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MSA British Drag Racing Championship

Championship Rounds Race Reports

Round 2: Santa Pod Raceway – FIA Main Event – 23-26 May 2008

Another Bank Holiday weekend, another major drag race blighted by the weather.

This year’s FIA Main Event at Santa Pod Raceway was a near copy of last year’s. Two superb Saturday qualifying sessions in the triple-championship Pro Modified show set the scene for great deeds to come on Sunday and Monday, only for rain to wash out further proceedings.

On Saturday morning, 25 Pro Mod entries from countries stretching from Finland to Switzerland answered the call to action. Several Continental teams had overcome severe travel difficulties at strikebound Channel ports, making them all the more eager for success in the three championships contested at this race: Round 1 of both the FIA European Pro Mod Championship and the Scandinavian NDRS Bilsport Series and Round 2 of the MSA British Drag Racing Championship.

Lindahl & Wikström spacer Cockerill & Lantto spacer Joosten & Bishop

By Saturday’s close, no fewer than eight racers had clocked career-best performances. Sweden’s Urban Johansson established a new European terminal speed record of 230.29mph while taking provisional pole position at 6.226 seconds. Britain’s Andy Robinson had held the previous record (229.43mph) since 2006.

A new face to UK eyes, Norway’s Terje Håkonsen, set personal-best time and speed in qualifying 2nd (6.252/225.71) while another Santa Pod debutant, Finland’s Kristian Nyström, also achieved both ends of a personal best qualifying 11th (6.475/218.90).

Taking advantage of the new capacity rules for unblown engines, Sweden’s Roger Johansson hauled his Ford Mustang into 3rd place (6.321/223.16) using a massive 830ci (13.6-litre) motor, the largest powerplant yet seen in these isles.

The 16-car bump spot stood already at 6.71sec., threateningly close to the all-time European best of 6.67 set in Sweden last year, with several heavyweights still short of the mark and aiming to hit form next day. Who knows what they might have accomplished, given a dose of decent weather on Sunday and Monday?

Four British drivers made the provisional cut: Danny Cockerill, Andy Robinson, Philip ‘Bert’ Englefield and Graham Ellis.

Ellis and his new, 1970 Plymouth Superbird-bodied machine were especially notable. The Westcliff-on-Sea racer had managed just a token launch in dreadful, wintry conditions on the car’s Easter debut and might reasonably have taken a cautious approach to the ‘Bird’s maiden flight on the full track. Instead, Ellis whipped the ground-hugging, black-liveried ‘stealth bomber’ through the quarter-mile in 6.830sec. at 213.00mph, then improved in the afternoon session to 6.718/215.73. The fact that such a stunning entry on to the international Pro Mod stage left Ellis teetering on the provisional bump spot only goes to show the quality of the competition around him. Yet what lies in store once he starts to grasp the full measure of the car?

Basildon’s Danny Cockerill, on the other hand, has plenty of experience handling his 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. Cockerill won the 2006 European Finals meet and, at last year’s Main Event, became Europe’s first Pro Mod racer to top 230mph. A late entry at this event, having only just received his primary engine block back from repair in California, Cockerill qualified well in 5th spot at 6.323/224.48.

Reigning MSA British Drag Racing Champion Andy Robinson‘s 1953 Studebaker Commander lay 13th at 6.598/224.67, a position and performance he would have hoped to improve in Sunday’s sessions.

Bert Englefield, second in 2007’s MSA points, qualified 14th at 6.605/212.00, a highly encouraging debut for a new engine nestling between the frame rails of his 1938 Ford Coupe and just 0.041sec. off his personal best. Sunday’s total rain-out thwarted any hopes of improvement in the final two qualifying sessions.

An attempt was made to conduct the opening round of eliminations first thing on Monday morning, based on Saturday’s provisional qualifying results, but the rain set in for good before the round was fully completed. Facing Switzerland’s Bruno Bader, Cockerill flirted with disaster on the most terrifying run of the event. In damp, tricky conditions and a thumping tailwind, Cockerill’s Chevy shook the tyres and got wildly out of shape, yawing viciously from side to side up the track. Only exceptional handling and perhaps a spot of luck averted the rollover that seemed inevitable.

