Exclusive interview with Urs Erbacher

Multiple FIA European Top Methanol Funny Car Champion Urs Erbacher made the switch to Top Fuel Dragster for the 2006 season. Urs purchased a Top Fuel Dragster from Doug Herbert and made some familiarisation passes in Mooresville before shipping the car to Switzerland.

Eurodragster.com spoke to Urs Erbacher in the week leading up to the 2006 Easter Thunderball, at which Urs was due to make his formal licencing passes.

Eurodragster.com: How did you come to buy the dragster from Doug Herbert?

Urs Erbacher: If you are about 1.94 metres tall you will never fit in a dragster built for a 1.70 m guy. So I was looking for a good tall Top Fuel driver and found Doug Herbert. We are about the same size (height and width) and he has fast cars. It was a perfect combination for me and a good base to start the Top Fuel dragster project.

Eurodragster.com: How did the car feel at Mooresville compared to the Methanol Funny Car?

Urs Erbacher: It is faster and it is louder. It is also nice to drive a convertible and to get some fresh air during the run. You can easily see what is in front of you without having a big black injector just in the middle of your sight.

The bad thing is that you don't see what your crew is doing during the warm up and starting the motor just by your back. Before, I could easily watch them checking the ignition, the fuel and oil lines etc. Now I am just the guy sitting there and waiting to see what comes next. I have to work on it...

Eurodragster.com: Describe the starting, burnout and launch procedure.

Urs Erbacher: Starting it up is the same as with the Funny Car. Okay, I have more to do to adjust the fuel pressure and everything. But after a few starts you get a good feeling for that.

The burnout is easier than with the Funny Car due to the throttle stop. With the Methanol Funny Car, you have to have a good feeling for the right amount of throttle to get a nice good burnout. In the burnout, you hear if a Funny Car driver is in total control of his car or if he is still fighting with the 'mustangs' in front of him.

The staging is completely different and also a little bit strange in the beginning. The clutch handling is completely different and, as a Methanol Funny Car driver, you don't feel comfortable as you release the clutch when you are still in stage.

The launch, compared to the Methanol Funny Car, is no faster but is more brutal because you start in idle. With the Methanol Funny Car, you are sitting there with high rpm, everything is shaking like hell and you feel the car that wants to go and is pulling and pushing. The Top Fuel dragster is just sitting there like a wild cat before it attacks. Out of nowhere, it jumps forward and chases its prey with maximum speed, never getting tired.

Eurodragster.com: Have you made any changes to the car's specification since you bought it and imported it to Switzerland?

Urs Erbacher: Most obviously the colour and paint job. We made some modifications to the fuel system and will make some changes to the Fuel and Clutch timers before the Main Event. We have to rebuild the timer system back to the old fashioned pneumatic timing because the FIA rules are behind the NHRA rules and do not allow electronic timing equipment for the fuel and clutch management. It is a shame, because the electronic timing is much more reliable and accurate so it is also a lot safer to run.

Eurodragster.com: What is your goal for your first year in Top Fuel racing?

Urs Erbacher: If you buy a Top Fuel car and roll to the starting line there is just one goal: winning races. Winning races means winning Championship titles and setting new records. Every Top Fuel driver has the same goal otherwise you don't invest all your time in this sport. We are there to win. We want to do that in the same way we did in the past years in top Methanol Funny Car - with a good solid job by the whole crew, consistency and speed, the best parts, hard work and a lot of fun.

Eurodragster.com: At the Easter Thunderball, will you be attending solely to make licencing runs, or will you try to find some time to make practice runs too?

Urs Erbacher: First priority is the licensing. When we have the opportunity and when the English weather permits, we would like to do some practice runs. The more practice we get, the better for us. But we also want to establish team procedures in the pit for the turnaround. Building up turnaround speed in the pits and getting into the race routine after the winter as soon as possible is important.

Eurodragster.com: What are your plans in the build-up to the FIA Main Event?

