Santa Pod Raceway’s European Finals meeting fast approaches, promising a dramatic finish to 2019’s FIA/FIM European Drag Racing Championships. Owing to a quirk in the calendar, the first half of the six-race season takes place in monthly instalments, completed last month, but the second half takes place in a flurry, with three races crammed into four weeks – at Hockenheim (Germany) and Tierp (Sweden) on the last two weekends of August, then at Santa Pod a fortnight later. Thus championship outcomes are hard to predict.
A case in point: Finland’s speed queen Anita Mäkelä had looked a racing certainty to scoop her fourth FIA Top Fuel Dragster championship after dominating wins in the series’ first two races (Santa Pod.1, Tierp.1). For race three at her home track, Kauhava, she qualified again on pole, only to be dumped smartly out of the show in the opening elimination round by compatriot Timo Lehtimäki, who went on to win the race despite being the slowest in the field. Such is the precarious nature of instant-knockout drag racing.
The veteran Mäkelä retains a faltering lead in the points while a young pretender snaps at her heels. Neophyte Norwegian Maja Udtian has scored two runner-up finishes in three races in her first full FIA Top Fuel season. Best performance figures of 3.848sec/315.36mph leave her just fractionally short of Mäkelä’s pace. No European has ever traversed the 1,000-foot racing distance more quickly than these two, and only one – retired Norwegian Thomas Nataas, at 316.40mph – faster.
(And maintaining the female racer theme, Nataas’s daughter Julie is making her own mark in NHRA’s Top Alcohol division in America.)
Then there is Britain’s Liam Jones, presently third by a distance but lurking with intent. Last year at Hockenheim, the Yorkshireman unleashed the performance of the season to win his first Top Fuel race. Buoyant pre-season tests promised imminent championship form, still to be realised in competition. Unlocking that form in the next two races could overturn the current balance and might yet deliver Britain its first Top Fuel title in 10 years. There is still time for an upset, and no telling how the story will unfold.
So will Santa Pod host a Mäkelä coronation in September? Or might the Finals erupt into a 300mph battle-royal, with the Top Fuel crown’s destination perhaps even hanging on a last-round, winner-takes-all shootout (and not for the first time)? The forthcoming Hockenheim and Tierp races will set the scene.
The 10,000-horsepower Top Fuel Dragsters make the most noise, but they are just one of the manifold attractions on the European Finals bill. Among the other FIA classes, a couple of dozen Pro Modifieds can be expected to make the call, along with Pro Stock and Top Methanol fields, and a full programme of UK national championship classes will join them. On two wheels, there’ll be four FIM-Europe classes headed by Top Fuel Bikes (0-240mph in 5.8 seconds… on a motorcycle!) while Santa Pod’s usual, bustling array of off-track family entertainments will support the show.