Robinson was paired with the ebullient returning Swede, ‘Fast Freddy’ Fagerström, and beat him with a fine 6.450/226.93.

Englefield faced the monster-motored Roger Johansson and suffered a debilitating fit of tyre-shake against Johansson’s terrific, winning 6.287/222.16.

Ellis lost his Saturday form in his match against the low qualifier, Urban Johansson, but almost won by disqualification when the Swede, also on a hairy ride, came within an ace of crossing the centre-line. The results of this incomplete opening round were voided when racing was abandoned to the rain.

Three British drivers finished Saturday’s qualifying outside the provisional field.

Hoddesdon’s Ian Bishop finished 18th but went home surprisingly cheerful. Using an updated nitrous oxide injection system, Bishop clocked 7.095, just milliseconds short of his best (7.028), despite shutting off early (166.59mph) with a couple of nipped pistons. The brisk ET and slow speed suggest that a full run would have produced the 6-second, 200mph performances which are Bishop’s primary targets and he will return to the track in June buoyed up with hope.

For Verwood’s Kevin Slyfield (19th), a small ray of light also shone through the gloom. In Saturday’s afternoon session, his sometimes errant Willys-bodied machine – sporting a new nose after a recent trip off the beaten track ended against a guardrail – ran straight and true for practically the first time to clock a personal-best 7.110 seconds. The 173mph terminal speed indicated an early shut-off and the car sustained some engine damage on the run. However, it also brought Slyfield encouragingly closer to the 6-second, 200mph passes that are his immediate goals.

Ossett’s Wayne Nicholson (22nd) also shares those goals, but on this occasion two mid-8-second passes will not have satisfied a racer who has already achieved ETs more than a second quicker in his previous Sportsman career. The greatest need for all three racers is track time, an element in frustratingly short supply so far this season. Their consolation is that two proven 6-second runners, Dutchman Henri Joosten and Sweden’s Michael Nord, plus Pro Mod newcomer Ingo Rolla (Germany), languished behind them on the provisional qualifying list.

The British teams will resume action in the MSA Championship at Santa Pod’s Summer Nationals (14-15 June). Some will then contest the FIA Championship events in Scandinavia and Germany during the summer before they all re-convene for another triple-crown extravaganza at Santa Pod’s FIA European Finals (4-7 September).

Qualifiers:

1. Urban Johansson (6.2263 / 230.29)
2. Terje Hakonsen (6.2529 / 225.71)
3. Roger Johansson (6.3214 / 223.16)
4. Fredrik Fagerstrom (6.3215 / 222.06)
5. Danny Cockerill (6.3235 / 224.48)
6. Mikael Lindahl (6.3305 / 225.62)
7. Marc Meihuizen (6.3556 / 224.37)
8. Marko Lantto (6.3766 / 218.07)
9. Michael Gullqvist (6.3949 / 212)
10. Mats Eriksson (6.4279 / 227.88)
11. Kristian Nystrom (6.4757 / 218.9)
12. Bruno Bader (6.5035 / 217.91)
13. Andy Robinson (6.5983 / 224.67)
14. Philip Englefield (6.6059 / 212)
15. Patrik Wikström (6.6747 / 212.76)
16. Graham Ellis (6.7189 / 215.73)

Alternates:

Norbert Kuno (7.0418 / 214.04)
Ian Bishop (7.0951 / 166.59)
Kevin Slyfield (7.1101 / 173.71)
Robert Joosten (7.1563 / 207.14)
Peter Ritscher (7.6377 / 139.48)
Wayne Nicholson (8.4694 / 164.15)
Henri Joosten (8.6527 / 106.48)
Michael Nord (10.4319 / 85.63)
Ingo Rolla (14.6161 / 72.54)

The 2008 Season Standings are on the Rounds & Points page.