Drag racing: Duncan Micallef is my main title rival in 2017 says Makela
It’s not a common occurrence to see a woman driver inside the cockpit during high-level motor sport championships let alone go on and become the one to beat.
Anita Makela has succeeded in achieving what many others in drag racing sport only dare to dream of after sealing four European titles while also setting the Top Fuel record on the continent when clocking 3.8785 seconds in Tierp, Sweden, in August 2015.
Earlier this month, Makela visited the islands as special guest of the Malta Motor Sport Federation Awards. The Finn revealed her first experience at US motor tracks made her opt for a career in drag racing.
“Sometimes life takes you somewhere you didn’t plan to be,” Makela told The Sunday Times of Malta.
“During my teen years I was an exchange student in the US and there I fell in love with motor sport. I went to the raceway regularly to watch drag racing competitions and seeing those racers go so fast I just got hooked to the sport.
“I approached someone I knew who was involved in drag racing and asked his advice and what was needed to get a licence, which I got after only three runs. Then, a couple of weeks later, I came across an advert which said a racing car was for sale.
“I had a licence, I knew the drag racer was fast and the price was quite reasonable so I agreed to make the buy. The same day I met a group of mechanics and asked them if they wanted to be in my team. So, all of a sudden, I had a car and a team.”
That was back in 1987. Since then, Makela took drag racing by storm, winning the Top Alcohol European title in 1994 and 1996 before switching to the more powerful Top Fuel division where she was crowned FIA champion in 2000 and 2016.
Makela thinks she would never have achieved so much without the support and dedication of those around her.
“In drag racing, success can only be achieved if you have a good team to rely on and I would never be any close to what I am today without the contribution of all 10 members in my crew,” Makela said.
“True, all attention is focused on the pilot but one also has to keep in mind the long hours of work put in by the mechanics to make sure that the car is safe and in its best shape on race day.
“As a driver you have a lot of responsibility to fulfil the team’s potential on track and for me there is no better feeling than to see my team-mates running towards me after winning a race.”
Makela is now looking forward to defend her European title. This year the Finland heroine has to contend with the challenge of Maltese driver Duncan Micallef.
Last year, Micallef caught the attention in the Top Fuel championship after coming agonizingly close to setting a new European record at the Santa Pod raceway.
Makela identified the 2016 Malta Sportsman of Year as her biggest threat.
“Duncan Micallef has been a real revelation in the championship,” she said.
“Away from the raceway he is somewhat shy but inside the cockpit he transforms himself into an aggressive and a talented competitor.
“Duncan surprised everyone with his stunning runs last season and was just two hundreths of a second slower than my record. He will be someone to watch this year and most of the teams, including mine, know that we need to come up with faster solutions to beat Duncan’s challenge.”
Makela’s team have recently updated the chassis and also been to the US to acquire other key components in the car.
Makela said: “The owner of Duncan’s drag racer was also in America looking for parts from the same place we got ours. So, they’re serious in their challenge. On the day it will go down to the team that dares most to reach the finish line and claim the title.
“Duncan has everything it takes to become champion but first he has to beat me,” she added with a wry smile.
Makela said Malta boasts a lot of potential in drag racing and hopes the authorities here will help the motorsport federation find an adequate venue for competitions.
“The Ħal Far raceway is a good venue but a new facility is needed for the sport to flourish even more,” she said.
“Malta, with its mild climate, would be a perfect location for us to race here.
“The country has produced some amazing champions, the likes of Manty Bugeja and Duncan Micallef. Surely they deserve far more support from the authorities.”