EVENT: A Dirty Weekend In Wales

Posted by Ian Gratton on 26th October.

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As summer draws to a close and autumn takes hold it marks the end of other busy year as media partners with the British Drift Championship. Through spring and summer the first four rounds of the championship left us drenched with rain with the sun only breaking cover for the Super Pro round 5 that look place at the Trax show at Silverstone (check out some pictures here if you missed it).

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A few weeks later the BDC family and its fans headed west to the island of Anglesey (Ynys Môn) in North Wales.  Anglesey is linked to the UK mainland by only two bridges that cross the Menai Strait – neither of which is more than 500m wide – its pretty close to mainland Wales. With an early start on the Saturday morning open practice gave competitors time to build up a mental model of the unfamiliar track  Anglesey can be configured into 3 different layouts if required – this weekend we’d be using the club section of the circuit.

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The drivers would run anti-clockwise from the hairpin ‘The Banking’ at the top end of the circuit. Picking up speed the drivers initiate just before the right hander known only as ‘Turn 1’. Its long, you can’t see what you are looking for straight away.

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Stay wide – there’s a rear clipping point waiting for you.  It’s quite a sweeper and your entry speed increases significantly and you hope the car sits down and gives you some traction as the long turn becomes the main straight.  Its open practice but pay attention – your team mate’s front wheel could be right on your door!.

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Hard on the gas you cross the track – the steering wheel slips though your hands – maybe a tiny feather of the throttle mid a smooth transition, now add lots of throttle – All of it!

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Aim for pit wall on the opposite side of the track.  A car length away from the wall in the ‘grass’ beside the track awaits the next rear clipping point.  Speed is high now – proximity to the clipping point reduces…and…BOOM…its gone!  You learn something for next time so stay hard on the gas but get ready to move left and slow down.

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With the cars being pretty much flat out until this point in the run its time to come off the gas…many cars gushing unspent fuel as fire from their hot exhausts.

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You now enter a narrower section of the track before the ‘Bus Stop’ still trying to get rid of some speed.

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Aim for a front clip on the entry apex as the narrow track re-joins the circuit’s natural back straight.  Its almost a double apex turn and there is a lot of speed to scrub off to get this right.

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Dive in fast and you’ll sail past the apex and onto the ‘grass’ defining the outside edge of the track.

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Maximum attack onto another rear clip on the back straight before shutting it all down…and blink.

It’s commonplace now for professional-level competitions to have rules to ensure drivers stay within the confines of the course – this is a good thing. With no stopwatch to settle things these rules help to separate consistently excellent drivers who can nail speed, angle and proximity in the mental pressure of a battle almost every time from those that are still on the path to becoming that excellent driver. As we know two wheels off the track in a qualifying or battle run – zero points. One wheel off the track… a reduction in points. Also, sometimes the ‘track’ part of those rules could be a marked outline on tarmac some water or concrete barriers – or in the case of a proper more open track – typically where the tarmac becomes grass. Race tracks have curbs in key areas that form the fastest line round the lap – they help to keep the drivers off the grass and stop the scenery from being ruined.

These rules, however, do not apply in open practice… for most this is more about trying not to have a big crash whilst getting the course down and refining your attack. Given that final championship standings can only be changed by a handful of drivers in each class the pressure is surely off for a lot of competitors. Let the track boundary violation commence!

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Initially violations of track boundaries were subtle – just a tiny cloud of dust joining the smoke to indicate a rear wheel off the track for a tiny moment – its no biggie and quite commonplace.

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Then one wheel became two… a little harder to disguise.

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Two wheels became three… a particularly hard attack by 2014 Champion Shane O’Sullivan.

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And before you know it three wheels became the entire car – there is no saving this and you’ll probably not appreciate your car is now full of dirt because you had the rear windows down.

It got me thinking back to some of my earliest memories of drifting watching Video OPTION. I remember Manabu Suzuki (Mana-P) and Keiichi Tsuchiya (Dorikin) screaming in a language I couldn’t understand and laughing hysterically every time a car dropped off the track and causing an explosion of dirt. Without anyone explaining otherwise you’d think doing massive dirt drops was all part of what they were looking for in a run! Whilst looking absolutely spectacular they have an unfortunate effect of ruining the grass and creating deep ruts at the edge of the circuit.

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Being so close to the coast the sea is eroding the Welsh coast line from one side of the circuit – and for this weekend drivers would attempt to do the same from the land.

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With the rear clipping point on the pit straight being annihilated almost every run it was moved back against the pit wall – this only served to give the drivers more space in which to drop into the dirt.  In early practice the edge of the track seemed to be surviving quite well – it wouldn’t stay that way for long.

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As open practice progressed as did the scale of the dirt drops.  Its almost like when more people do them – it causes more people to join in.  And when you do them more often – you become more consistently good at doing bigger, better ones.

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The grass on the outside edge of the track was taking a beating. When the dirt settled and smoke drifted away lost bumpers were strewn everywhere.

