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MSA British Drag Racing Championship

Championship Rounds Race Reports

Round 4: FIA European Finals - Santa Pod Raceway - 6/9 September 2007

Perfect weather.  Epic race.

At last the rain stayed away from a drag race and the 22 Pro Modified teams answering the call to action at Santa Pod Raceway’s FIA European Finals produced the kind of contest that had been promised all year.  The race had everything:  record-setting performances, dramatic confrontations, scary moments, joy for some, heartbreak for others, and a surprise winner.

Europe’s finest Pro Mod teams had come to contest a championship triple-bill.  This was the fourth and final event of the FIA European Championship; also Round 4 of the MSA British Drag Racing Championship and a round of the Nordic Bilsport Pro Mod Series.  The FIA Championship was the focus of attention: this was its deciding race and no fewer than 10 contestants had at least a mathematical chance of snatching the crown.

Johansson v Kuno spacer Robinson v Joosten spacer Wikstrom v Appleton

Britain’s Andy Robinson and Sweden’s Michael Gullqvist were the chief protagonists.  Robinson had been the rain-blighted season’s most consistent performer.  Gullqvist had come on a late surge, defeating Robinson by inches in the final at Sweden’s Mantorp Park in July.  Robinson’s lead over Gullqvist amounted to less than a single round of racing and it seemed inevitable that luck would throw them together sometime during eliminations.  The confrontation, when it came, was heartbreaking for Robinson.

Together with Sweden’s Mikael Lindahl, these two racers were responsible for producing over the weekend the five quickest elapsed times ever seen in Europe.  For an elapsed time (or a terminal speed) to be ratified officially as a record, it has to be supported by another to within one per cent during the same event.  Gullqvist (6.156sec.) and, ultimately, Lindahl (6.110sec.) both set European ET records at this race.  In all, nine racers achieved career-best performances, some more than once.  Lindahl’s time qualified him in pole position and was the meet’s quickest, and his 229.65mph the meet’s fastest terminal speed.  The Lindahl twins – driver Mikael and crew chief Magnus – had emerged from the ranks of Swedish journeyman racers with a new car and a fresh outlook to become the season’s surprise package – but not the race’s surprise winner.

Ray White spacer Bruno Bader spacer Gordon

Another Swede took that honour.  Patrik Wikström is one of Pro Mod’s true heavyweights but had returned only recently with a new team after an 18-month sabbatical.  His victory was an object lesson in drag racing’s real essence:  no matter how remarkable the performance figures may be, it’s crossing the finish-line first that wins races.  Wikström had only qualified 13th and had to defeat four quicker runners, including Lindahl and Gullqvist, to take the trophy.  Beaming with joy like a newcomer who had won for the first time (“He’s big, he’s blond, he’s beautiful!” quipped commentator John Price at the trophy presentation), the veteran campaigner confirmed that he plans a full season’s racing in 2008, no doubt to his opponents’ consternation.

Now for the scary moment, the dramatic confrontation and the heartbreak.  Switzerland’s Rolf Ammann went home in dismay after his gleaming gold 1938 Chevrolet Coupe took a sharp turn to the right at mid-course during Saturday qualifying, crossed the track on two wheels and struck the opposite lane’s wall a glancing blow.  Ammann was unhurt and his adroit handling averted a head-on impact but the car’s chassis was badly damaged and the team, already qualified 15th, had to withdraw.  British outsiders Ray White and Kevin Slyfield had their hopes of improved performances dashed by mechanical gremlins and Seppo Saapola – finalist at this race last year and a 6.3sec. runner at best – was a picture of gloom having journeyed from Finland to clock no better than a non-qualifying 7.89 in his four attempts.

For Andy Robinson, heartbreak followed joy on consecutive days.  Saturday’s last qualifying pairing saw Robinson and Lindahl deliver the quickest elapsed times yet seen in Europe.  Albeit a whisker behind Lindahl’s record-setting 6.11, Robinson was delighted with a career-best 6.16 which left him qualified 2nd, one place ahead of championship rival Michael Gullqvist, and in fine fettle for Sunday’s eliminations.

The showdown between Robinson and Gullqvist that would determine the European championship came in the semi-final.  The interval following the previous round had found Robinson’s crew field-stripping the supercharged engine to replace damaged pistons.  Imagine, then, the team’s hair-tearing frustration after so herculean an effort to see a tiny clutch bracket snap during Robinson’s burnout and strand him at mid-track while Gullqvist soloed his way into the final as new FIA European Champion.  It was a failure of the proverbial 10-cent part, as the Americans say, though the part in question was in fact titanium and somewhat more costly – immeasurably so considering the effect of its breakage.

Disappointed but phlegmatic, Robinson at least had the consolation of securing a practically unassailable lead in the British championship.  Santa Pod’s National Finals in three weeks’ time (29-30 September) will assuredly see him crowned MSA British Drag Racing Champion, the first title-winner in the championship’s inaugural Pro Modified year.

