Leading up to this year’s European Drag Race finals at the Santa Pod Raceway in the United Kingdom in September, the Zodiac Racing team had a firm lead in the SuperTwin Top Fuel FIM European Championship.
Ronny Aasen, the Norwegian rider of the 1000hp plus Zodiac Nitro Harley, had a one round advantage over Dutch native Job Heezen, as well as Vesa Lipponen from Finland. In addition, Finnish rider Samu Kemppainen and Christian Jäger from Germany still had a realistic chance of winning the championship, too.
After the Hockenheim round Ton and Vincent Pels, the father and son team behind Zodiac, had a closer look at the data and decided to put more fuel into the engine for the last race of the season. Even though the engine was already consuming over 12 gallons of nitromethane fuel per minute, they still had the feeling the piston ring damage in Hockenheim was caused by detonation.
It looked to be the right decision, as during the first qualifier the bike smoked its 14in rear tire for the first time in the season. The 1.11s sixty-foot time showed that soft launches were a thing of the past, and justified the set-up changes. For the second round, the ignition curve was changed a little, and this time the tire stayed hooked. Ronny was on form with a 1.12s 60ft, 2.86s 330ft and a 4.17s 1/8th mile ET, with a 214.9mph top speed. However, at this point the bike got loose and Ronny had to shut down and he fought to control the bike.
The run still resulted in a 6.599s ET coasting through the finish line at 169mph. The 1/8th mile speed looked too good to be true and it turned out it dropped the front wheel between the speed traps, causing the speed to be recorded higher. Still the data logger showed that the speed was around 200MPH at the 1/8th mile and with the 4.17s ET on the first half, it was the best the bike had ever done by far. The 6.599 put the Zodiac team in the preliminary number one spot, more than 2/10 of a second ahead of Samu Kemppainen.
In the 3rd qualifier Ronny was able to duplicate the run-up to the 330ft mark and this time the bike ran a lot smoother. However, the primary belt broke after 350ft causing the engine to over rev. As a result of this, the team decided to sit out the last qualifier and rebuild the engine for Sunday’s elimination.
Below is race footage featuring the Zodiac team in action at an earlier race in Europe
Due to getting the number one qualifying spot the team had a bye run in the first round on the Sunday. In that round the bike launched hard with a little tire shake, but after a few feet the tire hooked up and ran its best 60ft time ever. Then small flashes started to come out of the side of the bike and soon they became bigger flames. Ronny noticed something was wrong and shut off. Luckily there was no opponent in the other lane, so the round win was there.
In the pits the damage was evaluated; the rear head had lifted. Ton and Vincent quickly started to replace the head, while Ronny was doing the routine maintenance of replacing the con-rod bearings from under the bike. When the engine was warmed up for the second round of eliminations, a lot of smoke came out of the exhausts of the front cylinder, indicating more problems.
Frantically the team tried to replace the piston and cylinder, but they did not make it in time. Ironically, Ronny had to race Vesa Lipponen who now had a freebie to the final.
This left the championship to be decided in the final between Sumu and Vesa, and it was a situation the Zodiac team did not like, as it was in Samu’s hands whether they would become champion or not. If Vesa wins the final, he is the champ. If Samu wins the final, the Zodiac team wins the championship. Samu did what he needed to do, and in a nice 6.76 at 206mph he took the event win and the Zodiac team took the European Championship.