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MSA British Drag Racing Championship

Championship Rounds Race Reports

Round 2:  Santa Pod Raceway – The Main Event - 26th – 29th May 2017

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Report

Sometimes a drop of rain actually benefits a drag race – freshening the air, cooling the track, that sort of thing – but its timing is key. The problems arise when it overstays its welcome.

So it was for the season’s first combined FIA European/MSA British Drag Racing Championship round during Santa Pod’s The Main Event. Both qualifying days enjoyed strong sunshine but surprisingly tricky conditions – a flag-snapping headwind on Saturday afternoon, stifling humidity and a 120-degree track temperature on Sunday. Early-morning rain on Monday rejuvenated the atmosphere, and cloud cover and still air promised a barn-burner from the all-6sec, 16-car field. Pro Mod’s first round kicked off at 10.15am, but as the cars gathered for round two, drizzle set in and the round eventually took place at 5.35pm. Then real rain arrived with a downpour so heavy that it blotted the handsome* new wind turbines from view (* if you like that sort of thing) and ended The Main Event for good.

A race that only reached the second round of eliminations still generated plenty of stories. Three significant ones led into the event. The biggest concerned the decision of ten-time FIA Pro Stock champion Jimmy Ålund to switch codes and join the Pro Mod ranks, presumably in search of new worlds to conquer. Ålund last raced in Pro Mod 15 years ago, setting personal-best marks of 6.997sec/199.96mph, respectable for the time. Now he would take the wheel of a real flyer, the 5.9sec/240mph Old 51 Chevrolet Business Coupe owned and tuned by Magnus Petersson, a vehicle combining vintage style with high performance standards which Niclas Andersson had driven with distinction for several years before Johan Lindberg steered it to victory at Hockenheim last August.

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A year ago, Kuwait’s Hussain al Shammari made history as the first Arabian Drag Racing League representative to compete in Europe, driving Norbert Kuno’s number two, blown Dodge Avenger. Now he was bringing his own car, a 1970 Camaro with a whopping, 903ci/14.8ltr nitrous motor which had reportedly run 6.0s at home. Fears that the car would still be locked away on a container ship somewhere on the ocean proved unwarranted, though it did collect some bodywork damage on the voyage. More problematic was its lack of a functional auto shut-off system, which needed to be fixed, and the change to unleaded petrol, which required substantial re-tuning. Shammari’s sole trip up the track, in Saturday’s Q2, produced a shower of under-body sparks and a broken crankshaft, and was then disqualified for ‘unsportsmanlike conduct’. Shammari intends to run the whole FIA season and should be in better shape at September’s European Finals with four more races under his belt.

While the teams battled through qualifying, another race against the clock took place in the Webster Race Engineering workshop located alongside Santa Pod’s entry gates. Jon Webster, lately a stalwart of Street Eliminator but who has competed in everything from 9.50 Bike to Top Fuel Dragster (winner of 2009’s European Finals, no less), announced in the winter that he would build a turbocharged 1967 Ford Mustang to race in Pro Mod and that it would be ready for The Main Event. And it was, by a whisker but to no avail. The car’s imminent arrival engendered the biggest buzz of expectancy since Melanie Troxel’s Camaro was delivered from America on the back of a lorry midway through this same event in 2010. Webster’s gleaming new ‘Stang arrived in the pits on Sunday afternoon and was successfully scrutineered, though too late to compete. Webster’s hopes of taking it for a spin between rounds on Monday were of course dished by the weather, so we must await its official debut at the Summer Nationals at the end of June, though Webster plans some test runs in the meantime.

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The entry list contained two Santa Pod newcomers. For Sweden’s Håkan Persson and his blown, 6.0sec Dodge Viper, it would be only a second non-Nordic race appearance; the first was at Hockenheim in 2015. Persson qualified 13th at 6.666, then lost a first-round squeaker with an improved 6.146/237.78 to Kevin Slyfield’s double personal-best 6.111/229.06. Denmark’s Kim Kristiansen has been an eighth-mile Top Doorslammer racer since 2003, and had clocked quarter-mile Pro Mod bests of 7.8sec/170mph that same year. Now his purchase of Marc Meihuizen’s ’68 Pontiac Firebird promised a radically swifter driving experience – the ‘Bird, the quickest and fastest product to date of Andy Robinson Race Cars’ Hampshire workshop, has best marks of 5.905/244.21 to its credit in Meihuizen’s hands. Unfortunately, Kristiansen could not find anyone to drive his transporter, so never made the trip across the North Sea.

What was the betting that Jimmy Ålund would win the entire race? He certainly set about the task with vigour, snatching pole position at 6.018/235.30, both personal bests for the moment. Behind him, Bruno Bader shellacked a brand new motor and replaced it with the old one to qualify second. The two strongest Andy Robinson Race Cars products in the show, David Vegter’s and Kev Slyfield’s, came third and fourth. Meanwhile ARRC’s own entry, the ’69 Camaro now decked out in a rich ruby-red wrap following its temporary reversion to black at Easter, was having one of its more cantankerous weekends. Having run so potently to earn victory at Easter, the Camaro clocked a promising 6.310/235.19 into Saturday’s Q2 headwind, only to slip backwards out of the 6sec zone in Sunday’s heat. The time left Robinson ninth and facing an opening-round repeat of his Easter final against eighth qualifier Bobby Wallace.

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Local racer Wallace has started 2017 on a charge. For a Pro Mod, the nitrous ’41 Willys seems to run unerringly straight, and was the most consistent car throughout qualifying, clocking a trio of 6.3s after a Q1 6.408. While Robinson skittered and shook to defeat in the opener, Wallace dashed away to fresh PBs (6.255/221.26) and a round-two appointment with Ålund. There, both racers bowled fresh PBs, but Wallace’s 6.228/226.90 proved no match for the Swede’s first dip into the 5’s at 5.961/236.11. We shall have to wait until the European Finals to see Ålund in action again on UK soil, but before then we shall expect the pleasure of watching at June’s Summer Nationals and July’s Mopar Euro Nationals as Wallace attempts to improve on the second place he presently occupies in the MSA championship. Wallace lags just six points behind leader Robinson.

