The 2008 European Finals meeting from Santa Pod Raceway, 4th-7th September 2008

Report and pictures by Richard Stirling © 2008

 

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I

Friday 5th September 2008 - Qualifying.

 

When I arrived at Santa Pod, early Friday morning, I drove (or should I say sploshed) onto the property, passed  through lots of puddles and duly arrived at the Parking area. When I say “Parking Area”, thanks to the recent deluges of constant rain, the entire vicinity had transformed into a knee-deep splodge of mushy peas. I entered the park with caution and made a mental note to thank Volvo for their wisdom in fitting both a limited slip diff and an anti-stall device as it effortlessly slurped it’s way into a chosen spot.

 

I trudged, stickily, out of the car park and laboured towards the media facilities, which are right round the other side of the track. I sometimes wonder at the sensibility of bringing over 25kg of equipment to the track; but without all your gear, it’s difficult to do one’s job properly. By the time I was welcomed cheerily, by Sue in the Media centre, I already had two sore shoulders and the tendonitis in both my arms was really hurting.  It had also started raining again.

 

After a delicious and mega-strong cup of coffee at the Media Centre, I was filled with enthusiasm and rushed off into the pits to snap some action. Sadly, the rain was really coming down and it was no surprise to find I was really beginning to get wet. I checked out the nitro pits to see if any of the zipped-up frontages were open and found, to my disappointment, that I couldn’t find a single one. I traversed the other side of the trailers to see that both sides of all the fuel awnings were all completely zipped up from top to toe. Feeling disappointed to say the least, I moved onto the Pro Mod and Pro Stock pits. It was the same there, too. I was beginning to get frustrated… I went on to Top Alcohol Dragster, Top Methanol Funny car and almost without exception, all the pit areas I came across were zipped up. My frustration had grown to moderate irritation, now. I could not work out why is it necessary to zip up BOTH sides of an awning? The rain can surely only come in on one side and should a weary and soggy photographer turn up, desperate for a picture to make his magazine submission or website look pretty, surely the teams would make it easy for people like us to give them the publicity they crave?  

 

I continued my trudge around the pits and the first cars I saw readily available to shoot were the school cars of Paul Marston Racing. At last! An opportunity to shoot! I happily blasted a number of shots and moved on a little. I was getting seriously wet, now.

 

Almost directly after, I stumbled upon Andy Frost with his Red Victor 2. Thank goodness for Andy. Not only had he just uncovered the car, but it was relatively open and he instantly had an extended fan base. I was really pleased to catch up with Andy and I was immensely grateful to have a hot mug of tea pressed into my mitt within seconds of my arrival.

 

Shortly after, Phil Cottingham of Andy Carter’s Lucas Oil Top Fuel team appeared in the team run around. He stopped at Andy’s pit the minute he saw it “open for business”. With him was Dan Read from Top Gear magazine who, after being introduced to Andy, fell head over heels in love with Red Victor 2. Later, Dan talked candidly with Andy about potentially getting the car shipped to Dubai for a 200mph competition. Let’s hope that materialises.

 

Some time later, as I lurched and sploshed my way back towards the media centre and it was no surprise to hear that the day and any racing activities had been called and that was that. I pondered as to what to do. I had planned to stay the night at the track, but I was drenched, cold and feeling thoroughly cheesed off. Instead, I decided to go back to the homestead and warm up. It was lovely to put on some fresh and dry clothing and later to slide into my own sumptuous bed. I slept like a baby.

 

 

Saturday 6th September 2008 - Qualifying.

 

An early start and good progress meant that I arrived at Santa Pod before breakfast. Various weather forecasts had given a choice of scenarios for the first part of the day, but from mid-afternoon at the latest, they were united: Rain and lots of it. With this in mind, I shot off up into the pits and enjoyed several of my favourite nitro warm up procedures from nearly all the professional nitro runners. After grabbing a number of shots, I could see that racers were cruising down the fire-up road and thus, I headed in the same direction. The tireless track staff were making all efforts to bring the track round to racing condition and as I approached the assembly lanes, there was an unexpected sprinkle of rain. Continuing round to the track I was invited to join a mini photo-shoot with the girls from Nuts magazine with Santa Pod’s two seater dragster which heavily features support from Nuts. It was a pleasant surprise to be involved in the process and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Almost unbelievably, the rain came down around 20 minutes later, with the assembly lanes bursting with bikes & cars eager to make their qualifying runs. Disappointing though it was, all the racers had to return to their pits in the hope that it would clear later.

 

I headed up into the pits and found my enthusiasm dampened until I came upon the Top Alcohol Dragster pit of Derek Flynn and Team Gold RV. Derek warmly greeted me and ushered me into the pit area to have a close look at the ex Larry Miersch A-Fuel dragster. I was deeply impressed and after a jolly good chat, I moved on to see who else was about. It didn’t take long to stumble upon the Lucas Oil Andersen/Carter Top fuel team and I spotted several chums milling in the hospitality area. A hot drink and a snack was proffered and was instantly accepted with much gratitude. Much merriment was going on in the area and it’s always good to see how hardened drag race fans and racers can always have a good laugh when it is raining. It was most amusing observing Top Fuel pilot Andy Carter teaching veteran American tuner Jim Brisette how to speak (and understand!) Cockney Rhyme. A more perplexed person I have yet to see!

