The FIA European Finals, Santa Pod Raceway
8th-11th September 2005
Thursday - Friday - Saturday - Sunday
It was good to get parked up and to head off to sniff out what action was going on both in the pits and on the track. I got to the Pod a little later than I had intended (sounds familiar) and was eager to seek out what was going on and, of course, to catch up with friends.
I spent the afternoon wandering mostly around the pits, chatting, snapping the odd interesting shot and chatting some more.... so much so that when I ambled up to the track to take some sportsman shots, I was rather astonished to find it had all finished!!! D'Oh!
Therefore, this little gallery I've put together is purely what caught my eye during the afternoon in the pits. Look out for Scotty Rob and his scary hair do! Check out 'Animal' Mark, Car Chief for Susanne Callin and his 'delicate blower manipulation instrument'! Sir Smax Smith is in there (fresh off the plane this afternoon) and is up to his usual antics; so are one or two others. If you get to Santa Pod this weekend, you MUST take a look at the life size 'Terminator' which is in the pits in the sportsman section. It is awesome!
The next update won't be until I am back at base, here, on Monday/Tuesday-ish, just as soon as I've got the pictures processed. For the time being, enjoy Thursday 's gallery!
Friday was an altogether promising day. The weather was pretty good and the qualifying action was excellent. I caught up with Smax Smith up at the MacDonald pit and he had literally stepped off the plane and driven straight to Santa Pod. His cheery smile and usual antics did a fairly good job of disguising the jet lag, but I wagered he would sleep well that night! Smax informed me that he was going straight back to Canada after the weekend, which is surely the more stressful way to go racing! In the first qualifying session, he ran really strongly to a planned half track, which would provide useful tuning data for car owners Richard and Stuart from their newly-installed 'Tetputer'. Continuing on in the first Top Fuel qualifying session, Gary Page had a frustrating burnout and immediately smelled a fuel leak and wisely pulled over. The fuel tank cap had decided to go on 'walk about' after being rattled hard in the burnout. No such dramas befell the running of Jon Webster, or Andy Carter. There was a little shake and rattle from Lex Joon and Tommy Möller, which left them looking to improve in the second round. This cannot be said for Susanne Callin. After her burnout (which I missed), just as she was about to stage, Car Chief 'Animal' Mark went to turn the data recorder on and..... promptly turned off the ignition! The car died instantly, of course, and Mark sheepishly returned to the pits where his old buddy and ex-team mate, Barry Sheavills, wrote something appropriate on the back of his shirt. Have a look in the gallery and look for Mark's yellow shirt.....
In Top Methanol Funny Car, there were no real surprises, especially so, when Urs Erbacher announced that he is to compete in the Top Fuel dragster category in 2006. He has, of course, done all there is to do and won all there is to win in the Alcohol Funny Car. If Steve Read returns to race Top Fuel as well, plus the usual suspects, this could mean a real bumper Top Fuel field for next year.
Top Methanol dragster has been promising good things all season and on Friday, Krister Johansson made a huge statement and dipped into the 5.4 second zone for the first time. All Krister's efforts with his A/Fueler for the past few years are now bearing fruit. It would have been unfortunate if the FIA had deleted the category, as had been feared earlier in the year.
In pro-Mod, Andy Robinson continued to make stunning progress and came within a smidgeon of Fast Freddy and his 6.28 bar he set in testing the previous weekend.
John Spuffard and Gordon Smith were also out in the Fuel Funny cars. John ran really hard and the car really 'dug in' and 'went' in the mid-section of the track after the clutch locked up, which shows that the tune-up potential for this car is finally beginning to emerge. It must have been a dropped cylinder, or something like that, because John moved hard over to the wall at around 1000feet and ground-down those pretty headers in a close encounter with the Santa Pod concrete wall...
As the second round of Professional qualifying came to pass in the afternoon, there was a level of 'urgency' in the air as racers were beginning to hear of potential foul weather the next day. It became all the more important to get a pass 'in the bank' to qualify. In Top fuel, the worried parties were Thomas Nataas (who didn't make the first session because of an oil leak behind the crankshaft pulley, which they fixed, but were not allowed into the lane because of their lateness), Susanne Callin (Mark switched it off. Oops), Smax Smith (only a part pass), Gary Page (fuel leak) and Jöran Persåker (couldn't get the car out of reverse after the burnout). First to go was Thomas and Susanne. Thomas smoked his tyres at around 200ft and gave up the run (bad move) while Susanne left strongly and sailed passed Thomas with the dragster hitting on all eight, right to the stripe for a terrific pass, straight and true. She duly enters her name in both the '4 Second' and '300mph' Ledgers and many congratulations to her. 4 second passes were also put up by Micke Kågered, Andy Carter and Lex Joon - (the most in a single European session?) and they were tracked by Gary Page with a 5.05 and that was with him off the throttle at 1000feet as non-engine parts failed. Whilst Jon Webster couldn't get started in the second session, he was still safely in the show with Tommy Möller and Jöran Persåker, though suffering troubled runs occupied the remaining qualifying positions.
