Europe’s biggest drag racing event, NitrOlympX, took place for the 34th time at the Hockenheimring last weekend – this year in front of 39,000 spectators. From the 16th to 18th of August 2019, about 270 teams in 18 classes competed for the FIA and FIM European Championship crown as well as to win the top-notch Sportsman classes on the Quarter Mile in the Motodrom. This year’s NitrOlympX was characterised above all by top racing performances as well as changeable weather.
The top tier in dragster racing – the Top Fuel dragsters – lived up to their name. Seven teams lined up at the starting grid. Three drivers clocked under four seconds as early as Friday – Anita Mäkelä (3.87), Maja Udtian (3.88) and Liam Jones (3.92) – leaving spectators with high expectations for the rest of the weekend.
The Top Methanol class – consisting of team Habermann with brothers Timo and Dennis, Jürgen Nagel in his legendary Camaro Funny Car and Silvio Strauch, who took over the cockpit of the former Bavaria Thunder dragster from drag racing veteran Peter Schöfer – featured the most German starters.
Eight motorbike classes were also at the starting grid. The six-second mark was already cracked on Friday in the first round of Super Street Bike qualifications. The Finn Vesa Ruhanen not only clocked the first six-second result for Super Street Bikes in Hockenheim, but at 348.90 km/h was also faster than any other driver in Europe.
Meanwhile, the Swede Rickard Gustafsson claimed the pole position in the fastest motorcycle class – the Top Fuel bikes – after the first day with a time of 6.14 and a speed of 366 km/h. Last year he crashed during the fastest side-by-side race in European drag bike history and spent the winter rebuilding his bike from scratch. His strongest opponent in the class, the Greek Filipos Papafilippou, was breathing down his neck, with a time of 6.15 seconds and speed of 378 km/h.
As always, everyone was looking forward to Saturday, an extremely hotly contested day that decides which drivers from the 18 classes have the honour of taking part in the race on Sunday.
In drag racing there is only one thing that nobody can control, but which unfortunately influences everything: the weather. Sometimes it just strikes out of the blue, as happened on the second day of Hockenheimring’s Rico-Anthes Quarter Mile event.
The day started with fast times in the ‘Sportsman’ classes. The Pro Mods class was also quite impressive, featuring many fast times and a new top qualifier: Jan Ericsson with his 5.876 clocking finished a hair ahead of Jimmy Ålund (both from Sweden) with a time of 5.879 seconds. German Ingo Ekert qualified for his first Pro Mod race in his very first attempt.
There were no changes in the Top Methanol class. The Swede Johnny Lagg successfully defended his pole position. This race has its own rules, however. Unlike the qualification rounds, the reaction time also counts, and here the Habermann brothers have a reputation for being virtually unbeatable.
The name Ålund also ranks near the top when it comes to Pro Stock cars. Jimmy Ålund, the first European ever to win an NHRA race in a professional class in the USA, finished first in the qualification round, crossing the line at 6.596 seconds.
The Top Fuel dragsters also showed off their exceptional power on the second day of the event: although in the third qualifying round Maja Udtian and Liam Jones once again had a ‘3’ in front of the decimal point, there were no changes in term of placings compared to Friday. Anita Mäkelä was in first place, Maja Udtian in second place, the Briton Liam Jones in third and Jndia Erbacher followed in fourth place.
Heavy rain then made it impossible to continue with qualification.
The Night Show
Despite the rain, everyone was ready for more action again in the evening. The night show was adapted to suit the weather.
The presenter duo John Seegert and Benni Voss led spectators through a night show that may have developed its very own special dynamics precisely thanks to the external circumstances. While the forces of nature transformed the Quarter Mile into a ‘Quarter Channel’, the track crew in black, red and gold bravely fought against the floods of water. Where Top Fuelers usually race into the night side-by-side sending flames metres into the sky, an impassable sheet of water now lay.