 

Clearly, there was going to be no racing action for the day. The rain had varied from sprinkle through all possible combinations to monsoon throughout the morning and early afternoon and that   was that, for the day, again.

 

 

Sunday 7th September 2008 - Final Eliminations day.

 

Sunday morning was very much overcast and not particularly warm, but most importantly, the rain had stopped and the ever-tireless track crew were ceaselessly toiling to get the track into a racing condition. Up in the pits, the professional teams were warming up and preparing to get on the track for what had been decided was a one-shot qualifying session followed by eliminations.

 

The light was not particularly good in the morning; that doesn’t affect the racing, of course, but I it does make for dull and dreary pictures. Later on, those conditions would improve.

 

By the time the skies had settled and the track was in a go condition, the time was approaching 12:30. The race director, in view of delays and the further potential interruptions, elected to cancel all Sportsman racings and concentrate on the Professional categories with one-shot qualifying and eliminations. As qualifying got underway, the first two cars down the track to try the conditions were Top Fuel racers Stig Neergaard and Risto Poutiainen. The light appeared to be getting worse by the second, as they made their burnouts and the atmosphere was accompanied by that chilled air that usually precedes precipitation… my heart sank in my chest as the skies appeared to blacken even further, just as Stig and Risto pulled the corks out as the lights turned green. Risto was instantly in smoke – Stig was shaking, but couldn’t give a damn and didn’t lift – until he couldn’t see anything at all and decided to give it a pedal. Both cars got down the strip slightly faster than a misfiring invalid carriage, but at least there were a couple of qualifying times on the board.

 

If it was possible for the skies to get blacker again, then they did and just as the next pair lined up – the heavens opened. This weekend, we appear to have had as much rain as the Indian monsoon season and I find that it really drains the enthusiasm completely. So depressed I was, as I trudged around towards the Media centre, that I was convinced I had lost the will to live and consequently, I looked for some sort of instrument of self-mutilation to end it all. The only suitable item I could find appeared to be a plastic butter knife so, disappointed, I gave that up as a bad job. Slithers of brighter light in the sky then brought encouragement and soon I was feeling a bit better.

 

Top Fuel qualifying then continued not long afterwards and Andy Carter laid down an unbelievable 4.90 at just under 300 against Lex Joon who ran 5.0 (and change) at over 306 mph. Both drivers had pedalled early in the run and Andy ended up on top. This was to be very important for Andy later in the day. Other FIA qualifying continued with Pro Mod which ended up with Roger Johansson on the top of the pile and bump spot occupied by none other that championship contender Micke Lindahl. In Micke’s qualifying run against Marc Meihuizen, Marc got all crossed up and slewed across track, crossing the centre line and taking out timing equipment. This nullified Micke’s run, so he had a re-run which proved to be most entertaining. Micke was all over the track, rarely pointing at the finish line, but got to the stripe in 7.7 seconds, which is as slow a bump-spot in Pro Mod for some time. In Top Methanol Funny car, Leif Andréasson was on top with a 5.8, in Pro Stock, Jimmy Ålund was in at number 1 with a creditable 6.83 and in Top Methanol dragster, Derek Flynn in his newly acquired ex-Larry Meirsch A-Fuel dragster was at the top of the field with an incredible 5.49.

 

In FIM/UEM Super Twin, Svein Olav Rolfstad topped the field with a very conservative 7.02 second pass. It is at this point I must confess a moment of great embarrassment as regards Svein. Last night, I met up with my good chum and fellow photographer Patrik Jacobsson at the Dog & Duck at Wellingborough. As usual, we were sat around a huge table with a number of Scandinavians also joining in the frivolities. It was fairly noisy as the excitement built throughout the evening and Patrik was introducing me to more Scandinavians as they came and left the table, including Hans Olav Olstad, who happened to sit right next to me and whom I’d never met before. You can imagine how the evening progressed: “Another drink, Hans?” “Lovely copper colour your bike has!” “Love that rear wing on your bike!” “Better luck next year in the Championship!”. Then Hans announces he is to retire for the night “Good Night, Hans! See you at the track tomorrow” I cheerily quipped and he gave me a wave, but  with a slightly puzzled look on his face as he left the room. A moment or two later and Patrik says “Why did you keep calling him Hans all night?” the blood drained from my face. “But you introduced me to him as Hans Olav Olstad”. “No I didn’t! You didn’t hear me properly! He is Svein Olav Rolfstad! I’m sure he didn’t mind.” Oh, bugger. My big mouth and my paltry hearing have done it to me again! Anyway, it’s their fault for having stupidly similar and complicated Norwegian names! I feel better already…

 

Back to qualifying. In Top Fuel bike, Sverre Dahl pulled one right out of the bag with a 6.19 second pass at over 230mph. In Pro Stock bike, Ulf Ögg was on top of the field with a time of 7.5 seconds. I always thought Pro Stock was really close to the performances seen in the states, but recently I’ve made a cursory comparison and that #1 time for Ulf would have been nearly half a second short of making the bump spot of the 16 bike field at the recent Pomona Finals. Hmmm.