Results:

Qualifiers:

1.     Mikael Lindahl (Sweden): 6.1101 / 223.73
2.     Andy Robinson (UK): 6.1619 / 228.49
3.     Michael Gullqvist (Sweden): 6.1649 / 225.02
4.     Marc Meihuizen (Netherlands): 6.2601 / 223.86
5.     Mats Eriksson (Sweden): 6.2621 / 227.22
6.     Robert Joosten (Netherlands): 6.2740 / 228.49
7.     Norbert Kuno (Germany): 6.3009 / 226.93
8.     Michael Nord (Sweden): 6.3120 / 219.60
9.     Bruno Bader (Switzerland): 6.3710 / 218.38
10.   Urban Johansson (Sweden): 6.4179 / 214.50
11.   Niclas Andersson (Sweden): 6.4440 / 208.37
12.   Gordon Appleton (UK): 6.4471 / 216.23
13.   Patrik Wikström (Sweden): 6.4493 / 222.74
14.   Roger Johansson (Sweden): 6.5571 / 215.26
15. *Rolf Ammann (Switzerland): 6.6192 / 214.03
16.   Ian Bishop (UK): 7.0702 / 194.66

Non-qualifiers:

17. *Philip Englefield (UK): 7.3288 / 157.79
18.   Kevin Slyfield (UK): 7.8351 / 171.21
19.   Seppo Saapola (Finland): 7.8939 / 201.73
20.   Ray White (UK): 9.0471 / 132.34

* Rolf Ammann withdrew from eliminations.  Philip Englefield entered as alternate.

Eliminations:

Round 1:

Bruno Bader 16.615-57.17  def.  Michael Nord (redlight) 9.250-96.98
Norbert Kuno 6.256-225.02  def.  Urban Johansson 6.540-222.76
Mats Eriksson 6.397-222.74  def.  Gordon Appleton 6.637-214.40
Patrik Wikström 6.487-224.15  def. Marc Meihuizen 6.770-197.26
Michael Gullqvist 6.156-227.39  def.  Roger Johansson 10.968-86.06
Andy Robinson 6.238-219.60  def.  Philip Englefield 6.871-203.46
Mikael Lindahl 6.193-220.34  def.  Ian Bishop 7.132-192.30
Robert Joosten 6.281-227.10  def.  Niclas Andersson 6.456-210.11

Round 2:

Patrik Wikström 6.338-223.86  def.  Mats Eriksson 6.355-222.57
Andy Robinson 6.238-220.45  def.  Norbert Kuno 10.160-111.15
Mikael Lindahl 6.121-222.57  def.  Bruno Bader 7.226-213.23
Michael Gullqvist 6.233-225.02  def.  Robert Joosten 7.504-213.24

Semi-Final:

Michael Gullqvist 6.187-225.83  def.  Andy Robinson (broke on burnout)
Patrik Wikström 6.573-216.51  def.  Mikael Lindahl 6.722-218.38

Final:

Patrik Wikström 6.386-222.73  def.  Michael Gullqvist 7.070-144.69

Low ET of the Meet:  6.1101  -  Mikael Lindahl (European record)
Top Speed of the Meet:  229.65  -  Mikael Lindahl

Points standings after MSA Championship Round 4:

Po No Driver R1 R2 R3 R4 R5 T
1 4 Andy Robinson 56 36 94 77   263
2 4038 Robert Joosten 98 35 0 54   187
3 3614 Gordon Appleton 37 33 53 32   155
4 38 Philip Englefield 35 32 76 10   153
5 2 Michael Gullqvist 0 34 0 96   130
6 391 Patrik Wikström 0 0 0 111   111
7 3606 Danny Cockerill 0 38 58 0   96
8 6 Mats Eriksson 0 34 0 54   88
10 934 Mikael Lindahl 0 10 0 78   88
8 3666 Ray White 34 10 34 10   88
11 832 Bruno Bader 0 32 0 52   84
12 8 Marc Meihuizen 0 33 10 35   78
12 387 Ian Bishop 0 10 37 31   78
14 1 Urban Johansson 0 37 0 32   69
15 3738 Rolf Ammann 0 31 0 31   62
16 10 Norbert Kuno 0 0 0 53   53
17 606 Kev Slyfield 0 0 35 10   45
18 3 Seppo Saapola 0 32 0 10   42
19 7 Roger Johansson 0 10 0 31   41
20 175 Michael Nord 0 0 0 33   33
21 9 Marko Lantto 0 32 0 0   32
21 489 Niclas Andersson 0 0 0 32   32
23 1341 Per-Olof Eriksson 0 31 0 0   31
23 3623 Robert Koper 0 31 0 0   31
23 3625 Henri Joosten 0 31 0 0   31
26 60 Paul Brander 0 10 0 0   10
27 1081 Hans Knuters 0 0 0 0   0

The 2007 Season Standings are on the Rounds & Points page.