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Happy 50th Mondello!

Happy 50th Mondello!

Mondello Park is, to anyone involved with cars or motorsport, a cherished addition to this country. Our sole proper Race Track, Mondello has evolved to always remain relevant, no matter the ever changing environment that is track-based racing. From humble beginnings to hosting large scale International events, the Kildare venue has delivered time and time again, yet still remained as open as possible to all strains of the motoring world. Manufactures use the venue to entertain guests or launch new vehicles, Drift schools use the large paddock spaces to train the next generation of driving talent while events like TrackDays.ie allow joe soaps like me to be pretend race drivers for a day. With Mondello Park celebrating its 50th Birthday this week, it was only fitting that a celebration was in order.

 

It has been no secret that the cost of all motorsport activity is growing with every year that passes, almost heading unthinkably towards a point of extinction, and as such a large push has been made from within to help protect the sports that we cherish. In the face of higher insurance levies, entry fees and other costs, the Irish Motorsport Support Fund came to be. Steered by a core of enthusiasts with experience of all manner of Motorsport activities, the aim is to provide financial relief to ultimately reduce costs falling on the competitor, as such a case of Motorsport giving back and supporting its own future.

The IMSF knew that to do things correctly, it was going to take a sizeable event to boost their profile and raise money for the fund. With the coincidental anniversary of Mondello Park’s opening, it made sense to create the Mondello50, a true celebration of all things motorsport related in this country. Bringing together strands of the sporting world that are likely to never meet was a novel touch, and a huge boost to the events appeal.

While many of the Motorsports present may seem diverse and at times un-connected, the common bond that tied many together was Mondello itself. Thinking through the disciplines on display, it made sense to celebrate the track through displays of all facets of the Irish car-based sporting world. The Hillclimb guys may seem at home racing up and down steep stretches of tarmac, but multiple rounds of the Naylor Engineering Irish Hillclimb & Sprint Championship take place on the hallowed Mondello track. The Navigation and Endurance Trial cars may seem at home on filthy lanes in the middle of the night, but countless events utilise the sprawling grounds of the Caragh venue for tests. The same for Autotesting, with rounds often happening in the large paddock even while other series use the circuit around them. Rallying has a storied history with Mondello, with it often hosting a spectator stage as part of the marathon Circuit of Ireland as well as countless modern Sprint events, while its wilder Rallycross offspring has made Mondello is home. Then there are the Drifters.

When Drifting landed into Ireland in the early 00’s, it found a home in Rosegreen. The Tipperary Stockcar oval was special, but ultimately through a combination of ownership changes and the boom in the sport had to move beyond its roots. Mondello welcomed drifting in with scepticism, yet all these years later the pair are almost inseparable. The Irish Drift Championship now have their offices based on site, while their events draw crowds reminiscent of the popularity of the Circuit of Ireland in the 80’s. As a celebration of Mondello, it was natural that Drifting would be represented, but what I had completely lost sight of was the fact that although the sport has flourished here for 15+ years, many of those in attendance with be witnessing the spectacle live for the very first time.

What caught my eye almost immediately in the paddock was the awning of Stone Motorsport, and the pair of vehicles sitting underneath. I’d seen the ‘Drift Taxi’ before, both at Drift, Hillclimb and on a visit to the incredible Stone facility last year, but it still commands so much attention. The three passenger bucket seats were certainly getting plenty of use over the weekend. What I really wanted to see though was the prosperously low Nissan Silvia S15 sat next to it. A newly completed build for the 2018 season, Stones have thrown every ounce of knowledge and skills into creating what they believe to be the ultimate chassis for both Drifting & Hillclimbing. With the front clip removed, the Honda K24 sits proudly as an act of defiance to the conventional wisdom of RB’s and 2J’s ruling the world. The chassis work, which I find incredibly reminiscent of a Pro Mod drag car, is absolutely impeccable as you would expect from a vehicle designed as the company’s essential demo-car. While the Aristo was getting plenty of regular runs, the Silvia only appeared in fleeting bursts.

As the drifting guys put on a show in front of a new audience, the main track section or Live Arena was split equally time wise between those and the Rally Cars. The nature of the event leant itself to having Rally as the largest spectacle in the eyes of many present, and a constant succession of differing cars and styles of driving rally helped to give a flavour of the world we spend weekends trudging through fields and ditches to watch. Long queues formed all day to take advantage of passenger spins available. There was representation of all facets of style and era on show, from early-60’s BMC Mini Cooper S’s through to often sideways MK2 Escorts and modern Group N machinery.