Not that it will be easy for Wallace, of course. He still has to contend with other quicker, faster British opponents. As mentioned, Kev Slyfield clocked fresh PBs in his first-round win and might well have beaten Marcus Hilt in round two had he not red-lit. Philip Englefield added a new speed PB (228.92) during qualifying to the 6.192 ET best he achieved at last year’s National Finals, and might also have beaten first-round opponent Wayne Nicholson’s shaking, swerving 10sec effort if he too had not triggered the cherry on the tree, seemingly timed out by the Autostart system after a delay in staging. Nicholson is also enjoying a welcome revival in form. The 6.458sec pass that placed the Lucky Devil Corvette 11th on the qualifying list fell just .002 short of its PB set in 2012. On the downside, Rick Garrett’s venture with a big new nitrous motor is proving tricky – a dropped valve damaged a cylinder head and left him outside the field alongside 2016’s hotshot star, the Netherlands’ Michel Tooren, also suffering new engine damage blues. Mick Payne was shut off after his Q1 burnout and never reappeared. Chris Isaacs withdrew from the event unwell.

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Twelve hundred words into an FIA Pro Mod race report and no mention of Michael Gullqvist – what gives? The five-time FIA champion and quickest European PM racer has gained a reputation for stuttering through early qualifying before uncorking a big hit in the last session to soar to the head of the table. This time he left the uncorking until eliminations. Blooding three new crew members may have hindered progress, and a sluggish (for Gullqvist) 6.257 left him tucked away seventh on the qualifying list and possibly vulnerable to first-round opponent Marco Maurischat. Yet a 5.933sec return to form – good for Low ET of the race – vanquished the German. At last year’s The Main Event, Gullqvist had lost a thriller of an all-5sec final to Bruno Bader. This time the pair’s round-two encounter went Gullqvist’s way with a 5.951sec defeat of the Swiss heavyweight and a 243.80mph terminal which set Top Speed of the Meet. The semi-finals would have pitted Gullqvist against David Vegter and Jimmy Ålund against Marcus Hilt – it’s a rare occasion that finds Hilt advancing further into the race than his Swiss countryman Bader. Prevailing form (never a reliable measure in a drag race) would have pitted the two multi-FIA champions against one another in the final – a juicy prospect for which we must now wait until a future race, thanks to the rain.

RESULTS:

Qualifying    

Po. Driver Country Time Speed Best MPH
1 Jimmy Ålund    SWE 6.018 235.30  
2 Bruno Bader SUI 6.035 232.84  
3 David Vegter  NED  6.101 235.28  
4 Kevin Slyfield GBR 6.150 226.73  
5 Norbert Kuno DEU 6.224 230.50  
6 Philip Englefield GBR  6.232  228.92  
7 Michael Gullqvist SWE 6.257 234.86  
8 Bobby Wallace GBR 6.303 215.94 219.28
9 Andy Robinson GBR  6.310  235.19  
10 Marco Maurischat   DEU 6.315 226.73   
11 Wayne Nicholson GBR 6.458 218.24  
12 Marcus Hilt SUI 6.555 179.95  
13 Håkan Persson SWE 6.666 233.65  
14 Jean Dulamon FRA 6.775 202.44  
15 Marck Harteveld  NED  6.818 214.08  
16 Fredrik Fagerström SWE   6.898 182.73 196.40
Alternates:
17 Rick Garrett  GBR 9.766 106.93  
18 Michel Tooren NED 13.681 35.89 37.64
No Time::
  Mick Payne GBR      
  Jon Webster GBR      
Run disqualified:
  Hussain al Shammari KUW 9.873 88.05  
Withdrawn entries:
  Chris Isaacs GBR      
  Kim Kristiansen DEN      

ELIMINATIONS:
Round 1:
Bobby Wallace 6.255sec, 221.26mph def. Andy Robinson 14.452, 51.21
Michael Gullqvist 5.933, 243.69 def. Marco Maurischat 6.449, 221.45
Wayne Nicholson 10.428, 76.16 def. Philip Englefield no time DQ R/L
Marcus Hilt 6.386, 225.87 def. Norbert Kuno 6.421, 225.52
Kevin Slyfield 6.111, 229.06 def. Håkan Persson 6.146, 237.78
David Vegter 6.754, 162.47 def. Jean Dulamon 7.976, 127.36
Bruno Bader 6.034, 232.85 def. Marck Harteveld 6.306, 227.80
Jimmy Ålund 6.056, 232.87 def. Fredrik Fagerström 6.297, 222.14

Round 2:
Jimmy Ålund 5.961, 236.11 def. Bobby Wallace 6.228, 226.90
Marcus Hilt 10.272, 76.81 def. Kevin Slyfield 8.654, 96.69 DQ R/L
Michael Gullqvist 5.951, 243.80 def. Bruno Bader 6.064, 231.61
David Vegter 6.133, 236.41 def. Wayne Nicholson 7.117, 207.04

Rained off.

Low Elapsed Time of the Event:  5.933sec. – Michael Gullqvist (E1)
Top Speed of the Event:  243.80mph – Michael Gullqvist (E2)

Personal-best performances set during event:

Jimmy Ålund 5.961, 236.11
Philip Englefield 228.92
Marcus Hilt 225.87
Kevin Slyfield 6.111, 229.06
Bobby Wallace 6.228, 226.90

The 2017 points table is on the Rounds & Points page.