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Switching vantage point I got to see how the rear clip on the edge of the pit wall was holding up.  It was taking a beating – as depth of the crater increased front wheels started to lift.  Clouds of dirt were being fired high into the air.  Crowd take cover!

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At times the crowd were engulfed in smoke and dirt in equal proportion.

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The very sunny Sunday was battle day.  Would the dirt drops be less frequent?  Today with points and rules in play drivers would have to push harder later in their runs to help recover any points they may lose dropping a wheel in the dirt on either of the first two rear clipping points.

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Semi Pro were on form – a stern dirt drop in every way.  Projectile dirt flies like this pair had just driven over an unexploded land mine.

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Pro drivers managed to keep things together and the side of the track got a bit of a rest from the abuse it had been receiving as the sun finally brightened things up.

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With the extra pace and pressure of super pro the track borders began to take another beating.

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With two days of abuse the once level grass border that runs along the pit wall was now a deep rut.

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Team mates battled it out.

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Dirt continued to be flung into the sky.

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And looking out to sea the sky was dulled as the combination of smoke and soil drifted through the air.

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Battles became even more intense in the top 16.

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Judges couldn’t call the victor in the super intense battle between Mark Luney and Phil Morrison and a one more time was called.  These two cars are some of the most powerful in the class – and they both decimate tyres at a phenomenal rate. Having almost 1800bhp rumble towards you at speed as they leave the track for new rubber you can sense the tension and pressure the two drivers are feeling.

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With fresh rear tyres it all started again.  In the first run Phil pulls a slight lead of Mark Luney’s super potent Lucas Oil Supra maybe giving him a slight advantage.  They switch places but taking it easy is not something either of these top class drivers are prepared to do.  Phil applies the pressure and chases the Supra in very close proximity in the first part of the course.  As the cars dive towards the front clip you can barely see daylight between the two.  Unfortunately for Phil a front wheel off the track at this clipping point means a deduction of points and Mark Luney goes through.

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Team Japspeed’s Paul Smith sent Tomas Kiely packing after both drivers took a very wide line into the first turn.  Kiely couldn’t quite manage to keep out of the dirt.

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Team Falken driver Matt Carter and Japspeed’s Danny Eyles put in one of the closest and fastest battles of the day so far.  Carter excels in chase battles and goes onward.

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Julie Robinson faced of with outgoing 2013 champion Team MnM’s Mike Marshall.  Julie pushing hard fires another dirt bomb towards the crowd but its Marshall with the cleaner runs who advances.

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Next up,  Marc Huxley in the RA28 Celica ST goes to work with Shane O’Sullivan.  You’d never guess that Shane had already bagged the 2014 title and pushed like the championship was still to play for – testament to the championships mantra ‘Go Hard Or Go Home’.  Hux has a serious power deficit compared to the Japspeed S15 but he sure knows how to extract every last once of performance from the sub 300bhp SR20 motor sat beneath the bonnet.  A three-wheeling, chassis rail rubbing dirt drop looks spectacular from my vantage point but unfortunately puts Hux on an awkward line as they dive for the front clip.  Hux spins out and Mr O’Sulivan goes onwards in the hope of yet more silverware for what must be a bulging trophy cabinet after a very successful year.

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Hux pulls back onto the track and salutes fans that have given the little Celica such attention and praise through the season.  As somebody who loves and owns older Toyota‘s I have a deep appreciation of what has gone into building this beautiful machine.  Toyota’s designers were definitely on top form when they penned the lines of this 1970’s coupe.

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Next up Team Driftworks Richard Grindrod vs Mark Luney in the Lucas Oil Supra.  With Luney sending Driftworks team boss and the DW86 packing in an earlier battle it was down to the LS-powered E36 M3 to fly the Driftworks flag.  I’ve watched Mr Grindrod progress over the last few years from grass roots events up at Buxton Raceway, through BDC Pro and very quickly into BDC Super Pro.  Rich is a very talented driver and seems completely immune to the pressures that come with competing this level – he puts his car in all the right places and hugs the passenger door of the supra.  With a clean lead run he can’t quite shake the chasing supra but with the perfect lead run he advances onwards.

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Young Jack Shanahan sees off Gary Dunne who recently bumped up from Pro to Super Pro.   Another spectacular dirt drop adds to the spectacle but unfortunately won’t impress the judges today.

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The battles come thick and fast now – Team Falken’s Matt carter against Team Japspeed’s Paul Smith.  Both drivers can lead and chase with the best of them.  The proximity between these two is such that it’s sometimes hard to see the chase car – it was Matt Carter who impressed the judges most.

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Next up – Shane O’Sullivan and Mike Marshall.  The pressure is on and O’Sullivan chases HARD.  Marshall, foot to the boards trying to shake the Japspeed S15 from his side drops into the now deep ditch along the pit wall.

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O’Sullivan avoids the dirt and with the extra traction dives closer to the Toyota-powered E36 BMW Touring.  As the cars enter the narrower section of track the Japspeed S15 is gushing fire from its exhausts as both drivers attempt to lose speed for the front clip.  Shane advances forward into the Semi Finals.

