It really doesn’t seem like six weeks since we were up in Teesside for Round 3 of the 2011 British Drift Championship but never the less we have now reached the midway point of the season. In the weeks leading up to the event excitement began to swell – Knockhill is one of the most technically challenging courses on the calendar and drivers simply love to compete here. Its a mammoth journey for fans and competitors alike with most living in the more densely populated parts of the country (i.e the Midlands and the South). On Thursday night and Friday morning there was a barrage of Facebook updates from fans and competitors – the mass migration to ‘The Hill’ had begun. Having never visited Knockhill Circuit (or Scotland for that matter) I wasn’t going to be missing out this year.
With the Friday off work I was all prepared for a mid-morning start to my journey north but this didn’t quite work out as I planned (I’m lazy) and by 3pm in the afternoon I decided it was time to be on my way. My 330D was filled to the brim with the dirty oily stuff, the sat-nav powered up and the post code of my hotel a few miles from the circuit punched in. An impressive 315 miles with an estimated journey time of 5 and a bit hours – surely I could improve on that somehow? The orange blobs of congestion didn’t give me much confidence – I should know better – anywhere on the M6 near Manchester and Liverpool on a Friday afternoon should be avoided at all costs.
Approximately 140 miles into thejJourney the fuel gauge had barely moved so there was no reason to stop – one thing with my previous M3 was your were never that far away from needing to refuel so it was always a good opportunity to grab a nice cup of Java. It felt very strange leaving motorway services without needing to fill the tank (again) – I had a very smug smile on my face as I passed the pumps. With my coffee steaming away the cruise control was resumed at a ‘brisk’ cruising speed and we were back onto the now quiet M6. Just past the infamous shotgun wedding capital of Gretna Green (think Vegas – without even a slight hint of Vegas) I joined the M74. By now there was next to no traffic on the roads and I could make some serious progress – this part of the country is idyllic – nothing but hills and peaks as far as the eye could see. By the time the days light had faded away I was amazingly close to Edinburgh – I took a slight detour along the M9 so I could travel over the infamous Forth Road suspension bridge that spans the Firth Of Forth estuary – it really is spectacular – but nowhere to stop and grab a photograph which is a shame. Just 20 minutes later I pulled into my five star priced 2 star Premier Inn in Dunfermline (the infamous Edinburgh Fringe festival hikes up the prices at this time of year) that would be my base for the next 2 days. After enjoying a nice cold pint of beer and chewing the fat with a few BDC competitors also staying at my hotel – I had nothing to moan about with my journey – for some of these guys it had been well over 14 hours from further south in the country – made worse by the lower speeds that come with dragging a car on a trailer.
The other half of this weekends Drifted double act Jordan Butters had had a similarly long journey up from Peterborough but I’d catch up with him on Saturday morning. I decided to call it a night – sleep didn’t come easily from all the excitement of the weekend we had ahead of us – not to mention its hard to ignore re-runs of the Inbetweeners.
Well rested and well fed it was Saturday morning and time to head over to the circuit for the mornings briefing. After a short 10 mile drive I arrived at Knockhill Circuit. As I pulled up the main road into the circuit grounds I could hear cars out on the track – there was a regular trackday taking place that morning so there would be no drifting out on track until after lunch. This gave competitors a chance to establish their camps in the pits and ready their cars for a weekend of mayhem out on the hill.
Team Japspeed took pride of place at the top of the pits. Talk of their Facebook group was that they were gunning for a podium and points at Knockhill.
Team Falken UK had set up stall behind Japspeed, Matt Carter chasing down the illusive first place podium after three second place finishes.
The Knockhill track is both incredibly fast and technical – with many many undulations and drastic changes in camber through the lap it pushes drivers of all disciplines to the limit – be it single seaters, touring cars or motorbikes its definitely one track you must drive at some point in your life. If tarmac is not your game there are also several rally cross tracks on its periphery. Due to its remote nature there are no real motorsport haters to get in the way of things and there is always something going off with lots and lots grassroots motor sport and track days available to the public.
