The lights turn green at Santa Pod for a flying start of the FIA European Drag Racing Championship
After eight months of waiting, 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! Antti Horto (Top Fuel), Sandro Bellio (Top Methanol), Jan Ericsson (Pro Modified) and Jimmy Ålund (Pro Stock) are the reigning champions. Who will be in England to start their title defence, who are the challengers and the favourites? Looking at the event and championship entry lists, one thing seems to be sure, it will be a tough fight with a title race that could go down to the wire.
Last season saw the restart of the FIA European Drag Racing Championship after a forced 2-year coronavirus break. After a difficult start, the most prestigious drag racing series in Europe quickly recovered. The number of competitors increased during the season and new drivers entered the championship. This season the FIA European Championship looks to take the next step as even more drivers and former champions who took a few years off, will make their comeback. It’s also great to see that more Scandinavian teams will make the trip to England now that it’s more clear how they have to deal with the Brexit rules. But not all the problems have been solved yet, and several drivers and teams will have to miss the opening round of the season as they are still lacking essential parts. Hopefully the lack of raw material, production facilities and problems with transportation will be over soon.
The FIA European Drag Racing Championship is back to five rounds this season as the June event at Tierp Arena returns to the calendar. The 2023 title race once again kicks off with The Main Event at Santa Pod Raceway, three weeks later followed by the Tierp Internationals at Tierp Arena, Sweden. 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.
Interesting title fight in Top Fuel
The Top Fuel category will very likely have a new champion at the end of the season. Due to the lack of time of his Eagle Top Fuel Racing Team, the reigning champion Antti Horto will only take part in the two Tierp events. With two results in a 5-race championship, a title defence is only a theoretical possibility.
But even without the reigning champion, the title fight will be tough as there are no fewer than six entrants at The Main Event in the most prestigious class of the FIA European Championship. With 50% of them being female, drag racing once again proves that in this form of motorsport there is no discussion about creating separate categories for male and female drivers. And, looking at the results from last season, there is a fair chance that after Anita Mäkelä in 2019, Top Fuel will have another female champion this year.
Susanne Callin is one of the favourites after the RF Motorsport driver finished the 2022 season on a high with wins at Hockenheim and Santa Pod. The Swedish driver, last year’s runner-up in the championship, will fly the familiar colours of Slick Tricks Racing.
Strong competition will definitely come from Ida Zetterström. In her rookie Top Fuel season the driver from Åland, Finland, impressed with resetting the European ET record to 3.782 seconds, being the first driver in Europe to break into the 3.7-second zone, and her win at Tierp Arena in what was her second Top Fuel race. Zetterström will once again drive for Rune Fjeld Motorsport and with Edelbrock and KW Parts the popular driver from Finland has two great partners, while almost all sponsors and partners from last year will be back on the black, white and red coloured dragster.
The third female Top Fuel driver on The Main Event entry list is Jndia Erbacher. In 2022, the first season after the coronavirus break, the Swiss driver only took part in her ‘home race’, the NitrOlympX, and immediately impressed again. With 318.96 mph Erbacher is the European speed record holder and as she will compete in more races this season, she is a force to be reckoned with in the title race.
After a few years away from the championship, it’s great to see Stig Neergaard back. If everything goes according to plan, the Dane will do the full tour and might be the major challenger for the two RF Motorsport ladies. Neergaard will once again be supported by Lucas Oil.
With Duncan Micallef, there is a former champion back in the 2023 championship. After claiming the 2017 FIA European Top Fuel Championship, the Maltese Lion took a break from full time racing. But this season Micallef is back and of course once again in a RF Motorsport car. Although he will only compete in three of the five races, there is a fair chance that Micallef will finish in the top three of the championship. As Micallef is president of the Malta Motorsport Federation, The Main Event will see the unique fact that for the first time a serving head of a national motorsport federation will take part in a drag race.
Last but not least there is Dennis Nilsson on The Main Event entry list. The driver from Sweden will race the family run Autoart Top Fueler. Nilsson was at Hockenheim last year and will now start his season at the first round of the championship. On paper and looking at the personal records, Nilsson might not be the favourite for a win in England, but as races are not run on paper and in Top Fuel anything can happen, Nilsson could go home with the biggest trophy as well.
Top Methanol, funny cars and dragsters
Sandro Bellio claimed his second consecutive FIA European Top Methanol Championship last year. It’s great to see that the family run team is back to defend the title. Bellio will run a new Chevy Monte Carlo body in a fresh new design this season. The driver from Belgium also has an eye on the European records this season.
Competition will come from Linn Fløysvik in the Karlsen Motorsport Ford Mustang. The young Norwegian driver finished in third position last season. The team used the last couple of months to update the Mustang and build a second engine. Better prepared than ever before, Fløysvik will be a force to be reckoned with on her second full championship tour.