Urs Erbacher: After the Easter Thunderball we will see what works, what we have to change, what is missing or has to be organised in another way. This includes the dragster, the trailer, the team work, maintenance, parts, tools etc. We will use the time to get ready for the Peak Performance test day and the RWYB before the Main Event and optimize whatever is needed. For the Main Event, we want to be 100% ready to go into the fight for the Championship. With so many cars in the field, there won't be easy weekends and easy rounds.

Eurodragster.com: Who are your crew on the Top Fueller for 2006?

Urs Erbacher: About 90% of the crew have won three top Methanol Funny Car titles in past years. Some have won even more. We have had to get some new crew for the Top Fuel dragster, as it involves more work between the rounds and at home in the shop.

Our 100% full time mechanic is Andreas Winiger, called Wini. He also drives the truck and is responsible that all the work in the shop between the races. At the track, he is one of the "engine guys" and takes care of the blower.

On the clutch we have Robin Grice. Robin was working on the clutch for Rune Field for many years and knows Top Fuel inside out. Having him is a big bonus for our team.

Another "engine guy" is Patrick Kamber. He has been in my team for many years.

The tuning and set-up is done by Horst Pauli. He was part of Peter Beck's Top Fuel team and joined our team in 2002. Sometimes he is hard to find in the pits, as everybody wants his advice for their set-up and tune-ups.

Lucien Abt, called Lüss, is our 'diver'. He has been lying under the car for years and likes this job. If he is not under the car he is designing the interior of our trailer. He has built the best and nicest kitchen to be found at the entire track, the best and most comfortable beds with individual lighting and power supply and always has a creative idea or solution for some really tricky problems.

Beat Weibel works on the engine as well. With Peter Beck, he was the clutch man and has now switched to a less dirty part of the car. Monika Irsigler was the diver with Peter Beck and is now working with Robin Grice on the clutch. On the Funny Car that worked really well. It is not easy for a couple to work hand in hand under stress, but she does a great job.

The new kids on the block are Martin Pauli and Chris Nigg. Martin is the younger brother of Horst. He is multi-talented: the second diver on the car, truck driver, engine, you name it, he can do it. He is the only one who knows all the measurement, torques and settings of the Top Fuel engine by heart.

The rest of the team are still there, trying hard... Chris is the man for the heads. A never-ending job, but a good start to get into the routine of racing. All the electrical installation in the trailer is his work as well. Andrea Wucher is doing the all the stuff off the track like organising flights, transportation, nitro, pit space, staying in touch with the officials, media, sponsors and feeding us at the track.

As you see, I have used quite a lot of space for my crew. It is a drivers' Championship but without the crew no driver would ever reach the top end.

Eurodragster.com: Has there been interest in buying the Funny Car?

Urs Erbacher: We had some interest but the Funny Car is still for sale and we are working on it. The car is race ready and it is a shame to see the most successful Top Methanol Funny Car of the last few years sitting in the shop and not on the track. It will be sold first come, first served and the new owner will get a car that wins.

Eurodragster.com: We understand that you are looking for a Super Gas car in part-exchange for the Funny Car? Who is destined to drive in Super Gas?

Urs Erbacher: One of our sponsors is looking for a Super Gas car. He and his friends will form a team and drive the car at some selected races in Europe.

Eurodragster.com: How is Lorenz Stauble looking forward to racing at the Easter Thunderball in Top Fuel and in 2006 generally?

Urs Erbacher: At the Easter Thunderball, the goal is to get in as many practice runs as possible to be ready for the Main Event. His goal for the 2006 Championship is to finish in the top three. In his second year of racing, he wants to drive down his personal best and set a new Supertwin record. When he rolls to the starting line he just wants to win the race. With the progress he made last year from nowhere to sixth and the new parts he got for this year, he wants to establish him self as one of the top riders in Supertwin.

We have a second bike in our operation, a Harley Davidson Destroyer. One of our bike mechanics will ride it in the German Destroyer cup. So there will be an internal team bike Championship as well.

Eurodragster.com: Who are your sponsors for 2006?

Urs Erbacher: Midland Swiss Quality Oil, SCS IT Procurement Services, Techno AG and Ricks Motorcycles.

Eurodragster.com: Urs, thanks for your time and we wish you and your entire team the very best of luck this coming weekend.

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