Sprinkled among the cars present were a number of very rare and valuable machines. The legendary Group B era is often considered as the pinnacle of Rallying due to speed, danger & drama that period evoked in the eyes of the public, and those days was relived with none other than a Lancia 037, an Audi Quattro and a Rover Metro 6R4 screaming around the confines of Mondello’s opening corners, each passing in wails of utterly magnificent and distinctive exhaust notes.

Amongst the machinery being thrown about, I naturally had personal favourites, which is blatantly obvious from the sheer number of photo’s I have of two particular cars. Both are a reflection of the owner’s connection with rallying, owned and built in homage to a certain period that provided the inspiration. Both are also the complete anthesis of each other!! On one side of the preverbal fence, Donagh Kelly (recent winner of the West Cork Rally for a 5th time) was really out to play. He owns the Metro 6R4, which was being driven by somebody else that we’ll get to in a bit, but it was his other ‘toy that just does it for me. An Opel Ascona Coupe is a special car right from the off, and in rallying 400 form, utterly beautiful. In a sea of Escort domination in the early-80’s, the Ascona was a proper fighter.

At the hands of Walter Rohrl is became a World Champion, but in Ireland it gained admiration at the hands of Jimmy Mcrae, Bertie Fisher, Austin McHale and even Henri Toivinen. This particular car has a more local connection for Donagh though, for this is the very car that Donegal hero James Cullen wrestled around some of the country’s most famous stages. The livery is a tribute to Cullen’s 1988 attempt on the Donegal International, an event the car would finish runner up on. Thirty years later though, it felt like a grainy RPM video playing out in front of my eyes. As was plain to see, this car may look like a museum piece, but it sure ain’t treated like one.

While all out, sideways everywhere machinery dominated the domestic scene in the 1980’s, the following decade saw all this change. As technology moved on and cars became more expensive, it was becoming harder for young drivers to make a name in the sport. The days of buying an affordable Ascona or Escort and hoping to win an event were ended by the new breed of Group A cars. These monsters were incredible to watch and spawned countless Homologation special road cars, but they were beyond the reaches of most. There was a need to develop a support category to get youngsters onto a path towards success, and a boom in small front-wheel-drive hot hatches seemed the natural place to begin. Super 1600 was born.

An S1600 car is one serious piece of kit, have no doubt about that. High power, high revving screamers were the default order of business, all designed to be surrounded by all the best of technology available at the time. An arms race soon kicked off with countless manufactures getting involved, but it was the French who were the class leaders. While the Clio was impressive, it was the Citroen Saxo S1600 which proved its dominance from the start. This particular Saxo had a hard life, going from a works car campaigned in 2001/2 to being found badly damaged in a Northern Irish barn, until it fell into the hands of David Hunt. Anyone that has followed the build online over the last 2 years will attest to the sheer level of detail afforded in its restoration. To hear the little Citroen absolutely howling at berserk revs is a wonderful experience, although trackside I probably could have done with ear protection.

All around, various disciplines put on a show. Out on the international loop, a pack of Rallycross cars scrabbled for grip thanks to their rather compromised set up on Tarmac, while Auto Cross Semog buggies chased each other around while sounding like a pack of 90’s Formula 1 cars.

In the in-field sections between the National and International loop’s, Off Road Trial were taking place. An obvious stepdown in pace from all the frantic action happening all around, the skill required to get these rather specialised vehicles into some of the spot I saw to some incredible control.

Alas though, all good party’s need a star performer to really put on a show, and the IMSF had a treat lined up for good old Mondello. Craig Breen is at the absolute pinnacle of World Rallying right now, competing in the WRC with the factory Citroen team. The Waterford man has had an incredibly difficult path to the top, but it seems that his pure passion for rallying was the driving force at times. Craig’s enthusiasm for the sport is infectious, and he is never afraid to profess his Irish motorsports roots. Pushed recently during a WRC interview on a favourite Car and Rally pairing, the answer was pure Craig. “A Metro 6R4, every day of the week. No Question. Where would I bring it? To the Hills. Donegal International Rally”. Well, the weather did feel like mid-June, and there was a Metro sitting in the Mondello paddock……

After soo casually mingling around the paddock all morning, and yes there are photos of him checking out the Saxo, it was time for a warm up for Craig. Strapped into the Ford Escort he went viral with last year (2nd overall on the Ravens Rock Rally with friend Patrick Croke ‘co-driving’ without notes), Craig went out and put some of the drift cars to shames, sliding the Ford around with consummate ease, both back wheels billowing smoke in a fashion definitely not seen on a timed rally stage.

