The Auto Trader Easter Thunderball from Santa Pod Raceway, 6th-9th April 2007
Report and pictures by Richard Stirling © 2007
The drag racing bonanza that made up the 2007 Auto Trader Easter Thunderball at Santa Pod, was truly memorable this year, if nothing else, for the superb weather which blessed the entire meeting. It is normally a time of year when we are reaching for trench coats, rather than high-factor sun tan lotion, but the warm weather, excellent air and a newly resurfaced 300 foot launch pad, all added up to a formula inviting the racers to make the very best of the conditions available; an invitation which they were not tardy in accepting.
Of the many highlights of this exceptional meeting, the unbelievable performance of the Nitro Funny Car of John Spuffard and his US-domiciled crew Chief Bob Jarrett, must be granted headline status. In the astonishing Thunderball 3rd/4th place run off against Leif Helander, John Spuffard kept his boot in on a picture-perfect run and drove his Funny Car right out the back door. In doing so, he became the first person to break the 300mph barrier for Funny Cars outside of North America, on a run that took just 5.115 seconds at an incredible 305.98mph. John’s previous best speed was 286mph set back in 2002, a speed that now seems positively slouchy compared to this new mark. This feat has once again firmly placed Fuel Funny cars back in amongst Top Fuel at the head of the food chain in European Drag Racing. It also now underscores the resurgence in interest in the category, reminding us of its former greatness during the Seventies and particularly, the Eighties. Interestingly, John and Bob had just concluded the sale of the Funny Car to it’s new Norwegian owners, prior to the meeting and they were reported to be delighted at the strong results from the Easter Thunderball. One can only surmise at the potential performance John and Bob will achieve once they get their ex-John Force Racing 2006 chassis and new Mustang body shaken down at the forthcoming Main Event meeting.
Mixing it up in the Thunderball event with John Spuffard, were the other Nitro Funny Cars of Leif Helander, Patrik Pers and Håkan Fällström. Joining the fray were the top Fuel dragsters of 2005 FIA Top Fuel Champion Lex Joon and 2006 European Finals Winner Urs Erbacher. Both drivers use chassis constructed by legendary US chassis builder Murf McKinney; Lex purchased his setup ‘Turnkey’ from American racer David Baca, who whilst driving that car at the 2003 US Nationals meeting, ran an incredible 4.499 second pass, a target that Lex dreams of repeating within the European Arena. Urs purchased his ‘Turnkey’ setup from US Racer, 39 year-old Doug Herbert, a solid driver who is 6 feet 5 and who claims his weight to be 225 pounds. It’s considered by many that the last time Doug weighed 225 pounds was some time around his 17th birthday! Thus a car from the Herbert stable is good for big strapping lads such as Urs, and Swede Tommy Möller who also has a ‘Dougmobile’ as does 2006 FIA European Champion Håkan Nilsson who also drove an ex-Herbert McKinney chassis ran by owners Per and Karsten Anderssen. After surprising everyone in European drag racing with his shock retirement at the beginning of this year, Håkan’s seat has now been taken by two time FIA Champion Andy Carter and the team will now be running under the global banner of Lucas Oils, a brand well known on the US-based NHRA drag racing tour.
Lex and Urs’ entries in the Top Fuel contingent were also bolstered by Norway’s Siw Nystad and Thomas Nataas – both driving for Rune Fjeld Motorsport. Siw is driving the ex-Andy Carter (B&Q) Spitzer chassis and Thomas is driving the newly arrived ex-Brandon Bernstein chassis and, whilst feeling a little snug, Thomas has pronounced himself comfortable and was later on delighted with a 4.89 second pass at over 304mph. Thomas’s Hadman chassis from the last three seasons has now been taken up by RFM’s third team driver, Finland’s Janne Ahonen, who will be competing on the entire 2007 FIA Top Fuel Tour. Janne has already shown great prowess in the Comp Eliminator category and secured his Top Fuel license last year. He is, however, known the World over for his legendary expertise in Ski Jumping - his titles include the World Cup 2003/2004 and 2005/2006 and also the Four Hills championship which he also won in 2004/2005 and 2005/2006. Janne will be appearing at the first round of the FIA Series at The Main Event at Santa Pod, looking to mix it up with the other heavy hitters in Top Fuel.
Looking at the results from the weekend, Lex Joon had some excellent results to consider, besides a spectacular win in the Thunderball. On two runs that were anything but straight down the middle of the track, Lex bagged 4.7 second runs, completely unheard of at this time of year. The first was heading for the wall and the second was heading for the centre cones towards the end of the track. The better of the runs was 4.750 seconds with a seemingly ridiculous terminal speed of 274mph. Further investigation of the timing data by TSI timers revealed that Lex got himself to the 1000feet marker in just 3.9781 seconds – a time notably quicker than that achieved during Kim Reymond’s jaw-dropping quarter-mile pass of 4.645 seconds in 2003. Clearly Lex and Crew Chief Sebastian have a handle on their new tune-up and their newly FIA approved electric timers, which eliminate a lot of the guessing game created by air-operated timers.
Urs Erbacher also hit the track running and on Saturday discovered that he had much more power than the second half of the track could handle and he was left boiling his rear tyres mercilessly as a result. In the session on Sunday, on what appeared to be a softer setup, Urs left black stripes from one end of the track to the other (an indication of wheels spinning instead of gripping) and still bagged a 4.81 second timing ticket at a most impressive 310mph. In Monday’s first round of Thunderball eliminations, Urs dispatched Siw Nystad and delivered a 4.83 second run at 308 mph – a run made more incredible by the fact that a cylinder was out all the way down track which would have been a deduction of around 1000 horse power.
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