Main Event at Santa Pod Raceway, three weeks later followed by the SpeedEvents Internationals, called after the new and active promotor of the events at Tierp Arena. After a summer break, the championship returns to Tierp Arena in August for round number three, two weeks later followed by the NitrOlympX at the HockenheimRing, and another two weeks later the grand finale, The European Finals at Santa Pod Raceway.

Due to various reasons, three of the four reigning champions will not be able to defend their titles. FIA European Top Fuel champion Ida Zetterström made her dream come true, joined the American JCM Racing and will have her first race in the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series soon. For Linn Fløysvik the reason is less pleasant. Due to the significant costs involved in building a new engine and acquiring spares after severe damage last year, the FIA European Top Methanol champion will have to skip the 2024 season. After many season on top of the Pro Modified ladder and three consecutive FIA European titles, Jan Ericsson retired from racing at the end of last season, so he won’t defend his title either. Thus Michael Malmgren, the 2023 FIA European Pro Stock champion, is the only driver this season who can extend his title and as we know, the Swede will do everything he can to claim another championship.

Top Fuel
With the rising costs it is a difficult time for the fastest and quickest class of the FIA European Drag Racing Championship. Three drivers will start the season at The Main Event. Favourite to follow in the footsteps of Zetterström is last year’s (and 2022) runner-up Susanne Callin. In the RF Motorsport car the Swedish driver will once again fly the familiar colours of Slick Tricks Racing.

Duncan Micallef made his comeback last year, but the Maltese Lion was only able to compete in two races. This season the 2017 FIA European Top Fuel Championship is back for a full tour, work obligations and motorsport related activities permitted. Micallef will be back in the red and black RF Motorsport car.

Jndia Erbacher is the third Top Fuel driver on the entry list. The extremely quick and fast Swiss lady is always a force to be reckoned with. Last season Erbacher ran a limited schedule, but she still claimed the third position in the championship. It won’t be different this season as Erbacher still has an incredible busy schedule with her master study and work commitments. Running a Top Fuel operation for a full season would take too much time. Monster Energy is her main partner again this season and with a new livery, the car looks even more spectacular.

Antti Horto, the 2022 FIA European Top Fuel champion, will, as far as it looks right now, only take part in the first of the two Tierp events with the familiar Eagle Top Fuel Racing Team dragster. There are more Top Fuel cars race ready in Europe, but apart from Dennis Nilsson, who might appear at the NitrOlympX, it is uncertain at the moment when and where they will enter an FIA European Championship event.

Top Methanol, funny cars and dragsters
Will a funny car once again claim the title and succeed Linn Fløysvik, or are the dragsters more consistent and the winning combinations? That will once again be the question in this class where funny cars and dragsters compete against each other. If he is back at his former level, Sandro Bellio is the favourite to win the title. The 2019 and 2022 FIA European champion had all sorts of problems last year and wants to bounce back.

At The Main Event the Belgian family run Monte Carlo funny car will meet strong competition from three dragsters. A-Fuel Team Sweden will enter the championship with two cars. Jonny Lagg will fly the colours of NGK again and Tony Bryntesson will be supported by Bilsport. It’s great to see Lagg back in action after his devastating engine explosion last year. Bryntesson was not consistent enough last year, but with that problem solved the former Top Fuel driver will be a force to be reckoned with.

Silvio Strauch will go for his second full season in the championship. At the halfway point of the 2023 season the driver from Germany was in the title race, but after problems in the last two races, he finished the championship in fourth position. The Engine Ghost Racing Team will definitely try to improve and to be more consistent. Also from Germany comes Jürgen Nagel. It’s great to see the funny car veteran back in action in England again. As he will not run the full tour, a championship will be out of reach for Nagel.

After a break, Ari Pietilä will be back in action at Tierp Arena with an updated car. Johnny Oksa finished the 2023 season on a high with wins at Hockenheim and Santa Pod, but unlike what we are used to ‘the beast from Finland’, it’s very quiet from the Turku region. Tina Høst Nedregård, who impressed at her debut last season, hopes to be back at Tierp in August. More competitors might also join the championship later this year, but nothing has been confirmed yet.

New names and a full field in Pro Modified
Even if Jan Ericsson would have been on the entry list, it would have been hard to predict a new champion, especially as all drivers have to deduct the worst result of the five races from their points total. Thus the drivers who skip The Main Event, will still have a fair chance to win the title. David Vegter finished the 2023 season on a high with his first FIA Pro Modified race win at the European Finals and a runner-up position in the championship. The Dutch Vegter Pro Mod Racing driver has been extremely fast and quick for several years now and came close to the European ET record last season. To underline his form, Vegter recorded several 5.7 and 5.8-second runs at last weekend’s The Doorslammers.