Few runs done, it was time to strap into the fearsome Rover. I stood at the start line less than a few feet from the stack of 6 vertical trumpets atop the engine block. The launch was gingerly made, and I felt somewhat disappointed, but the next sight I had was a 30-year-old monster sliding under braking, right on the limit. Many of the relics of that glorious period are now cherished and very valuable collector vehicles, so to see a Group B monster being driven by the scruff of the neck by one of the Worlds best drivers is a real privilege.

Mondello Park, as well as the motorsports that use the venue, have changed massively over the past 50 years. It’s important to step back at times and celebrate what we have available on our shores, and the IMSF are determined to do their best to ensure we can have plenty more celebrations in the future!

A Pair of Silvia’s

A Pair of Silvia’s

Anyone at all that has an interest in performance orientated, driver centred vehicles must surely look back at Japan in the 1990’s and smile. As greatest hit’s catalogues go, the sheer variety of automotive content created, most almost exclusively for, such a small island nation is just mind-blowing. I come from a generation that idolises these exotic beasts from the east thanks to Gran Turismo bringing never-before-seen knowledge straight to our living rooms, but now that I have matured, it’s almost crazier than I had ever thought. Manufactures were unleashing into the world everything from Turbocharged micro-Kei cars, through to V12 Executive Saloons. Car classes that would never have seemed even remotely cool or sporty were graced with behemoth’s like the 2JZ fed JZX’s in the large saloon class. We had Ford Scorpio’s in comparison, although there was a 24V Cosworth option, which highlights how performance mad Japan went in the 90’s. The world looked on as they offered domestic Supercar’s like the GT-R and the NSX, but one class in particular became a defining trademark.

If you were in a position to buy a reasonably priced, fun and reliable 2-Door Coupe in the 90’s, your choice was pretty varied. Ford would sell you a Cougar, Fiat it’s rather originally named Coupe, VW had the Corrado and Porsche had the ever present 911. There were plenty more aswell, but then you had an onslaught of Japanese competition for the European regulars. Taking a 10 year window, we saw an influx of MR2’s, Celica’s, Supra’s, Levin’s, Prelude’s, Integra’s, Starion’s, Colt’s, RX-7’s, Cosmo’s, Supra’s, Skyline’s and even Subaru got in on the act with the 2-Door Impreza. These were all great cars, some utterly brilliant, yet one particular coupe range was to unwittingly become the poster child of a whole new wave of interest in JDM metal. Its easy to argue, at least in the early days, that Drifting was the Nissan Silvia!

Across four generations, S12-S15, Nissan’s affordable sportscar platform became a global success. Originally designed as a JDM only goodie, much of the early cars gained a cult following having filtered down into the hands of young drivers, shaking off perhaps the air of a GT car that Nissan intended in the design stage. Soon, S13’s in particular became the weapon of choice alongside the AE86 Corolla for drivers exploring the limits of grip on mountain roads. When this thing became a sport, naturally the people there kept using their Silvia’s as normal, and thus Drifting and the Silvia became a match.

Later, Nissan began to feed cars out into the rest of the world, with us in Ireland getting the later S14 in the shape of the 200SX, but the link between sport and car grew. It seems rather fitting then, that the two Silvia’s here are soo intrinsically linked to drifting, and it was a drift event that I shot both rather quickly. The first of the pair, in complete Darth Vader-esq style, is a car built as a reflection of a man. Peden Nielsen is one of Irelands most prominent drift personalities, a pioneer of the sport and the absolute King of Branding. Having come to drifting late in the 00’s with his Nissan Skyline, competing in things like the Prodrift Super Series, I became more aware of Peden through his Evicted Clothing brand. After taking to the judging tower for a number of years though, it was through an iPhone and a selfie stick that Peden Nielsen became a star.

Keep Drifting Serious became pretty much the first behind-the-scenes look ever done in 10-odd years of Irish Pro Drifting. Naturally, these are a lot more entertaining in the delivery than a regular ‘this is what you’ve not seen before’ style of video, and this sense of wacky out there style and flair had to be translated into a car somehow. That’s where the KDS15 was born. Straight away, the most obvious additions are both the matt-black exterior, and the aggressive Rocket Bunny body kit giving this Silvia an incredible amount of presence. Up close though, the wrap work is at a level almost un-imaginable from a distance, with sponsor logo’s embedded and visible up-close. This is a testament to Moose Design, the same company behind the Akai Livery on Ronan’s MK1 Golf.

