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Round 2: Santa Pod Raceway, FIA Round 1, 23-26 May 2014
Ever wondered how a race-tuned, near-15-litre V8 might sound when fired up in anger? Then listen out when Roger Johansson brings his latest Mustang to the line at Santa Pod Raceway over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend.
The Swedish Pro Modified racer is Europe’s master of the nitrous ‘mountain motor’ and makes a rare UK appearance when Round 1 of the FIA European Championship combines with Round 2 of the MSA British Drag Racing Championship, the first of Santa Pod’s two annual Pro Mod double-headers.
All three of Pro Mod’s engine types are well represented. Johansson’s ‘atmo’-style motor – unblown, petrol-burning, nitrous oxide-boosted – was the original configuration when Pro Mod began to coalesce as a class in 1980s America. This type of engine has no cubic capacity limit – Johansson’s powerplant tops out at 903 cubic inches, or 14.8 litres – but getting these ‘miracles of rotating mass’ to work is no simple task. Then one has to apply all that horsepower and torque to the track.
Joining Johansson in the ‘mountain motor’ international brigade are another Swede, Mats Wicktor, France’s Jean Dulamon – who hopes to be cured at last of his pyrotechnic ‘nitrous burp’ problems – and two British entrants. Essex’s Roger Moore, the 2012 MSA British champion, is still bedding-in a new electronic fuel injection system. Surrey’s Rick Garrett led the MSA championship for much of last year before finishing third, an outstanding accomplishment in his first Pro Mod season. Swiss ex-Competition Eliminator racer Roland Bolleter steps up to Pro Mod with an ex-Roger Johansson Corvette and will hope to have licensed in time to compete.
If nitrous motors are the Pro Mod originals, it is the supercharged methanol-burners that tend to usurp the honours. Sweden’s Michael Gullqvist is the defending and four-time European champion and the official record-holder too, at 5.872sec/249.29mph. Gullqvist’s masterstroke has been the purchase of the American ex-R2B2 Camaro that Melanie Troxel drove at Santa Pod in 2010. Three consecutive championships, plus the record figures, have followed. Gullqvist, though, isn’t short of keen challengers. Four other supercharged rivals have dipped into the 5sec/240mph zone.
Dutch star Marc Meihuizen is quickest, at 5.905sec, and scored his first FIA win at Alastaro, Finland, last year. Sweden’s Mattias Wulcan was 2013’s shooting star, beating Gullqvist with a brilliant holeshot in the Hockenheim final in Germany. Two weeks later at Tierp, Sweden, Wulcan clocked seven 5.9’s in a row, all at 240-plus, throughout qualifying and eliminations, only to slip back into the 6’s in a final-round loss to Gullqvist. Another Swede, Mats Eriksson, became first European into the 5’s in 2009, and Dutchman Robert Joosten followed suit last year. Joosten set 2014’s early-season standard with a banzai qualifying pass – 6.068/236.52 – at Santa Pod’s rained-off Easter event.
Switzerland’s Bruno Bader secured 2013’s MSA British championship without even attending all the rounds. Bader is Pro Mod’s über-competitor, the opponent everyone wants to avoid. Rarely quickest or fastest in the field, Bader cuts brilliant lights and unleashes unerringly consistent passes – “beat that!” is the challenge. Quicker opponents must deliver nothing less than their best; slower opponents are simply outrun. This year’s MSA contenders will sigh with relief that, while Bader will attend several races, he will not defend his title.
The Netherlands’ David Vegter and Germany’s Norbert Kuno complete the international supercharged contingent and Andy Robinson leads the home challenge. The Hampshire racing car constructor’s sophomore Camaro has a high-speed pedigree to fulfil, once it has conquered its tyre-shake tendencies – the Dutch machines of Meihuizen and Vegter are both products of the Andy Robinson Race Cars factory. Wayne Nicholson, Steve Hall and Andy Wright complete the group.
Then there are the real speedsters, the turbo cars – often leisurely away from the start but frequently flying at the finish. Santa Pod has three fascinating examples on show. Finland’s Tero Laukkanen spent 15 years racing turbocharged BMW four-bangers before car builder Tami Brander persuaded him to step up to the Pro Mod big time. At Tierp last August, with American ace Brad Personett on tune-up duty, Laukkanen’s Mustang clocked a gargantuan 259.30mph terminal speed, only to have the pass disqualified for a failed fuel check. Fuel irregularity notwithstanding, one is tempted to suppose the finish-line speed trap was falsely triggered anyway – the speed exceeded even the American NHRA record (Melanie Troxel’s 258.71, also in a turbo car) and was a clear 6mph faster than Europe’s otherwise best (Martin Lundkvist, again turbo-boosted). Subsequent passes were a mite slower, yet Laukkanen still managed to lift the backed-up European speed record above 400km/h for the first time, holding it for a matter of hours before Michael Gullqvist pipped it. If the Mustang can avoid the vicious tyre-shake that sometimes afflicts it, Laukkanen’s first UK appearance could set new Santa Pod speed standards.
Andy Frost’s amazing, turbocharged Vauxhall Victor, Red Victor 3, is the quickest-accelerating street-legal car in the world. Wolverhampton’s Frost has the timeslip (6.403/229.31) and the tax disc and MOT to prove it. It is also the world’s only road-going Pro Mod, a concept too extreme to imagine if Frost hadn’t already done it. Chris Isaacs, meanwhile, debuted a brand new turbo’ed Plymouth Duster at Easter and almost completed the licensing process. Once the licence is fully signed off, Isaacs and team partner Spencer Tramm will be free to step straight into the furnace of international competition over the weekend.
Two prominent British racers will be absent from the event. Andy Robinson Race Cars’ construction standards saved Graham Ellis’s life in a fearsome crash last September. Now a new, ARRC-built turbo Mustang awaits Ellis’s full recovery from his injuries. Kevin Slyfield debuted another ARRC product, a supercharged Ford Thunderbird, at Easter and promptly blew the motor. Slyfield will return when a fresh powerplant is found.