EVENT: Bucharest Grand Prix 2011 Part III: The Battles

Posted by Ian Gratton on 12th December.

Sunday morning…its race day.

Yet again I awoke to a sauna-like hotel room – the heating system managing to beat an open window and far from warm temperature outside.  A lot of the drivers had already left for the circuit to prepare for the early afternoon open practice but again I opted to hang back at the massive hotel reception for a good breakfast.  WKD Imports driver Wesley Keating was in high spirits considering he didn’t make the top 16 for today’s battles – its a real shame for Wes having had such a super consistent year.  With the pressure off the boys had obviously been having some fun.  As Wesley retired to bed, myself, Vince Knight (Aatomotion Video) and Luke Wilson (Zero Media) jumped in another yellow Dacia taxi and headed over to the Palace.

On the start line I bumped into Drift Monkeys Fredrik Øksnevad (check out his driver blog here on the site) and Ove Harlem who had travelled all the way from Norway – Fredrik with a tough day ahead on the judging panel.  The prize fund for this competition was generally much higher than you would typically see in the European events with cash prizes from 1st (€4000), 2nd (€2000), 3rd (€1200) right the way down to 8th (€500).  With such a high driving standard across the board its makes a judges life so much harder.  Every one of the drivers in today’s top 16 will happily and lovingly trade paint in pursuit of the top step on the podium – rubbing is racing – in all forms of motor sport.

For today’s open practice I opted to go straight up to the start line and Richard Clarke and Faruk Kugay kindly gave me a lift in their BMW official safety car – I’d not ventured here the entire weekend due to moving about the track talking a while.

Up at the top of the hill there is a really chilled friendly atmosphere amongst the drivers – its what I find so much in our sport.  In other forms of motor sport drivers and teams play their cards so close to their chests – in drifting people will always do what they can to help someone else out.

There is always somebody to help – for example – if your super lightweight door happens to fall off at the start line don’t panic – a marshall will soon be along to help pop it back on.  PUZ Team mate Grzegorz Hypki has a good giggle at team mate Marcin Mospinek whilst the marshal comes to the rescue.

It was also really nice to see several of the mainland Europe cars wearing drifted.com decals on their door mirrors – thanks for your support Folks!.  Switzerland’s Phillipe Guillod had unfortunately missed out on a spot in the top 16 battles – his green s14a now nursing a whack on the rear quarter – but this wasn’t going to stop him from enjoying some more runs through the fantastic street course here in Bucharest.

As a car draws up to the start line the driver is alone.  Their mind busy re-analysing previous runs – looking to where more angle could be gained – where to stay on the gas a little longer – where to take a different line to get closer to an apex – so many many variables…The marshal gives the driver the all clear and it all starts again.

Free practice started at 1pm and ran on through to the late afternoon giving the drivers plenty of time to experiment so they could be at their best for the evening battles.  Its always important to keep in mind the extra wear and tear on the car – push too hard and you may not end up with enough tyres or worse still be without a car.  At around 6pm it was time for the battles to begin.

Top 16 Battles

The drivers list for the evenings battle spanned many nations – Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Finland, Ireland, England, Hungary and Poland which had the largest presence in the battles with 7 drivers!  Just before the start of the battles the Polish driver count rose to 8…

The glittering Purple Drift School S14 belonging Bulgaria’s Krasimir Stehanov wasn’t able to continue in the Top 16 battles due to mechanical issues…

So 17th place qualifier Krzysztof Romanowski stepped up to take his place in the red E30 350i BMW Coupe.

As the competitors pulled in front of the palace and the now sizeable crowd we were still a car short.  Brendan Stone’s MG Crash Imports S15 Silvia wouldn’t start at all no matter what the boys did to try and resolve the issue.  A short while later the WKD Imports S13 arrived at the line with Bredan in the pilots seat.  Brendan had the all clear to use Wesley Keatings car – which – he had obviously never ever driven until the moment he pulled up to join the rest of the drivers.  This would make things interesting…

After the driver introductions to the crowd the first 2 cars were sent up to the start line and we were off!