Under those massive arch extensions, a matching set of black XXR alloy’s in 18-Inch size resides, wrapped in Westlake RS tyres. Added to this is a combo of Mintex brakes and HKS coilover’s, making this surely a handling dream should the daily commute develop into a backroad blast, although the height the car is sitting at and the large swathes of lower aero and diffusers may encourage against that type of carry on.

While Peden has aimed to create the ultimate Street Silvia, another of the breed present may rightly claim to actually be the Ultimate Track Silvia, and it’s a car that need very little introduction. The man behind the wheel is a certain James Deane. You might have heard of him. He drifts cars, and is rather good at it. He wins quite often, and must surely have a room of his house rammed at this stage with trophies and memento’s. I could list off the achievements, but that deserves a proper article soon enough! Sat here in the gravel of Watergrasshill, this Silvia has defeated all comers both here in Ireland and across Europe, but today is here to put on a show and have a good time.

Seeing a drift car from a distance, it’s easy to spot the modifications that have been done to what was once a rather clean S14A. The iconic Falken teal & green livery covers the bolt-on overfenders, each housing a Japan Racing wheel within it’s arch. The suspension is Wisefab, evident by the obscene angles being thrown on track, while inside is pure race-car. Under the bonnet, a 2JZ engine does the necessary mechanical grunting, while an Owen Developments turbo adds the necessary boost. It’s in the flesh that you notice the differences.

The rear arches, in particular, fascinate me. In action, the design seems to sit flush with the car’s flanks, but up close you see a variety of different length screw providing a handy gap to allow the plumes of tyre smoke to be ejected. Battle scars pepper the surfaces, each a reminder of a battle or a run where limits were pushed to the maximum. It was interesting, when talking to another driver, to think just how much driving and competing this car has done. Each event entered, the expectation and often the reality is that it will see the podium or finals, and over time this accumulates to the point that James and the S14 may easily have twice or three times the driving done of a competitor in a year.

So that is a quick feature on two incredibly built examples of Nissan’s Silvia, a success story not even those in Japanese boardrooms may ever have imagined. These are very quick features, so apologies if we don’t have all the details or spec lists. We’ll leave that for when we eventually track more car’s down for in depth features in 2018!

Farewell Ultimate Drift

Farewell Ultimate Drift

My outlook, in an automotive sense, was to always push the envelope in terms of the events I get to, the experiences I encounter, the people I meet, the craftsmanship I witness and the enjoyment I get at the end. My calendar is like a military operation at times, planned to the nth degree so I can get the most out of whatever event I have pencilled in. Wherever I end up, I know it is by choice that Ive made the sometimes long or expensive journey to get there. Over the past year, thanks to this site, I’ve been able to chronicle my adventures, often accompanied by a rambling, deluded opinion piece, and bring to life the variety of events I get to. I always want to see more, have new experiences and gain more knowledge, but then some events, I just enjoy for just being themselves and not being unfamiliar to me. Ultimate Drift was definitely one of those!

I’ve talked at length before about my history with drifting, with my opinions gaining a rather split reception. Looking back, I saw drifting evolve from a grass roots sport to a global cultural icon, yet I couldn’t let go of the small-time nature that got me hooked. Over time, I fell out of love with the sport on a number of levels. I still maintained interest in the competition side of things, but I stopped attending events in the flesh.

That being said, we never had a steady stream of events to attend anyway. In the early days, D-Rift and Prodrift held proper competitive events in Watergrasshill and later in Fermoy, but then word spread that the noisy, sliding cars were no longer welcome in WGH. This wasn’t long after the closure of Rosegreen, so us down South were really left abandoned. Mondello naturally filled the void, and still does to a large extent, but it is still the bones of a three hour journey each way for me at least, meaning there wasn’t the same buzz to get to events.

Over the years, many attempts were made to get regular drifting back to Cork. Superdrift and Driftfest both tried, but in the midst of the Recession, the appetite and desire to make a success of either format just wasn’t there really, and so they slid into the history books in time. This was where Ultimate Drift fits into the picture, as finally we got a proper push to bring regular Drifting back down South.