 

Next up was the first of the eliminations and I am pleased to say that the weather was picking up. There was now some sunshine at last and a bit of temperature was getting into the track. First pair was Andy Carter and Risto Poutiainen and there was a lane swap before the run, Andy electing to run in the left hand lane. Andy simply blasted away at the lights with an electrifying .83 second 60 foot and it pulled like the Starship Enterprise over the quarter, to stunning 4.74 at over 317 mph. The journalist from Top Gear magazine, Dan Read, nearly had his eyes pop out when he watched from the crew car as Andy laid down that run. I trust his experience will result in a bundle of well worded column inches in that venerable magazine, when it appears. The next pair was Micke Kågered and Urs Erbacher. As they were third and fourth in the FIA Championship, disappointment was awaiting at the end of the quarter for one of them. It turned out to be a pedalling competition and Urs was the one shown to his trailer by Micke. Lex ran a 4.93 at 300 to put Stig away and Tommi Haapanen ran a moderate 5.07 to dispense with Jari Halinen’s 7.07.

 

The Fuel Funny Cars then made an eagerly anticipated appearance and Thomas Nataas was first up on a single. Leif Helander then took on Gordon Smith and a very nice pair of runs ensued. Leif got to the stripe in 5.49 and Gordon was just behind with a non-tardy 5.665. The next pair was John Spuffard in the ex-Force Mustang Funny Car and Gary Page in the Mongoose Exhausts Firebird. John was into shake and was all over the place and Gary stuck it to the floor and ran straight and true to another personal best this year with a 5.31 at a lifted 267mph.

 

In Pro Stock R1 eliminations, Magnus Hansson dropped Micke Callin with a 6.88. Michael Malmgren bested Kenneth Söderström with a 6.84. Jimmy Ålund crushed Jan Palmquist with a 6.82 and Richard “Nixon” Sundblom beat Tommy Leindahl with a flat 6.90

 

The first round of eliminations were interesting in Pro mod, as even though Micke Lindahl lost to Roger Johansson, his championship contender Robert Joosten had to set top speed of the meet, but came up short and Micke Lindahl is the 2008 Pro Mod champion. In Top Methanol Dragster, Krister Johansson, Peter Schöfer (taking the 2008 Championship), Paul Ingar Udtian and Derek Flynn all advanced. In Super twin, Tommy Möller, Lorenz Stauble, Hans Olav Olstad and Svein Olav Rolfstad all advanced ensuring FIA/UEM Super twin Championship went to Svein. Congratulations, Svein! In Top Fuel Bike, Sverre Dahl ran another 6.14 at 230mph to confirm a new European record. Chris Hall, Neil Midgley and Ian King all advanced into round two.

 

Into round 2 of eliminations, the Championship contenders in Top Fuel were all chomping at the bit. Lex Joon got revenge for Hockenheim over Micke Kågered with a 4.91 at 293. In the next pair, Andy Carter could have been upset but for Tommi Haapanen’s virtual creeping away from the line. Andy had plenty to contend with on his run – some shake popped out a parachute at approximately 300 feet and Andy hauled his laundry down the track to a consequently slower than normal 5.05 at 237mph – not bad with a chute out pretty much all the way down! This set’s up the championship final between Andy and Lex.

 

In Pro Stock, Jimmy Ålund squashed Magnus Hansson with a 6.80, but Magnus had cherried anyway. Richard Sundblom wiped the smile off Michael Malmgren also with a 6.80. In Round 2 of Pro Mod, Roger Johansson, Urban Johansson, Robert Joosten and Micke Gulliquist all advanced into the semi-finals.

 

Next up was Round 2 of Top Methanol Funny car and Leif Andréasson ditched Dan Larson most impressively and Danny Bellio got a bye over a non-starting Jarmo Kuutniemi and ran a superb 5.85 to boot.

 

Some dribbles of rain started to pepper the track right after the Funny Cars and everyone held their breath to see what was going to happen. In view of the rain starting at 7.30pm and still raining at just before 8pm, it was not going to be possible to get the track dried before the meeting curfew came in to effect at 9pm and on that basis the race director called the meeting which meant that the following championships were now confirmed:-

 

FIA Top Fuel Dragster: Andy Carter

FIA Top Methanol Dragster: Peter Schöfer

FIA Top Methanol Funny Car: Ulf Leanders

FIA Pro Modified: Micke Lindahl

FIA Pro Stock: Jimmy Ålund

FIM/UEM Top Fuel Bike: Ian King

FIM/UEM Super twin: Svein Olav Rolfstad

FIM/UEM Pro Stock Bike: Fredrik Fredlund

 

Many congratulations to all the champions, especially to fellow “Picky Virgo” Ian King, who picks up his third Championship and also to Andy Carter, who now also has his third FIA Top Fuel championship.

 

Many thanks for taking the time to read this report and we look forward to seeing you back, soon at www.topnitro.co.uk

 

 

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