On the European drag racing front, one of the most exciting bits of newswas the recent announcement, at Autosport International, that Andy Carter will be sponsored throughout the 2007/2008 FIA European Top Fuel Championship by Lucas Oil.As most who follow the sport will know, Lucas Oil is a major name in American drag racing.We caught up with Andy after the show to find out more about his exciting new sponsorship arrangement.
Lucas Oil has become a primarly sponsor for the first time in European Top Fuel drag racing and with Britain's Andy Carter
What does the Lucas Oil deal mean for you, and what will it allow you to do this year?
The new package weíve secured will allow us to compete head-on with the best in Europe in the 2007 and 2008 FIA European Top Fuel Championship.I have funding to enable us to do all of the championship rounds and push hard. In addition to this, the car will be shown at 10 events this year, to help promote Lucas Oil in Europe.
How does this deal rate with your previous sponsorships?
This is the best deal Iíve ever had, and itís almost certainly among the four best ever sponsorship packages in European drag racing history. Iím very proud to be associated with a company like Lucas Oil and people like Forrest Lucas and Les Downey.
Is this indicative of the increased popularity of drag racing in Europe?
Yes, I think it is, but I also think itís also down to the hard work I put into securing sponsors in the first place.Without wishing to sound big-headed about this, although there are a few, I donít see many British drivers putting in the amount of time and effort I do to try and secure sponsors. I think I work harder, and perhaps Iím more business aware Ė I am always prepared to put myself out and go that extra mile if I think it will help. I think itís also a case of looking after your sponsors. I know some people get sponsors on board and think thatís it, but you have to nurture a relationship.Iíve been involved with Lucas Oil now for five years, and each year the relationship just seems to get better.They know Iím in it for the long haul and I really value their support, I also do my best to promote all my marketing partners whenever I can.
For instance, I received confirmation this morning that NGK have renewed their sponsorship with me for 2007. This relationship dates back to 1994. I put a lot of effort into making sure they get everything we promise, and more besides.They get e-mails and updates about the team, as well as press releases, flyers and hero cards, and we talk to them regularly.I like to think we look after them well. I think thatís why I get sponsors and why I usually keep them for quite a while.Itís a full-time job though.This morning, I started at , and itís all to do with racing.
Andy hard at work in the office and flanked by his coveted FIA Champonship trophies
It must have been difficult for you last year having to sit out the latter half of the season when you lost your regular Top Fuel drive.
I didnít lose my drive, It was my decision not to carry on and it was the right one. I havenít really enjoyed Top Fuel drag racing for the past couple of years, and it was actually very nice to get away from the scene altogether and spend time with my family.We even managed to fit in a couple of holidays.Itís a shame, but when I knew I didnít have a chance of winning the championship, the hunger is just not there for me, Iím only in this for the winning and to gain maximum exposure for my sponsors.
I understand youíll be using an updated version of your 2003 car this year.What have you changed specifically?
Everything has changed, except for the roll cage.The chassis front and rear is all new, and as the car has been standing for a few years, weíve gone through everything systematically and changed or updated components to ensure we have an up-to-date package for the season.
Do you think the car will be competitive this year?
It will be difficult, as this car hasnít been on the track for some time and the drive train is so different to the one I had in 03, therefore we have no data to fall back on to dial it in for specific tracks. We have basic settings though, that should get us down track.Make no mistake; we are in the championship to win, and the two-year deal with Lucas Oil will allow us to continue our development in 2008.I imagine weíll be in an even stronger position then.
What are the significant developments in Top Fuel motors?
As far as weíre concerned in Europe, itís the fact that now we are only allowed to use billet aluminium blocks.I have three cast blocks sitting on the shelves, and unfortunately, theyíll have to go to make way for three billet units.The great news is that we now have the budget to do this, and at $8,500 per block itís not cheap.The billet blocks are much stronger, they donít fragment as much when you break them, and they save downtime when clearing up a mess on the strip Ė the extensive Ďliveí TV coverage of NHRA meetings in the US is also cited as a major factor in deciding to go the billet route.
What sort of power outputs are we talking about now?
The cars are probably putting out between 7000 and 8000 horsepower.One of the main differences to the engine specification in recent years is the introduction of the set-back blower.As the name suggests, this type of blower is set back on the inlet manifold and is supposed to give better fuel distribution and more even cylinder pressures,so the engine makes more power, and because itís running more evenly, the engine apparently lasts longer.Iíve talked to teams in the US, and at present, remain unconvinced as to whether this is really a benefit in Europe.All of the top US teams use them however, and three of the top teams in Europe have them already.
What Lucas Oil products do you use in your motors?
We use 20/50 plus for the warm up and a 50-weight plus or 70-weight plus for qualifying and eliminations, depending on the weather.This is a mineral-based racing oil developed specifically to handle the extremes of Top Fuel drag racing. We use 85/140 heavy duty gear oil in the rear axle and 10/30 in the reverser.
Do you think that recent developments in lubricants have made a difference to racers?
Definitely, compared with other lubricants weíve used in the past. Since using Lucas Oil products when we strip an engine or an axle down, itís notably cleaner.The main bearings, big ends, valve train and other parts exhibit less wear and last longer, and of course that means we use fewer parts than previously, but more importantly we can keep the combination together longer.
Are you prepared mentally for this season?
As a person Iím very strong mentally, I can always see a positive. Physically I eat the right foods, I go to the gym two times a week, play football once a week as well as trying to take regular walks and I would say Iím fully rested and ready to go. You donít have to be that strong physically to drive a TF Dragster but without a doubt you must be in good shape, there are extreme pressures put on the top half of your body during the launch and braking.
Part of Andy's huge trophy collection. It's enough to make you smile - well almost!
Whatís the most difficult part of driving a Top Fuel car?
That would be saving a run. When I say ďsaving a runĒ, I mean when the car starts to get out of shape, shake or smoke the tyres, and where you stop it doing any of these things and still get it to the other end of the track.I think thatís the difference between a race car driver and a licence holder.These cars are difficult to get from one end of the track to the other under power, despite how easy it may look from a spectatorís point of view.You see a lot of drivers smoke their tyres and lose out, but another driver in that car might not smoke the tyres at all. If you are really in tune with your car, you can feel the lack of grip, hear the rpm go up, before it actually smokes or shakes too badly, and back off and adjust.Even though of course you canít see the tyres, you can still feel whatís happening behind you in a matter of milliseconds.I think thatís what makes a good driver Ė being in tune with the car and making quick decisions. You donít often see me smoking the tyres because I always know when itís happening.You can then back off, pedal it, or just abort the run. While on the subject of driving Top Fuel, I still think the powers that be are giving licences far too easy to people who arenít really qualified to drive these cars, there are quite a few licence holders in TF but not too many race car drivers.
Some of your key rivals have switched over to Fuel Funny Car for 2007.Do you see the championship being any easier?
No, not at all. It will be a tough year. I donít expect it to be any easier just because there are fewer cars competing.It was tough when I won the two FIA championships previously. I thrive on ďtough.ĒThe main threats will no doubt come from Urs Erbacher and Hakan Nilsson. Iím looking forward to the season.
While here, Iíd like to say thanks to Drag Rod and Classic Review for interviewing me as well as to;
NGK Spark Plugs
K & N Filters
Rainbow Conference Sets 01895 814800
A1 Motor Stores
Autotel Race Radio
I would also like to thank Paul Wright, who does so much for me, plus everyone else who supports me in any way and of course everyone at www.lucasoil.co.uk