A Top Fuel drag race is over in the time it takes to read the first half of this sentence, but plenty happens in that short space of time. Britain’s Liam Jones, who recently competed in the FIA European Finals at Santa Pod Raceway in his RF Motorsport-prepared car, takes us through the process.
LET’S BURN RUBBER
Once the car has been warmed up – itself a process that needs to be carried out carefully due to the stresses soon to be exacted on the supercharged 8.1-litre V8 engine – the driver starts the burnout procedure. This involves accelerating part of the way up the strip to generate heat in the slick tyres, scrub off impurities and lay two sticky lines of rubber down on the track for maximum traction.
“My crew will push on the struts of the rear wing as I let off the brake and ease the clutch out ever so slightly. It gives the car a bit of momentum to prevent clutch wear and overheating,” says Jones.
The first part of the burnout area is sprayed with water in order to reduce friction between the tyre and the track surface, after which the driver will light up the tyres. The rear tyres on a Top Fuel dragster are 18.5in wide, giving a generous contact patch with the track. “We run them at about 7.5psi,” says Jones, although that pressure increases as the tyre generates heat.
Burnout completed, Jones reverses back to the start area. Top Fuel dragsters have only two gears: forward and reverse. “My crew chief directs me where to go,” says the Yorkshireman. “Strapped in the cockpit, I can’t see anything behind me, so he is my reversing camera.
Positioning for the run is crucial. “It is more important to get into the middle of the groove, which is where the majority of the cars have driven and most of the track preparation has taken place.”
Prior to competitive runs, the team walks the strip with a grip meter to find out where the best traction is.
THE STAGING POST
Jones reverses back behind the start line. “The crew will adjust the engine’s idling, make sure the fuel flow and revs are correct, give everything a final safety check, then I’ll get the go-ahead to edge forwards into the pre-stage area,” he says.
Drag strips use a series of timing beams connected to rows of start lights known as a ‘Christmas Tree’. When Jones enters the pre-stage area, it triggers the first light and indicates to his opponent and organisers that he is ready for his run.