Oh dear. Sometimes when you hear dreary and pessimistic weather forecasts they can be very off-putting and often depressing. Several times in my youth, I listened to the weather and decided to stay at home, only to bump into my lobster-faced and rubber-speckled chums at the pub that evening, to hear them say "Where the hell were you?". The motto? Don't take any notice of the weather. Go anyway. What will happen, will happen. Most of the time these positive thoughts are right. However, when we arrived at Santa Pod on Saturday morning, a quick glance above brought on a very heavy heart and revealed lumbering, water-saturated clouds, lurching hideously across the skies. Saturday was especially important for me, as I was engaged in activities with a unit from the BBC and whatever was to be done, Saturday was the only day we could do it. Needless to say, we were not able to complete all of the tasks in our remit, simply because the weather scuppered everything from around 11am onwards. When the drizzle slowed down a little, we did a piece to camera at the back of the tower, whilst the track sweepers were in majestic synchronisation behind me. I kept ruining it with repeated fumbling of words and each time, there were ripples of amusement from the some of the crowd in the barn. When my adlib piece finally got the thumbs-up from the director, the lads in the barn cheered loudly, bless 'em, which made me a little better. Then the rain really came down.
We had started off quite well, and to get things going, the Pro-mod session from the previous evening was finished off. This was followed by the SuperTwins, then (mysteriously) Andy Robinson made a corker of a pass, then a couple of Top Fuel bikes and then - "All aboard Noah's Ark!"
Despite the Sterling efforts of Race Director Darren Prentice, Jon Cross and the SPRC, they simply could not win the battle against the elements and the water came down as if from a Monsoon, with Santa Pod tattooed right across it. I have never seen anything like it and I have been coming here since I was a kid. Very depressing indeed. I got completely drenched and all my gear got damp and wet (not good). Eventually, I trudged over to the fansfueler stand where the Santa Pod Top Fueler was situated and gate crashed a 'Sten' party. Chris Parker and Becky Park, who are in charge of the fansfueler project, are getting married in a week and they invited a number of special guest to come and enjoy the party at the track. Everyone ended up crammed into the little trailer and it was a squeeze to say the least!
That, I am afraid, is about all I have to report on the Saturday at Santa Pod. We stayed at the Travel Lodge in Bedford (nice room, bit expensive and it's a shame there's no pubs or anything close by, unless you take a pricey taxi ride into the centre of Bedford) and it was only when I was three quarters of my way through an excellent Chicken Tikka Masala, that I began to feel a bit better again. "At least we'll be racing, tomorrow morning" I cheerily quipped to my pal, Guy, as we greedily chomped our way through our curries. "Hope you're right, mate" said my less-confident friend.
Almost unbelievably, the weather had not really cleared by the time we got to the track on Sunday. The parking areas were still drenched and muddiness seemed to be the order of the day. It was just a case of seeing whether the weather would clear and what Santa Pod could do with the clock ticking inexorably away. Darren Prentice and the guys had been at the track from 4am and had been battling away to get the track back into some sort of shape. I bumped into Darryl Bradford pretty early in the pits and he didn't look as bright and breezy as he normally does.... "A little too much last night, Darryl?" "No", he muttered. He had stayed in a dry place right by the track in the pits and he had been awakened with the track activities and had not slept again. A bacon roll soon had him enthusing again.
The drizzle continued to interrupt proceedings until well after lunch. Racing didn't start until 3pm which was an absolute testament to the courageous hard work of Darren Prentice, the track crew and the SPRC. Many would have given up the finals for dead, but neither Santa Pod nor most of the hard-bitten race-fans gave up and we were able to have the full sessions of professional eliminations. The casualty amongst the revised proceedings were the sportsman ranks, but I believe that all the right decisions were made 'on the hoof' and with time running out. The sportsman racers will be centre stage in a few weeks, with their National Finals meeting.
Congratulations to Santa Pod, the SPRC, eurodragster.com and everyone associated with the FIA European Finals this weekend. We got our racing and went home deeply satisfied. Thanks again.