The drivers briefing commenced at mid day and judges Jullian Smith, Rich Newton and Mitch Clarke showed drivers the course layout and the lines they were expected to take. Knockhill has recently installed new tops to its apex curbs in an attempt to calm down the BTCC drivers (event here in 2 weeks time) – drivers were warned about these and one of today’s key aspects of judging was precision. Today drivers were expected to keep within the confines of the tarmac and if they were to stray from the tarmac onto the grass/dirt they would get a big fat zero for their run – this would make things interesting – flamboyant dirt drops in qualifying would quickly waste runs and ruin any chances of a place in the battles.
With the driver and media briefing over it was time to grab a quick bite to eat before we ventured out to the various vantage points – at times the beautiful scenery made it feel more like a nature reserve than a racing circuit. Lets take a look over the weekend’s course with the help of some of the qualifying runs.
Darren Matthews stands atop the pit straight crest and sends cars down the hill towards the Seat curves.
‘Seat Curves’, formerly ‘Duffus Dip’. One of the most intimidating initiations in European drifting, possibly the world? The drivers initiate long before the remainder of the track comes into view.
Drivers pile on as much speed as they possibly can and throw their cars at the completely blind crest. Its a leap of faith.
Judges want to see the apex clipped perfectly here. Ian ‘Bizz’ Philips drove here last year so was already familiar with what’s in store on the other side of the crest. Making sure you don’t take too much of the curb – especially so now with the extra inner height.
The hill really is steeper than it looks. It’s only from standing on the track looking up the hill that you can appreciate it (or from diving off the top of it sideways at 90mph into the gravel). After the apex you dive into a deep gradient for a rear clipping point be careful not to push too far or you’ll be onto the grass and get zero points. The gradient of the circuit then reduces a little as you transition back for the right hander that is the Scotsman Corner.
Be careful not to cut too tight or you’ll be onto another double-decker curb and in the air, single-wheel drifting.
Throttle to the floor and accelerate towards the end of the judged section, as Adam Blackwell does above.
Semi Pro qualifying took place on a slightly different track layout at the other end of the main straight which made use of Hislops straight and the Real Radio hairpin. Drivers started heading anti clockwise back along the pit straight down the hill into a left hander that made use of the tarmac adjoining the two straights. Drivers had to put their cars close to the wall with a rear clipping point as they headed down the gradient into a front clip right-hander back onto Hislops back straight.
They then had to manji the remaining length of the straight into a front clipping point at the Real Radio hairpin. Drivers again needed to manji the short second of the start/finish straight until they crossed the finish line on the judged section of the course level with the first corner where the track started.
The Top 3 qualifiers in the Semi Pro Class were as follows….
1st. Matt Campling (Car 31)
2nd. Marc Huxley (Car 66)
3rd. Adrian Brannan (Car 37)
The Semi Pro drivers were at this point offered the choice. Compete their Top 8 twin battles on the more sedate end of the track that had played host to their qualifying, or throw themselves sideways-first off Seat Curves on the full Pro track. Naturally they chose the later!
Belinda Challis was first up in the Castrol R32 vs Christian Lewis (above) in the Team Green/Touge Automotive R33. After a collision earlier in the event Christian was left with a slightly wonky ‘crabbing’ R33 making it very difficult to drive. Belinda progresses on into the competition.
Ian Waddington and Marc Huxley stepped up next. Mistakes from Waddington meant that he fails to score on both runs. Marc and the little KE that could progress on.
The Toyota Supra of Ashley Willis vs Adrian Brannan’s Ford Sierra were the next Top 8 pairing. Ade suffers a wiring loom problem on the startline and fails to launch unfortunately. Ashley progresses through!
Following a collision and a trip into the gravel on the first run between Sam Holt (Car 96) against Matt Campling (Car 31). Sam Holt goes through into the Semi Finals.
After two runs in which the leading driver span out Belinda Challis and Marc Huxley go One More Time. Huge angle from Huxley awards him progression into the Finals!
Two drivers battling for a place in their first Finals were Ashley Willis and Sam Holt. Sam Holt heads to the finals as Ashley spins on his first run.
Belinda Challis squares off against Ashley Willis’s black and white Supra. Belinda mounts the high curb and scores a zero for the run, giving Ashley 3rd place.