At The Main Event the two funny cars of Bellio and Fløysvik will meet strong competition from two dragsters. The Top Methanol class is the only category in the FIA European Championship where funny cars and dragsters compete against each other.
Jonny Lagg finished in the runner-up position last year. The driver from Sweden, who won the FIA European Top Methanol Dragster Championship in 2016, will do another full tour and is always strong and a consistent top three finisher.
Unlike Lagg, Silvio Strauch will go for his first full season in the championship. The driver from Germany ran a limited schedule in his first two seasons in the class, but impressed with his driving. The Engine Ghost Racing Team hope to have solved the tyre shake problems they suffered from last season and will go for some good results.
Some of the other title contenders will start their season at Tierp Arena. Johnny Oksa, the 2016 FIA European Top Methanol Funny Car champion, had the intention to do the full tour, but work and other commitments made it impossible for the Finn to have the car ready in time for the opening round in England. Oksa returns to the championship with a new Camaro with a Jonnie Lindberg built and tuned engine, and a spare JLM engine in the trailer. That in combination with his ruthless driving style make ‘the beast from Finland’ a tough competitor.
Tony Bryntesson will also rejoin the championship at Tierp Arena, while we also might see Ari Pietilä, the Funny Car driver from Finland. Daniel Jedborn will hand over the steering wheel of his Försch nitro injected dragster to Tina Høst Nedregård, but the Norwegian driver will have to complete her licensing procedure first before she can enter the championship.
Full field of competitive Pro Mods
Jan Ericsson is the reigning champion in Pro Modified and the Swede will try to go for a third consecutive title. The orange Camaro proved to be quick, fast and consistent as well the last couple of seasons and that won’t be different this season.
But the competition will be tough as far more highly regarded competitors and proven winners than last year will enter the title race from the very first moment. Multiple champion Michael Gullqvist, Mats Eriksson and Fredrik Fagerström are three Swedish drivers who didn’t run the full tour last year, but will now start their title race in England.
But there are far more rivals in the field. Three of them are from The Netherlands and they finished the 2022 championship in second, fourth and fifth positions. David Vegter was the runner-up last year and has been extremely fast and quick for several years now. Vegter and his beautiful Camaro only need to be a bit more lucky than they have been the last couple of years to claim a title.
Michel Tooren, last year’s number four, won his first FIA European Championship Pro Modified race last year at Hockenheim. The Pro Dutch Racing team is definitely looking for more this season. Marck Harteveld is the third Dutch driver to do the full tour. The Voodoo Hemi Racing driver finished in the runner-up position at Tierp Arena last August. The stunning green Superbird is a real crowd favourite and absolutely a force to be reckoned with.
Andres Arnover is also among the favourites for the 2023 title. The Estonian driver and his turbo powered Mustang GT500 ’67 impressed with great numbers several times last season to finish the championship race in third position in what was his first full FIA EC Pro Modified tour.
Bruno Bader is one of those drivers who should never be underestimated. The Gotham City Corvette is still very quick and in combination with the Swiss veteran driver, who will once again go for a full tour, a proven top three finisher. Bader will definitely try to improve on his number six position in the championship last year.
So far the drivers who will do the full tour and therefore are more or less the title favourites this season. But there are many more quick and fast Pro Mods entering the championship and when they have a good start of the season, they might extend their planned schedule with more races. At The Main Event there are no fewer than 18 Pro Mods on the entry list. From the UK come Andy Robinson and Bobby Wallace and they can both win races, while Wayne Nicholson reset his personal best to 5.8 seconds a few weeks ago. Other local British drivers who can surprise are Jon Webster and John Tebenham. David Smith is a rookie and it will be interesting to see what he can do with the great looking ’55 Chevy BelAir.
Norbert Kuno (Germany) and Marcus Hilt (Switzerland) have a long competition record and can always surprise, while Walter Stobel, also from Germany, has far less experience in the European Pro Mod competition. At Tierp Arena several very quick Swedish Pro Mods will join the competition, while we will also see the FIA Pro Mod debut of Mike Reymond, son of former Top Fuel driver Kim Reymond.
It will be interesting to see who will lead the championship on the bank holiday Monday evening of The Main Event.
No Pro Stock
The Pro Stock category, as always dominated by drivers from Sweden, will start their FIA European season at Tierp Arena. Jimmy Ålund is once again the reigning champion and although it’s a bit too early to mention all the names, you can be sure that at least Michael Malmgren, Stefan Ernryd and Robin Norén, the numbers two, three and four from last year, will do everything they can to prevent Ålund from claiming his 13th FIA European Pro Stock title.
Qualifying for the FIA classes will start on the Saturday, May 27 and will continue on Sunday 28th of May. Eliminations will take place on the Monday, May 29.
Text: Remco Scheelings
Photos: Remco Scheelings, Julian Hunt