The first battle was between Serbia’s Bojan Kurbalija in the chrome BMW E36 and Krzysztof Romanowski in the red E30 BMW.  In the first battle Romanowski stayed glued to the door of Kurbalija.  In the second battle Romanowski span entering the s-section at the end of the square giving Kurbalija the first spot in the final 8.

Next up was Poland’s Marcin Mospinek in the PUZ/Valvaline Racing  E30 BMW against fellow countryman Bartosz Slolarski in the Purple s14a.  Both drivers are fast and aggressive but it was Slolarski who would move into the top 8 battles.

Next up Hungary’s Adam Nagy in the 1JZ-powered E36 BMW vs Bulgaria’s Todar Dunev in the yellow S13.  Dunev goes through into the top 8 battles after building up a sizeable lead in the second run.

The Dragon Motorsports FD and Brad Hacker were up against local driver Maurias Mitrache in the silver R33 skyline.  After the first pair of battles the judges called a one more time as it was so close.  Brad Hacker took the win from the next pair of battles advancing onwards into the final 8.

Next up we had Ireland’s Walton Smith in the Jap Performance Parts GC8 RB26-powered Impreza and Poland’s Pawel Trela in the space framed 2JZ-powered S13,  After a rather eventful weekend what with having to rebuild the rear of the car on Saturday morning and a crash Walton was back up to maximum attack.  Trela and Smith had been out in open practice together several times during the afternoon in both lead and chase positions – aggression, precision and maximum attack from both drivers.   It was Trela who would be heading into the final 8 after two extremely very close battles.

An all Polish battle next between Greegorz Hypki in the PUZ/Valvaline BMW E30 V8 and Piotr Wiecek in the Bud Nat Auto s14.  In the first battle Wiecek played catchup and pushing hard to re-gain some ground lost the front bumper and a headlight getting a little too close to the front clipping point.  Although Wiecek pushed hard in the second battle the mistake in the first meant it was Greegorz Hypki advancing into the next round.

Next up an all Irish battle – Nigel Colfer in the Maragonni Tyres S13 up against Brendan Stone competing in Wesley Keating’s WKD Imports S13.  The sighting lap through the course was Brendan’s only opportunity to get used to this completely foreign car before the pair of judged runs.  The first pair of battles were too close to call but after another pair of battles Brendan Stone had knocked out fellow countryman Nigel Colfer and was on his way into the final 8.   A text message was now winging its way to Wesley Keating back at the hotel – ‘Your car is in the top 8…’

The bright Purple headlights of Finland’s Juha Rintenen were easy to spot in the last of the top 16 battles against Poland’s Mateusz Włodarczyk in the white E46 BMW.  Both drivers were tearing through the course in very close proximity but it was Mateusz Włodarczyk who took the final place in the top 8 battles.

Top 8 Battles

Our first top 8 battle involved Serbia’s Bojan Kurbalija and Ireland’s Brendan Stone driving Wesley Keatings WKD Imports S13.  Judges required a one more time to make up their minds but it was Brendan Stone who would advance into the Semi finals.  Given Brendan had now only had approximately 8 runs through the course in Wesley’s SR20 powered S-body he was putting down some super consistent lines.   This car must feel so completely different on the front end compared to Bredans own S15 with the nose heavy RB motor in the front.

Next up we had an all s13 battle – Poland’s Pawel Trela 2JZ-powered machine against Bulgaria’s Todor Dunev.  Dunev’s car is a conventional Nissan powered s-body – all be it with a good dose of the laughing gas.  Whilst both drivers were quick through the entire course it was Trela’s Toyota powered s13 that would be the next to claim a spot in the semi finals

Next we had Englishman Brad Hacker in the Dragon Motorsports FD against Poland’s Bartosz Slolarski in the purple S14a.  Great driving from these guys too – both drivers very close throughout the entire course and staying as close as possible to the final rear clip to further convince the judges of their accuracy.  Unfortunately Brad came in a little hot on the final run and span out into the water barriers giving Slolarski a place in the semi finals.

All Polish battle next – Mateusz Włodarczyk in the DOTZ Racing E46 and Greegorz Hypki in the PUZ Drift Team E30 – BMW against BMW.  Close close driving yet again here requiring a one more time.  In the second battle Mateusz Włodarczyk gets a little too close to the clipping point this time sending parts of the water barrier skywards and spinning out – Hypki is in the semi finals!