Sam Holt is well known for not taking drifting too seriously, so to find him here in the Finals with his pink smoke tyres was pretty cool to see. Despite his reputation for a bit of a joker, the joke was on Sam when the people who sprayed his S14 left him a secret message ready for when his bumper (inevitably) parted company with the car.
Marc Huxley is no stranger to finding himself in the Final stages of competition. However, despite a strong first run a crucial error saw him hand the Finals and the event to Sam Holt. Congrats Sam!
The Top 3 qualifiers in the Pro Class were….
1st. Wesley Keating (Car 38)
2nd. Martin Richards (Car 61)
3rd. Jordan Patton (Car 57)
Ciaran Sinnott vs. Ian ‘Bizz’ Phillips. Both Sinnott and Philips charge for the hill with maximum aggresion. Sinnott pushing very hard and ends up tagging Bizz into the first corner pushing both drivers into the gravel. With Ciaran scoring a big fat zero on his first run Ian Philips has an easy (but destructive) spot in the top 8. A rear wheel destroyed and the drivers side b-pillar sill pushed in as a reminder.
After a busy time in Semi Pro Marc Huxley is back out in Pro. His first opponent was Martin Griffiths. Griffiths fails to score in both runs with a spin and failing to stay within the confines of the tarmac. Marc charges into the Top 8.
Micheal Marshall was up against Justin Griffiths. The first battle was extremely close with both drivers scoring 5 points each. The second run was a different matter with Justin failing to score. Marshall goes into the top 8.
Martin Richards vs. Adam Blackwell. A fairly even matched first battle with Richards taking a slight advantage. On the second run Blackwell fails to score sending Martin Richards onwards into the next round of battles.
Steve Whitbread (above) was paired up with Marcin Klawikowski.With a Big fat zero for Klawikowski in the first battle it was Whitbread into the Final 8 even though his opponent put in the second better run.
Jordan Patton (R32) started his journey with a first battle against Pete Green (E30). Pete scored a full 10 points on the first run with Patton leaving the tarmac. Patton was the better of the two in the second run but it would be Green continuing on into the Top 8.
Justin Clarke (S14) vs. Jarack Federico (BMW). Jarack in his mighty BMW V8 drops a wheel off track in the first run – the damage is done – Clarke goes into the 8.
Next up Wesley Keating in the WKD Imports S13 against Team Falken’s Paul Cheshire . Cheshire scores a zero in the first battle and with Wesley putting in super consistent runs he goes into the next round of battles.
First of the top 8 battles saw Ian ‘Bizz’ Phillips up against Marc Huxley in the little KE Corolla. Bizz spins on the first run followed by Marc spinning on the second. With a One More Time obviously required Huxley scores zero in the first round giving Bizz a place in the Semi Finals.
It was then Micheal Marshall doing battle with Martin Richards (above).
Richards scored zero points in the first run giving Marshall a bit of a breather in the 2nd run and a place in the Top 4.
Steve Whitbread vs. Pete Green. Green into the top 4 after Whitbread failed to score in the first battle.
Justin Clarke vs Wesley Keating (above). Keating puts in a great first run and backed up with another great job in his leading run took the final place in the Top 4.
Ian Phillips vs. Micheal Marshall (above). Marshall took the advantage in the first run and with a draw in the second run he was into the Finals.
Pete Green vs. Wesley Keating. Keating takes to the gravel trap at the top of the hill in the first run. Even being the better of the 2 drivers in the second run it was Pete Green who would be going into the Finals.
The third place battle was on. Would it be Phillips or Keating stepping onto the lower step of the podium.
Following a spin in the first run from Phillips, Wes takes the 3rd place podium!
The pro final saw Micheal Marshall fighting it out with Pete Green. The first 2 battles were too close to call resulting in a OMT.
The second pair of battles was just as intense but it was Marshall who would be today’s king of the hill in the Professional class.
1st. Sam Holt
2nd. Marc Huxley
3rd. Ashley Willis
2nd. Pete Green
3rd. Wesley Keating
Stay tuned for Part II: Super Pro Class and full gallery.
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