Spearheaded by Darren Hickey, the series had a smart, passionate and determined person there to properly steer the ship forward. Co-Owner of the very successful D&D Detailing, Darren brought professional idea’s which have become a hallmark of modern drifting, and perhaps explain the shortcomings of so many other Drift ventures before. Suddenly, what was an open track day had sponsorship, branded vehicles, professional signage, a large online presence, live music and a big-event atmosphere. People turned up to enjoy themselves watching as much as drivers enjoyed testing themselves around what I still believe to be Irelands best Drift venue.

Darren will happily telly you that it was a team effort, and it most definitely was, but everyone involved was there for the love of the sport, not to win FB likes or make a fortune. The events were fun, small games were added long before anyone had heard of Drift Games and drivers continued to rather visibly improve, with definitely a few I can think of who started as UD Novices that now hold IADC or IDC competition licenses. Competition elements were tried, with a mini-series taking place last year, as well as novel approaches to drift events sampled with the floodlit Drift Nights becoming a regular fixture.

On a personal level, Ultimate Drift helped me fall back in love with Drifting. Grass roots, beat up cars is what got me into the sport, and in the world of sideways Drag-Cars, this felt old-school. The visuals may not be appealing to everyone, but each ripple and dent was a sign of someone pushing limits, learning the skills and trying out things in an environment that encouraged those very things. I was still very new to taking photos of cars when I took a mad notion to apply for media access to an event, but getting up close and personal was on a level I had never imagined all those years standing on the bank. I was able to try out techniques that I couldn’t possibly practice elsewhere and learn new skills. I met soo many people, enjoyed great laughs and had some heart in the mouth moments on track yet was able to witness so many personal high’s, from the wry smile of nailing a corner, through to some finally hitting the track in their dream build. I had the honour of providing the poster imagery to a number of events and this was something I never thought possible.

After 3 years of not only running but driving in Ultimate Drift, last weekends event is to be the last. A rumour had been in the air that the news was imminent, and a post on Darren’s Facebook spelled the end. Of all the ways to go, having a full entry of car’s, a beautiful Winter’s day and the surprise appearance of none other than James Deane is not too shabby at all, and entirely fitting of a series that was so well run from the start. A void has now emerged in Irish drifting again, that leaves many question of what happens now. Grass roots drifting will continue at tracks like Tynagh, but down South we are left with nothing. A new track is in development in Cobh that has the potential to be a strong asset to the area, but it’s going to need strong support to get off the ground. From a driver stand point, the demise of Ultimate Drift also spells the end of potential entry-level competitive drifting, with the only series now offering this are IADC and IDC, which many may believe is too high of a step up to be of interest. Whatever comes along in 2018 though, we have to be thankful for what we had and the memories made. From ourselves here in Freshfix, and I’m sure countless others, we’d like to say a massive thanks to the whole Ultimate Drift crew for the work done over the last few years. Thank you for the wonderful events, the wonderful atmosphere and the craic. Thank You.

Darren Hickey’s post on the end of Ultimate Drift:

“If you’re going to finish something, finish it on a high” And what a high Drift Nights was. Going in to this event, I knew it was going to be the last event I would be being running this year. We gave it our all (even managed to get the two S14’s ready) and the results were unreal. A full grid of drivers all looking to enjoy an evening season in the dark, highlighted by the man himself James Deane putting on a master class and smoking the place out. Everyone had the same goal, finish off the year in style and have fun with our friends. After three years of running the Ultimate Drift Series, Drift Nights was the last event as we know it. Due to other business and family commitments I have made the decision to step back from running drift event’s full time. Next year my aim is to enjoy the sport for what it is from the driver’s seat. I ran the Ultimate Drift Series as a driver and always kept that in mind when making decisions on how we ran each event, always keeping in mind would I enjoy driving that track, is it a new challenge.

From my past experience of running drift events I know that what can go wrong, will go wrong. All you can do is make sure you have the equipment to sort any issues that might arise. True luck comes in to place with the one variable that every event organizer has no control over, the WEATHER. Out of 30 events we only had one washout, seems the weather man was looking out for us.

To the UD Team: The Ultimate Drift Series was never a one man show, it was a team of great people, and for that I count myself lucky enough to have been able to call on my friends & family to make sure each event was the best it could be. I would like to give the biggest thanks to the whole UD team both past and present and to all those that helped UD grow over the years.