The man to watch and also a favourite for the 2024 title is Andres Arnover. The Estonian driver and his turbo powered ’67 Mustang GT500 finished the season in third position. Arnover proved his great form early this season at Santa Pod with two personal bests (5.82 seconds and 252.41 mph). With a string of 5.8-second runs, Arnover was consistent as well, something that might be the most important in the title race. At last weekend’s The Doorslammers Arnover impresses even more with a 5.75 seconds new personal best and a string of 5.7-second runs at 259 mph!

Bruno Bader finished last year’s championship in fourth position. The Swiss Pro Mod veteran and his Gotham City Corvette are a proven top three finisher. Mats Eriksson and Roger Johansson claimed the numbers five and six in the 2023 championship. Just as Fredrik Fagerström, the two very quick Swedes will join the FIA tour at Tierp Arena in June. Due to work commitments and lack of time to update the Camaro, Michael Gullqvist will skip the first half of the season. The multiple champion wants to back at Tierp in August and is planning a full season comeback next year. Marck Harteveld will also be back for a full season in 2025. At the end of last season the Dutch Voodoo Hemi Racing driver, number eight in the championship, announced that he would take a year off to do all the things he didn’t have the time for in the last couple of years.

Michel Tooren, the number seven in last year’s title race, will join the tour at Tierp Arena. The Pro Dutch Racing driver bought a new car at the end of last season and the expectation was that the new car would be delivered in the workshop in March. Due to things beyond his control, the car will now arrive in the Netherlands the day before the start of The Main Event. The team will have less than two weeks to make the car race ready and travel to Sweden for the first couple of runs.

A real force to be reckoned with this season might be Stian Rusånes. With a new and proven quick engine in the Willys the driver from Norway might surprise, especially because he will do the full tour. Back in the championship is Jere Rantaniemi. With the turbo powered Camaro the Finn surprised a few years ago, but he skipped the major part of the 2023 season. Encouraging is also that there are two more drivers from Sweden, Peter Kunc and Andreas Sjodin, who will start the championship at Santa Pod.

It’s great to see that Jean Dulamon, all the way from the south of France, will do the full FIA championship tour for the first time in his long career. Dulamon made major progress in the last couple of seasons and can definitely surprise. In England Germans Norbert Kuno, Walter Strobel and Santa Pod Pro Mod newcomer Michael Winter will start their season, although they will not take part in all the races of the FIA championship. The same is true for Swiss drivers Marcus Hilt and Peter Wacker.

Last but not least there are no fewer than six drivers from the UK on the entry list and all of them can surprise at their home track. Andy Robinson and Bobby Wallace are both able to win the race and Wayne Nicholson, Jon Webster, David Smith and John Tebenham can destroy the dream of title contenders to score maximum points. It’s a pity none of them will travel to Sweden to take part in both Swedish rounds of the championship.

At The Main Event there are no fewer than 19 Pro Mods on the entry list, so qualifying for the 16-car field will already be a tough fight. At Tierp Arena several very quick Swedish Pro Mods will join the competition and the fight for the points might be even more intense. With a few weeks to go there are 20 Pro Mods on the entry list. Mike Reymond, son of former Top Fuel driver Kim Reymond, is the only competitor from Denmark, while everybody is waiting for the comeback of Kim Kristiansen. Mats Eriksson, Roger Johansson and Fredrik Fagerström were mention before, but what to think about former European recordholder Andreas Arthursson, Åke Persson or Patrik Wikström. Olof Andersson, Micke Johansson, Leif Karlsson, Marcus Perman, Jesper Stenberg and Jan Brännvall complete the Swedish army.

Pro Stock is back
The Pro Stockers skipped The Main Event last year, but now the factory hot rods are back and they do it in the best possible way with almost a full 8-car field. The top six of last year’s FIA European Championship will start the title fight at Santa Pod.

Reigning champion Michael Malmgren will meet tough competition from the two Dodge drivers, 2023 runner-up Stefan Ernryd and number three Simon Ekengren. Robin Norén, last year’s number four, had a busy winter as the team had to repair the Pontiac GXP after the crash at Hockenheim.

A major threat will be of course Jimmy Ålund. The 12-time European Pro Stock champion only took part in the two Tierp races last year and finished the championship in fifth position. This season Ålund is back for a full tour with only one goal, to retake that number one plate. Lasse Britsmar is the sixth driver from Sweden on the list. Last but not least, and that is great news, Richard Sundblom is back in the championship. The Finnish driver is definitely a force to be reckoned with.

Qualifying for the FIA classes will start on the Saturday, May 25 and will continue on Sunday 26th of May. Eliminations will take place on the Monday, May 27.

Text: Remco Scheelings
Photos: Remco Scheelings & Julian Hunt/eurodragster

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