Semi Finals

Its the semi finals – all four drivers can smell victory and the €4000 prize for first place.  The level of driving to this point has been absolutely stunning and I dare say worthy of a more time consuming top 32 in future.  First of our two semi final battles were between countrymen Pawel Trela in the Trela Motorsport S13 and Grzegorz Hypki in the PUZ drift team E30.  Trela had already dispatched PUZ team mate Marcin Mospinek in the top 16 – could he do the same with Hypki and bag himself a spot in the finals ?

Straight from the off both drivers gave everything…

Pick any clipping point and Trela was stuck to Hypki’s door matching his every move.

The situation didn’t change when the drivers switched place and Hypki stayed just as close…Even after a one more time the judges couldn’t decide so we entered into our third set of battles.

In the first run of the third set of battles Hypki burst into view with tremendous speed – he’d already pulled a serious lead against Trela but this was because he was going waaay to fast.   The rear wheel of the E30 BMW had already bounced up the kerb smashing the rear quarter of the car into a tree slowing it down massively.  With nowhere else to go Trela arrives at the clipping point collecting the front of the BMW and sending it back again into yet another spin into the trees.  After several spins both cars were now at a rest with debris everywhere.

Safety vehicles were quickly on the scene of the accident to help both drivers exit what was left of their cars – it was a colossal impact. Moments later they were being interviewed by Bryn MusselWhite in front of the crowd both wearing big smiles and no doubt still buzzing with adrenaline from the last 15 minutes of their lives.

Its hard to believe shortly before both drivers had been bouncing off trees and scenery – it really drives home the importance of safety and a well prepared car.

This created somewhat of an interesting situation for the rest of the competition.  With Hypki causing the accident it was Trela who would earn the place in the finals, however, without a car he was unable to compete in the last battle and defaulted to second place.  A third/fourth place battle was also not possible as Grzegorz Hypki could not continue on against whoever won the next Semi final between Brendan Stone and Bartosz Stolarski so he earned 4th place.  The last battle of the day would be to decide who would take third place and who would be stood on the top step of the podium.

Brendan Stone had made it all the way in the finals with a borrowed car he’d never driven before and now had to face off against Poland’s Bartosz Stolarski in the purple LS-powered RB Team Nissan S14.  Not in the slightest bit put off by the massive accident both drivers pushed themselves to the limit.

Switching places with now Stone following the situation was no different with him matching Stolarski’s lines perfectly – a one more time was called.

The next round of battles gave us pretty much the same door to door action, however Stone ran a much more aggressive line over the course,  The judges had now decided on a winner and it was podium time.

With Pawel Trela already up in second place spot on the podium the tension was immense – both Stolarski and Stone had driven amazingly well – it must have been a real tough job for the judges to decide between the two.  Positions were announced in reverse order – Stolarski was 3rd meaning the winner of the first Bucharest Drift Grand Prix was Ireland’s Brendan Stone!

With the trophies and prize cheques handed out it was time to run for cover as the champagne began to fly.

The top three drivers posed for pictures before being whisked from the podium for television interviews.

As the crowd eventually dissipated many of the drivers headed back to the hotel to celebrate what had been a truly amazing weekend of drifting – the venue, drifting on the streets, the 20,000 spectators, the sheer number of drivers and countries who had participated had turned this into one of the most memorable events I’ve ever attended.

With a 5am taxi drive from the hotel to the airport there seemed little point in going to bed.  We started the weekend with sleep deprivation and ended it the same way.  By the time myself, Julian Smith, Bryn MusselWhite and Richard Clarke got onto the plane (Julian blagged us extra leg room seats) we were dead to the world for the entire journey back to the Luton airport.  On arrival in Luton we grabbed some strong coffee to wake us up and went our separate ways.  On my lazy drive back up the motorway I had chance to re-play the events of the weekend at a more sedate pace – it had been simply amazing.  Keep an eye on the Drift Allstars website for news on next years season…roll on 2012 and European drifting.

Written by Ian Gratton

Ian Gratton

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