 

Signing off Darren H (see ye in the pit lane next year lads)

Eat, Drift, Dance, Repeat

Eat, Drift, Dance, Repeat

So, last weekend, you likely heard that there was a festival going on. Everyone there was having a ball and filling social media, while all those not there had a serious dose of FOMO, although at times there would would have been a willing trade off when the rain hit on Saturday. All around, people were having a ball, music rained in from all directions, artistic decorations and niche stalls lined the periphery while much dancing and plenty of drinking added to the whole vibe. Heck, I even saw a guy with an actual Picnic basket…….next to his Drift car. You see, last weekend, while there was a singsong in a field happening in Laois, down the road in Kilkenny, Ireland was treated to it’s most unique motorsport event, The Festival of Drift!!

Car life, in general, is a very social identity. People build cars, or race them, and then stand around talking to the like minded about exactly what they’ve created or done. Most events, people come, magic happens, discussion is had and everyone goes home. Come 6pm, most of the action is confined to video clips and online chat. But why not try something different, have a party, crash for a few hours in a tent and keep the good times rolling straight away the next morning. That’s what the FOD was about, having a good time off the back of two days of interesting track time and all manner of fun and frolics.

A weekend of drifting is not a new concept, as people might know from events like the Matsuri’s or AwosomeFest, but here in Ireland this was a first. Promising something never before seen, a quirky competitive element, big-name stars and large prizes ensured that the driver entry quickly filled up, but what struck me from the moment I arrived was the stunning mix of true grass-roots guys right through to cutting edge Pro drivers, all going to do battle on an even keel competing for the same goal. I’ve talked here previously about my love for the have-a-go hero’s, and the chance to see them against the best was really exciting

While the cars themselves could probably differ by up to 600BHP in some cases, the venue itself was a proper leveller. Based alongside the Cattle Mart on the edge of Kilkenny, The Hub is an vibrant space, and on Saturday is was very much an interesting sight. Inside, one of the biggest Car-Boot sales I’ve ever seen was in full swing selling everything from ornate China to power tools, while outside Drift cars were running clipping points and sitting loudly idling meters away from casual afternoon shoppers. The track, while initially seeming small and confined, worked a treat in bringing the best out of the drivers. Lined with solid hay-bales, wall running was encouraged, and the occasional oopsie generally resulted in just a dusting off and no elongated track closures while concrete was repaired!

In a bit of a master-stroke from the organizers, the initial event hosted two truly global stars of the Drifting world in Chris Forsberg and Ryan Tureck. These are people that I’ve watched online for years not only pretty much forming the US drift scene in the Drift Alliance days, but right through to being multiple Formula Drift champions, event winners and YouTube stars. Who thought you’d ever see Ryan Tureck running an FC RX7 against a hay bale out the side of a cattle mart in Kilkenny, but life’s all about surprises. For the two guests to really put on a show though, they needed wheels, and by god did they get treated. As I mentioned, Tureck was thrown the keys to Alan O’Neill’s turbo’d Rotary RX7, while Forsberg stepped in Neil Dunne’s pretty epic S13. As for driving in unfamiliar chassis on the wrong side of the car?? Id say they were on the clipping points after 20 seconds!!

While traditional drifting is obsessed with two cars twin battling through a bracket to find a winner, its a format that just wouldn’t have felt right at a unique event like this. Instead, competition was divided into a number of disciplines designed to showcase driver skill rather than all out power. Ranging from drift parking to barrel sprints, with some wall runs and clipping points thrown in, it was really open for anyone to do well, no matter what they brought to the line. On top of 2 days and nearly 15 hours of track time, the venue transformed into a full blown festival once the lights went down, with a sound and visual stage set-up you’d struggle to find in most permanent music venues.

Names that may seem familiar to some, and yet unknown to others, came out all guns blazing. First man into competition was Craig MacLeod from Scotland. A guy that I truly had only heard about in passing, he went out onto a cold track and ran within 2 foot of a perfect run. Mind suitably blown, driver after driver came and made some incredible impressions. King of the BMW fan-boy’s Mark Tynan, a regular around the track-days of Ireland, showed serious skills in his M-Powered E36 and carried all the battle scars to prove how hard he was pushing, while a fellow BMW man pushed just that small bit too hard and gave me a particular scare. Note to self, don’t leave expensive camera gear lying in direct line of fine on top of a hay bale. Quick reflexes from driver and photographer saved everyone from serious damage though, and the taxi lived to fight another day!!