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Richard Grindrod now had his work cut out for him facing the young Irish driver Jack Shanahan.  It would be Shanahan who took the first place in the finals with a slight advantage from both lead and chase battles.

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The next semi final battle would be intense.  Team Falken’s Matt Carter squares up to Team Japspeed’s Shane O’Sullivan.  Both drivers can smell victory and the fight is on!  Its Shane to lead in the first battle – straight away Carter shows the crowd and judges he can chase with the best of them – glued to the rear of the Japspeed S15.

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Shane knows Matt has taken the advantage in the first run even without any communication with the judges.  This is where things become mentally intense for both drivers.  Matt knows he is half way to victory in the battle – Shane knows he has to pull something special out of the bag to try and force a one more time.  The pressure is all back on Matt as he knows Shane isn’t going to hand victory to him without a fight – chase hard – be chased hard.  Matt now leading fires in hard and fast, and, whilst dropping a wheel into the dirt stays on a solid wide line through the first turn.  Shane on the other hand takes to the dirt completely carrying waaay too much speed.  Matt Carter goes through to what is set to become an epic final pair of battles with Jack Shanahan.

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And onto the 3rd place battle.  With only recently joining Super Pro I don’t think Richard Grindrod could have foreseen how his weekend would pan out.  Carrying the Driftworks banner this far into the battles is testament to just how much his ability has progressed over the course of the last year.  And for his final challenge of the day he now has to wield his car-shaped sword at the only just crowned 2014 British Drift Champion Team Japspeed’s Shane O’Sullivan!  No pressure…actually…bucket loads of it!

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With O’Sullivan leading the first battle Richard Grindrod’s LS-powered M3 stays glued to the side of the Japspeed S15 through the first turn.  Shane massively aware of this takes a shallower line on the rear clip along the pit wall sacrificing some angle and smoke for traction in an attempt to shake the orange BMW.  By the end of the run this hasn’t happened and Mr Grindrod is still right by his side.

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Switching places Shane can now apply the pressure.  Grindrod has a good clean run through the first part of the course and pulls a slight lead on O’Sullivan.  By the time both cars reach the front clip in the narrow section of the Shane has caught back up by having to adopt a slightly different line to that of the lead car.  No one more time is called – the judges have a decision but we’ll have to wait to find out who will be on the 3rd step of the final podium of the year.

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And onto the final – the hugely experienced Team Falken’s Matt Carter against the young and fearless teenager Jack Shanahan.  With Jack taking the lead position in the first battle Matt Carter applies the pressure straight from the get go.

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Through the entire course Matt stays glued to the Jack’s Purple S14 and as they power out of the last turn towards the end of the run Jack hasn’t been able to pull any advantage.

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Switching places its almost a mirror of the first run.  Both drivers are so consistent I feel for the judges having to decide between the two very talented drivers.  By the end of the run Matt appears to have pulled a slight lead on Shanahan.   This is some deliberation and the circuit PA goes quiet – the judges have made their decision – no need for a one more time.   The driving is done for the day and the circuit borders can now recover from the beating they have taken…

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Or maybe not as the final 4 drivers return from the start line!

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Back in the pits awaits a table full of trophies and the crowd converge on the pits desperate to see who will be taking them home.

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Semi Pro first place went to a very happy Matt Denham, 2nd step for Callum Craddy and 3rd to Ben Rowland. Whilst absent from the podium 2014 Semi Pro Champion was Matt Stevenson.

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Pro class first place went to Team Driftworks Richard Grindrod, William Rose took second spot joined by Marcin Mucha on the 3rd step.  Driftworks Richard Grindrod was also crowned 2014 Pro Champion!

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Overall constructor champions for 2014 were Maxxis tyre sponsored Team Japspeed.

Shane O’Sullivan was crowned Super Pro 2014 championship winner before the event even started – but would he be stood on the 3rd step of the podium from his 3rd place battle with Richard Grindrod?

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After a fantastic year and a bump up from Pro to Super Pro Richard Grindrod had done the unthinkable and denied O’Sullivan 3rd place on the podium – hands full of trophies Richard had every right to be wearing that big smile on his face.  Jack Shanahan took 2nd place and 1st place went to Team Falken’s Matt Carter who gave out a victory WHOOP!

The victors shot their champagne to celebrate what had been both an excellent weekend and another great year of the British Drift Championship.  With a few changes afoot next year we’ll have to wait until 2015 to know for sure what they are.  The end of the season is both a happy and a sad time.  Series victors taken home their trophies and championship titles to please their sponsors and retire back to their workshops to plan their assault on the next year.  Fans and spectators return home knowing its going to be another 5 months or so before the great british drift family come together again.  We won’t see friends for what seems like forever – but when it all starts back up again it will be like we’ve all never been apart.

So that concludes our 2014 coverage as official media partners for the British Drift Championship.  Its been another cracking year and you never fail to deliver the thrill and excitement that we have all now come to expect.  Peace out and roll on 2015!

 

 

Written by Ian Gratton

Ian Gratton

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