Reigning champion Micke Kågered in command again
You don’t have to be the fastest to win races. It’s all about being fast enough in the right moment to defeat your opponent. And that’s exactly what Micke Kågered did at the FHRA Nitro Nationals at Alastaro. The reigning FIA European Top Fuel champion took a hole shot win against Janne Ahonen, saw Stig Neergaard run into problems with an engine explosion in the semi-finals, to have a bye-run in the final. With his victory the Bahco Express driver is the new leader in the championship after the Finnish round of the 2015 FIA European Drag Racing Championship.
The FHRA Nitro Nationals at Alastaro was the third race of the FIA European Drag Racing Championship. After the track was resurfaced last year, Alastaro is one of the smoothest tracks in Europe. Traction was already far better than last year, but it was no surprise it still couldn’t handle the 8,500 bhp that Top Fuelers produce. The extreme temperatures didn’t make it any easier either. But the crew chiefs did a great job, as the number of ‘up in smoke runs’ were limited and although the elapsed times might not be so impressive, racing was exciting and close.
With eleven cars entered and an eight car elimination ladder, qualifying was a serious business for the Top Fuel drivers and tuners. Stig Neergaard had the best set-up for the Alastaro track, as in three of the four qualifications the Dane had the best ET. Neergaard’s best time of 4.282 seconds handed him the number one qualifying position, just ahead of three Finnish local heroes.
Only 0.003 seconds short of the Dane, Antti Horto in his first race of the season secured the number two spot, with Anita Mäkelä in third. With 4.306 seconds the Tommi Haapanen/Sami Lehtimäki tuned combination was also not far away from the leader. After weeks of hard work the Ahonen Racing Team, crew chief Simo Patoharju and the returning Janne Ahonen got their reward with a fourth qualifying position. Micke Kågered started Saturday qualifying in eleventh position, but with 4.38 seconds the reigning champion moved up into the number five spot.
The two Rune Fjeld Motorsport cars of Liam Jones and Jari Halinen were sixth and seventh, while Stefan Gunnarsson in only his second Top Fuel race qualified in eighth. With only a few runs at their credit the BSG Dragracing crew was of course extremely happy to make the field.
With 4.282 for the number one, and 4.468 seconds for the number eight qualifier, the Alastaro field was not the fastest one, but with a margin of only 0.186 seconds, it was one of the closest. A surprising non-qualifier was Duncan Micallef and although Timo Lehtimäki and Björn Mårtensson were also running in the four seconds, they were tenth and eleventh and also non-qualifiers.
The first round saw some great racing with some surprising winners. In a spectacular side-by-side run Jones defeated championship leader and home favorite Mäkelä. The difference at the finish line: 0.039 seconds! In another side-by-side run Kågered needed a hole shot win against Ahonen to advance to the semi-finals. The Finn’s ET was 0.004 seconds better, but the Bahco Express was 0.03 seconds quicker at the lights and thus Kågered was in the semi-finals.
Halinen continued a ‘not so good’ weekend with a red light against Horto, who had low ET and top speed of the meeting in that run with 4.192 seconds and 457.19 km/h. Also no major upset when Neergaard outran Gunnarsson.
Drama in the semi-finals. Kågered had to face Neergaard and in a close run suddenly an engine explosion made an early end to the Dane’s run. In 4.20 against 4.32 seconds the reigning champion advanced to the final. The other semi-final was like a carbon copy of the first one. This time it was Horto who suffered an engine explosion, but as Jones pulled a red light, the Finn was still the winner and in the final.
What normally is the highlight of eliminations, this time was an anticlimax. The damage to Horto’s car was so great that the Eagle Racing Motorsport team didn’t even start with the repair of it and had to withdraw from the final. In a bye-run Kågered took the win, the first of the season for the reigning FIA European champion.
In the championship Micke Kågered is the new leader, only two points ahead of former leader Mäkelä. Neergaard is third, sixteen points short of the Swedish Bahco Express driver.
FHRA Nitro Nationals statistics
Low ET: Antti Horto, 4.192 seconds
Top speed: Antti Horto, 457.19 km/h
Link to final qualifying list:
Link to elimination ladder
Link to championship points standing after the FHRA Nitro Nationals
For more photos see: FIA European Drag Racing Championship facebook
Text: Remco Scheelings
Photos: Remco Scheelings