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Memorable weekend ends in sadness
Last weekend’s FIA Finals at Santa Pod Raceway were attended by a record crowd of around 30,000 over the four days, with Sunday, September 10, being the busiest Finals day since Keith Bartlett’s team took over at the facility. It was undoubtedly one of the best weekends of European drag racing ever seen. Tragically, though, the event is most likely to be remembered for a freak accident that claimed the life of a spectator early on Sunday evening.
Numerous records were set in a whole range of categories, but perhaps the most impressive performance came from Switzerland’s Urs Erbacher, who set a new European record in Top Fuel on Saturday, with a stunning 4.74/318mph blast. Not surprisingly, he went on to take the event win, although the 2006 FIA Top Fuel Championship crown was wrapped up by Hakan Nilsson earlier in the weekend.
Urs Erbacher set a new European record in Top Fuel
Nilsson and Erbacher met in Sunday’s final, with Erbacher putting in another storming 300mph pass (4.79/312mph) to a cruising Nilsson, who lost his blower belt mid-track. Eleven Top Fuel cars were entered in the event, although British fans had only Smax Smith to support, as Andy Carter ended his relationship with Rune Fjeld some months ago. Unfortunately, Smax’s weekend went up in tiny particles after a fiery clutch explosion at the top end of the track on Saturday afternoon provided photographers with a spectacular shot, but the clean-up crew with a real nightmare.
In fact, if you had travelled to the ‘Pod thinking that the balmy Indian summer weather was going to result in hard racing without any delays, you would have been wrong, as numerous on-track problems encountered by competitors led to big delays in the event schedule. “Oil-downs” alone accounted for a loss of almost eight hours of track time in the course of the whole event, with almost three-and-a-half hours required for remedial work just on Saturday. Clearly, this sort of thing is beyond the track’s control, but it does highlight a significant problem, which only the efforts of Santa Pod’s hard-working clean-up crew managed to prevent from eating even further into the weekend’s racing.
A patient crowd awaits another track clear up
For those who might be wondering what an “oil-down” is, and how it is best dealt with, we asked the Santa Pod tech crew to explain more. An oil-down occurs when liquid spills on the track surface from a race car. Depending on the liquid involved, the clean-up process varies slightly. Certain synthetic oils and some antifreeze products are particularly difficult to deal with, and often require the application of several products in order to remove any residue. If the oil has actually seeped into the tarmac or the rubber, it is also difficult to remove quickly.
The process involves applying oil-absorbent powder/clean-up liquids etc to the affected area, which is then hoovered with a sweeper and washed with a detergent. It is then "blown" and dried with a jet drier, after which rubber and VHT track bite is applied, hopefully restoring the track surface to its pre-spillage condition. In short, such remedial work is time consuming, but also the only effective way of keeping the track surface in top racing condition. So now you know.
Returning to the action, Dave Wilson and his American Car Imports-backed FIA Top Methanol dragster appeared to be on cruise control all weekend, knocking out consistent 5.40 second times run after run, even after the team switched engines. Predictably, he made it through to the final, but in a notable upset, was beaten by Peter Schofer, after the ACI car went up in smoke with a losing 5.70/244 to 5.55/256. Fortunately for Mr Wilson, though, he had amassed enough points to secure the FIA championship, and could therefore console himself with his fourth title!
Dan Larsen's Pontiac
The Dodge Avenger of Dan Larsen met the Pontiac Firebird of Ulf Leanders in the final of FIA Top Methanol Funny Car. Larson won with a 5.87/244 when Leanders backed off to a losing 6.90/134 pass. Leanders’ cruise over the line, however, was also sufficient to earn him the 2006 championship crown.
FIA Pro Stock action was particularly hard fought and produced probably the fastest and quickest Pro Stock times recorded outside of America, with side-by-side 6.86/200.98 and 6.84/200.98 times respectively for Michael Malmgren and Eero Knihtila. The event winner and 2006 champion, however, was Jimmy Alund in his Pontiac Firebird, who disposed of Malmgren in the final with a 6.92/198 to a losing, but quicker, 6.90/198.