Now, as I’ve said a few times now, this venue played so fantastically well to level the field in a way never before seen. Come the end of the 2 days, the final four drivers was made up of all small-budget, home built amateur chargers, and Chris Forsberg!! With large cash prizes on the line, some guys likely winning more than the value of their car, it was obvious to see the desire these fellas had to win and perhaps bringing their drifting to the next level. Coming home in Fourth was the screaming little E36 Compact of Jack Shiel. I’ve seen Jack evolve from practice day hero to a serious competitive threat over the past 12 months, and what the little BMW lacks in power, the driving style, precision and aggression more than make up. Built in that very cool of late Waterford Domestic Market style, this cars just screams cool and has a massive presence.

Pipping Jack to third place was another young star, and this was definitely a re-occurring theme here, in Declan Byrne. About 2 years ago, Deco burst onto the scene with a number of giant killing performances in the IDC behind the wheel of his mean looking and very low Nissan S14. Aggression is taken for granted every time Byrne hits the track, and the poor Nissan spent nearly 2 days scraping bales for fun. Come Sunday, the SR20 had done a good job of melting the gearbox, and then in true rock-star fashion Declan managed to break not one but both of the Volvo’s laid on for the final, but jumping into Neil Dunne’s S13 done the trick. A large cheque in the back pocket, is it now we’ll see the return of Black S14 to top-level competition??

Leading the Irish charge, and taking 2nd, was Alan Hynes. Come from great drifting stock with his father being drift-judge extraordinaire Kieren, and a long time member of the IDC backroom team, Alan has truly launched himself in 2017. On the verge of winning the Pro-Am title and getting a license for the big show next year, stunning levels of car control saw the moderately powered Silvia making clipping points for fun. One of a new breed who had years of Virtual drifting done before ever stepping behind the wheel for real, think of all those IDC track preview video’s on Rfactor and remember that’s Alan, these guys are quickly making the rise through the ranks, focusing on learning driver skills rather than gunning for big power, and I guarantee you each of these three guys will be challenging for Championships in the next few years!!

But, like every event, you can have all the great drives you want, but we need a winner. It’s a long running joke online that ‘Forsberg Takes The Win’ is a default scenario in Formula Drift, but seeing the man doing his thing in the flesh re-evaluated everything I may have ever felt before. Borrowed car, strange land, wrong side?? Not a bother. Neil may have felt un-easy handing over the reigns of his pride and joy, but he had no fear as Forsbeg is a really a driving god. It almost seemed effortless as the perfect line was replicated time and time again. To make the man even better, come the presentation of the trophy’s and D1 style oversized cheque’s, Chris announced that his €5000 prize was to be split between the three other finalists. This was a seismic gesture to these guys, and a huge pat on the back to Chris Forsberg for such a decision!!

And so, come Monday and we’re all back to reality. Perhaps I am still slightly deaf still from Adrian Walsh’s V8 Corolla, but that’s part of the fun of it. Others will have sore heads from the shenanigans and celebrations, but the event itself was a celebration in itself. It brought the best skills that drifting has to offer and showcased them in a way that everyone had a chance to compete. Watching the likes of Emma Healy outscoring a former ProDrift champion in Brendan Stone reinforced how bright the future is for the sport here in Ireland.  It was a start, and a good one at that, but certainly it has the makings of an event we need to get behind and see blossom into the huge beast that it could become. Drinking, Drifting and Dancing, sher what more would ya want!!

Keep Drifting Grass Roots!

Keep Drifting Grass Roots!

Drifting. A conundrum. An enigma. Somehow anti-establishment yet mainstream in equal measure. Its difficult do decipher, and a source of a lot of personal thought of late. There was a time, not that overly long ago, when I would have considered myself perhaps even a fanboy. I wore my Prodrift jacket to school every day, spent all night watching any obscure Japanese drifting DVD content available to find among the countless virus’s on Limewire and routinely went on long arduous public transport journeys to catch an event. I was in deep, but then I just sorta fell out of love with it all!!

Now, when I look back its clear of how my obvious attachment to the Rally world sucked me into Drifting. The ultimate car back when I attended my first event in 2006 was Declan Munnelly in the wonderfully bright shade of Green MK2 Escort, front end constantly looking to defy gravity and take off as the rear sat squatted to the ground under power. It was infectious. Growing up on a ditch watching tail happy Ford’s blasting by in 10 second bursts, the repetitive nature of drifting’s spectacle seemed like a constant highlights package. Looking back, I had never heard the name Silvia or Chaser yet it didn’t matter as AE86’s missing bumpers chasing KP Starlets and E30 BMW’s just did it for me.