This did not intimidate the Top Fuel dragsters and the most powerful motorbikes – with their joint ‘Concert against the Rain’, some of the world’s biggest drag racing stars showed their audience what 100,000 Hp sounds like. After six years away, Terry Grant rocked the Motodrom with his spectacular car stunts. David Pertue had his legendary ‘Green Monster’, a front engine jet dragster, roaring against the wet element. When ‘Oklahoma Willy’, a Jet-T1 Volkswagen, rolled onto the grid in an almost ‘shy’ and ‘inconspicuous’ manner, nobody could have guessed what would happen a few seconds later. When ‘the little one’ started up his jet engine, the Motodrom turned into a grand work of art consisting of a firestorm and a gigantic ‘smoke installation’. In short, Saturday came to an end in the Motodrom with a lot of fire, music and a gigantic Hp party.
The NitrOlympX crew, the combined enthusiasm of the fans, and the stars of the night show succeeded in making the night show of the 34th NitrOlympX a very special one indeed.
Thrilling duels decided by a thousandth of a second – that’s what Sunday promised. The Super Street bikes lined up at Hockenheimring’s starting grid with the fastest field of 16 ever in Europe. And the two favourites from the qualification round were eliminated early on. It was thus a purely British affair from the semi-finals onwards, which SSB veteran Steve Venables went on to decide in his favour, clocking 7.138 against Garry Bowe after several six-second results.
Pro Stock bikes favourite Fredrik Fredlund also dropped out early on when his bike simply died in the second round after the start. The Finn, who by the way is the mayor of his home town, had surely expected things to turn out differently. In the end, Frenchman Charly Abraham beat out all his competitors.
Roman Sixta from the Czech Republic won the Supertwin Top Fuel class in very impressive fashion. After years of development, Roman now managed to consistently clock times of 6.6 seconds on the Quarter Mile, leaving the Brit Neil Midgley in the dust in the final.
The fastest bullets on two wheels were the Top Fuel bikes. As in the past two years, 2019 once again saw a showdown between the Greek Filippos Papafilippou and the Swede Richard Gustafsson. ‘Fast Fil’ ended up on top this year with an unbeatable time of 6.210 seconds.
The FIA car classes featured the ‘Jimmy Ålund show’. The Swede took the title in the fiercely contested Pro-Modified field, outracing Jan Ericsson in the final. Although Ericsson was a tenth of a second faster on the track, he had squandered the victory at the traffic light due to a premature start. Out of the old Chevy Coupe and into the new Chevy Camaro – to win the class Pro Stock class. That was Jimmy Ålund’s plan, and did it ever work!
He left his compatriot Robin Norén well behind him with a lead of over a tenth of a second while also securing the title in the FIA Pro Stock class.
Jürgen Nagel pulled off a huge surprise in the Top Methanol class, beating out favourite Johnny Lagg from Sweden. This catapulted him into the final, as the Hamburg native had a solo run in the semi-final. There he nevertheless had to concede defeat to Timo Habermann, who took the victory home to Langenselbold.
Last but not least, the Top Fuel dragsters and a woman who delivered a top performance with her team this weekend: Anita Mäkelä. The Finnish lady was the only competitor in the first round. After the burnout, the starting crew signalled her to turn off the dragster – a problem had sprung up with the traffic light. Tommi Happanen, her husband and crew chief, had no choice but to unscrew a fuel line to enable the 10,000 hp engine to slowly shut down. The minutes went by, and restarting a Top Fuel engine is risky business. But Anita had to roll to the starting light under her own power to at least trigger it in order to reach the next round. Them’s the rules. The minutes went by. The engine was hot and the crew prepared it for the restart in a jiffy. The tyres cooled down from the burnout. Everyone now assumed that Anita would roll forward, trigger the traffic light and then have herself pushed back. But far from it! After what felt like an eternity the Finn rolled to the starting line. Without another burnout. The well-filled Motodrom flinched collectively when Anita suddenly stepped on the gas as the light turned green, then roared across the finish line with a time of 3.93 seconds and a speed of 474 km/h. Anita clocked further three-second results in the semi-final against Jndia Erbacher and against Maja Udtian in the final, and went on to win the NitrOlympX in front of a cheering audience.
Now we’ll have to wait and look forward to NitrOlympX 2020. See you in 2020!