Tommy Leindahl's Pro Stock Camaro
The “hot rods", as Santa Pod track commentator, John Price, likes to call the mighty FIA Pro Modifieds, provided all the action and drama anyone could want. Sweden’s Urban Johansson (2006 Champion) set another new weekend record, lowering the elapsed time for the category to just 6.17/229 in his ’63 Corvette. He was joined soon afterwards by Andy Robinson, with an equally strong 6.19/228 in his Studebaker. Neither of these hard-charging racers was to end up in the final of the strong, 23-car field, however, as Johansson shut off in round three with a leak and Robinson’s car wouldn’t start in round two due to a faulty coil.
The Pro Mod field is truly diverse
In the end, the final was between Danny Cockerill’s Robinson-built ’57 Chevy and Seppo Saapola’s bluff-fronted ’57 Chrysler 300. The Finnish driver was away first, but Cockerill gave chase and eventually eased past at the top end of the track for the event win with a 6.50/215 to Seppo’s losing 6.61/206 blast.
Ray (Dr Evil) White clears his lungs of tyre smoke after the burnout
Seppo Saapola gives a laid back thumbs prior to making it through the final of Pro Mod
Danny Cockerill took the Pro Mod event win
The Fuel Funny Car class has produced fairly indifferent performances of late, and especially so at the FIA Main Event earlier in the year, when the cars appeared to overpower the track. Last weekend’s performances were far from disappointing, though, with all three cars entered dipping into the 5s. Top performance was produced by John Spuffard, in the Showtime car, who clicked off a great, European record-setting 5.28/267 blast. Sadly, the final was curtailed after Sunday’s major off-track problems unfolded.
Andy Robinson looked to be on a roll until mechanical gremlins crept in
In UEM Super Twin Bike, the final proved something of an anti-climax between Anders Karling and Ronny Aasen. In eliminations, Karling got down to 6.79/158 while Aasen recorded 6.85/209, but as the start lights sequence began, Karling red lit and Aasen went nowhere, courtesy of a broken drive belt. As a result, the championship was Aasen’s.
Ronny Aasen's fab V-twin
Roel Koedam had the measure of the field in UEM Top Fuel Bike. The Dutch rider qualified on pole with a stout 6.27/212 and then went on to take the event win, disposing of Dave Bailey in the final to complete a perfect weekend.
The UEM Pro Stock Bike Championship and event win was taken by Anders Abrahamsson on a Suzuki, beating fellow Swede, Orjan Gustavsson, with a 7.47/174 against a losing 7.69/166.
Peter Creswell took the Super Comp win
As for off-track activities, Santa Pod was buzzing throughout the weekend, and especially so on Sunday, when the place was full to bursting. Spectator queues lasted until 12 noon on Finals day, and for many it took hours to get out, but fans had witnessed what is certain to have been one of the most memorable race meetings of the decade.
Urban Johansson set a new record in Pro Mod
“I would like to congratulate the race teams on a very successful FIA European Drag Racing Championship finals event at Santa Pod Raceway last weekend,” commented Keith Bartlett, CEO of Trakbak Racing Ltd. “We saw it all – records broken, hopes and expectations realised or shattered, the fastest times in all classes. In fact, it was professional drag racing at its best. It was a fantastic weekend, with record times, record cars and a huge spectator attendance to witness the fastest motorsport on the planet.”
Junior funny car mould was for sale at 2000 euros
Finally, we can’t bring this report to a conclusion without mentioning the events of Sunday evening. The thoughts of the DRC Review editorial team are with the family and friends of Roger George, a 64-year-old spectator from Norwich who succumbed to injuries sustained during the course of the Pro Modified Final. We join with both Santa Pod Raceway staff and the European drag racing fraternity in expressing our sincerest sympathies to them at this most difficult time.
A spokesperson for Santa Pod Raceway said, “Whilst a full police investigation is currently taking place, we are unable to comment on the cause of this tragic incident. We are, of course, deeply upset by it and our thoughts are with Mr George’s family and all of his friends at this very sad time.”
Story Andy Kirk & Graham Jones
Photos: Andy Kirk & Santa Pod Raceway
Top Fuel met its match when this soul-stirring Merlin-powered P51 buzzed the crowds