Its a traditional Irish car scene idea, but back then the UK look was still the pinnacle. Superlites, Alpina’s, CB aerials were prominent, but so to were a growing sea of S-Body Nissans. I still maintain that the best event I ever witnessed in the flesh was the European Championship in Mondello around 2008. We were still at a point in the Irish drifting landscape where it would not be until some time in the following weeks when Paddy McGrath’s piece landed on Speedhunters that we would hear who had won an event, but the sea was turning. Darren McNamara was starting his Stateside adventure in the Corolla, Eric O’Sullivan was unbeatable in his AE86 and veterans like Mike Deane and Damien Mulvey were fending young guns like Martin French, Dean Kearney and a certain James Deane in a white S14!

What stands out from that event, more so than the fact that there were about 15 guys who could easily win as the power bracket was so even, was the sight of Bon Bon and the iconic Driftworks Chaser. There wan an audible grasp when talk around it’s crazy 550 BHP power output. Yes kids, it was shocking at the time. That was Ferrari power in a Japanese Taxi, and at the time it was mind blowing. Unheard of somewhat.

While its great to look back and reminisces of great times in wonderful sepia hues, fast forward to today and I doubt I could ever feel such excitement towards a car showing up to an event as I did then. As the sport has evolved, the competitive side of things seems to do less and less for me as the years have passed. Things have got to a level now that just doesn’t excite me anymore, with just a string of one-upmanship builds each looking to make a statement. When Christy Carpenter debuted the S15 in Ennis in 2011, it was a game changer. Until then, the drift landscape was littered with home brew shoestring builds, but this car was the catalyst for change and the birth of top level cars as we know them today. I consider it the first proper Pro Level build in Ireland, yet put it up against the current string of monster machinery and it’s obvious how quickly time has moved on as it would be left floundering today.

Now before this comes across as a bashing of top level drifting, it isn’t. The organizational side of the sport in Ireland is at the cutting edge of Motorsport worldwide, the talent we have is exceptional and the constant envelope pushing in events is so refreshing, as we hit a real plateau around 5 years ago. What the IDC crew are doing is creating special events with fantastic narratives, but I just can’t get excited for it in the same way I did before. From a time when I would have got to nearly every Prodrift event in a season, I gradually started going only to the Saturday Semi-Pro events right through to now when its easily 3 years since I last attended an event.

While the competitive side of things has slipped out my radar, what has filled the void in a big way is the constant growth we are experiencing in Grass Roots Drifting. There’s no big flashy branding or sponsors, well prepped tracks or polished 1000 break super cars, but a real sense of enjoyment. The pressure is non-existent, replaced with self achievement and people just out having the craic in cars. It’s a throwback to the early days that drew me into the sport, where a whole days hacking is affordable and accessible. With the strong reliance on Mondello Park as a pro venue over and over again, regional tracks have filled the void for those who can’t continuously spend hours trekking up and down the country. Tynagh in the West, Nutts Corner up North and Goldstone out East have become willing venues for those looking to shred rubber and bang limiters, and after a long absence us down South have the use of the wonderful Watergrasshill track.

While a number of crowds tried to keep grass roots drifting alive through the dark days of the early 2010’s, it’s only under the stewardship of Ultimate Drift that regular track days have began to boom again. Running under the simple moniker of ‘Have Fun, Go Drifting’, its reawakened not only my own passion for drifting, but opened up a cheap welcome environment for those looking to push their cars, learn the sport or test new builds.

With constantly rotating groups, its possible to feel a sense of reward watching someone progress over a few hours, trying new things and getting comfortable exploring their sideways limits. Each event is a lucky dip of cars on track, from top level competition cars through to battered Volvo’s and E36 BMW’s. Some of the fare may look decidedly un-kept, and this can draw derision in some quarters, but when a car is flying past at full lock with smoke pouring then I know full well that the person behind the wheel couldn’t care less how it looks as they’re having a ball regardless. At its core, grass roots drifting is free of hate and the sense of begrudgery of what someone else has, and its more about making the most of the freedom and getting to the core of what made drifting into the release mechanism that it was originally designed to be.

I know that many will say that getting to a pro event may re-light the spark within me for the competitive side of Drifting, but I always have and always will have a deep love for bumper-less Corolla’s, tatty BMW’s and screaming Charmants, and you don’t get that in competition any more. There is room I feel though for a series championing the proper style side of Drifting, definitely something left behind in the current era of Function over Form, and it’s something that is growing in the US and UK, but it feels a way off yet here in Ireland. For now though, get out to your local track, inhale some tyre smoke, support grass roots events, and who knows you might witness a future champion in the making.