EVENT: Bucharest Grand Prix 2011: Part I: Friday Build Up
With both the British Drift Championship and the Drift AllStars Europe championship and other key events on the UK calendar over with the for year I was about ready to hang up my camera for 2011 and spend some more time fettling my AE86 in preparation for its return to the road and track. Just to make matters worse I’d missed out on a trip back to Lousada in Portugal with Jord a few weeks ago due to a bit of a flight cock-up which was pretty gutting. 2011 has been an amazing roller coaster of year and drifting has gained yet more momentum around the globe. We’ve had some great great times with some really cool people. It was time to start looking forward to 2012 – or so I thought…
A week or so ago we got an email from JDM Allstars/Drift Allstars main man Niall Gunn asking us if we would be able to pop over to Bucharest to check out a new format event that was going to be run on the streets – The Drift Grand Prix of Romania. Legal government sanctioned drifting on the streets of a major European city? Surely not. After missing out on Lousada I snapped at the opportunity and got the camera back out.
On arrival at Luton I met up with Drift AllStars MC Bryn MusselWhite and Doritech Motorsports Richard Clarke and we hopped on a Wizz Air flight (there wasn’t much wizz to be fair) to Bucharest – the state capital of Romania. Bucharest is a large busy city with a population of approximately 2.2million. It has 2 airports – Henri Coandă International Airport (The big nice modern one) and our airport Aurel Vlaicu International Airport which was the main airport in Bucharest until 1968. Today it mainly deals with the budget airlines – its more coach station than airport – the baggage Carousel is about 10 feet long. Over in Luton the staff noticed my pelican case probably contained expensive equipment and they offered to hand deliver it to our plane – it didn’t receive the same treatment at this end but the tough Pelican case is designed to be smashed about a fair bit so everything intact – shooting the Romanian Drift Grand Prix without a camera could have been interesting…
By the time we’d cleared customs it was about 8:30am local time and we finally reached the front of the airport to find our ride to the hotel. It was a hive of activity with taxi drivers everywhere. It was at this point it dawned on us we had no idea who to look for – we just knew we were being met by somebody Cristian. Some of the Dragon Motorsport team were also on the plane and were also waiting a lift. After a short while a 4×4 pulled up and a smiling Cristian jumped out to greet us – none of us had met him before so I guess we just looked like a bunch of guys trying to find our way to a multi-nation drift competition ?
With the car full to the brim we hopped in one of the many yellow Dacia taxi cabs. Traveling on the roads into central Bucharest in the rush hour on a Friday morning is enough to wake anyone up one minute stationary the next flying along at maximum attack on the brink of an accident constantly – The 9km ride to the hotel didn’t take too long. On arrival at the RIN Grand hotel we met up with a bunch of very familiar faces in the form the UK and Irish contingent of the weekends competition. We needed to get down to the track so it was a quick drop off of non-essential bags and back onto a small coach and out into the busy traffic again.
The bus was full of rather sleepy drivers and teams eager to get to the venue and see find their cars – many had been on transporters traveling through mainland Europe during the week – lets hope they made it there. Left to right Matt Harman, Nigel Colfer and Judge and Scrutineer Steve ‘Stiggy’ Evans. The streets were jam-packed again and we witnessed our first Romanian road rage – a car massively cut up followed by sounding horns and then a business lady jumping from her car and full on abuse being hurled at the offending driver. Most of the streets in Bucharest are WIDE – with the course laid out on streets like this it was going to be seriously fast!
We turned into a wide avenue and there it was – our first glimpse of the Palace of the Parlement which would be our base for the next 3 days – even some distance away the thing was HUGE.
A few hundred metres back from the square in the tree-lined avenue the inhabitants of Bucharest were still going about their business – many probably still unaware of what would be taking place at the Palace over the next 3 days – it wouldn’t take long for them to get the message.
Once track side it was evident a lot of work had to be done before the venue was ready for Saturday and Sunday action – its to be expected really – its the middle of the city and the street running past the palace is a thoroughfare for many of the cities inhabitants – it wouldn’t be fully shut down until the Saturday morning.
As you can imagine with a drivers list from all over Europe cars would be arriving throughout the Friday. Bulgaria’s Todor Dunev had just turned up with his potent Nitrous powered S13…He had come prepared with plenty of spare tyres and freshly painted bumpers. Dunev had made his way into the Semi Finals in the last round of the Drift Allstars Europe Championship at Wembley Stadium and was well deserving of a drive this weekend in Romania.
There were plenty of teams who had already established their spot in the pits, Finland’s Ismo Tenila had parked his bus come car transporter at the back of the pits – in front a beautifully prepared Toyota Cresta – a rare sight in Europe.
Ismo’s car was then placed in a live Romanian TV broadcast to promote Saturday and Sunday’s event. I’m not sure the TV presenter and team were quite prepared for the large Cresta to start doing smoky circles and those on the periphery soon got out of the way!
After a track side geometry check Juha Rintanen’s 2JZ powered S14 was undergoing some suspension changes in the pits…
Wesley Keatings SR20 powered S15-fronted 180SX – this car would be in for a busy weekend on the streets of Bucharest.
Walton Smith was re-united with his RB26-powered Jap Performance Parts GC8 Impreza after a long trip across Europe. It was time to fire up the cars and join the queue for scrutineering.
Brad Hacker was eager to get this part of the day over with and was first in line to have Richard Clarke And Steve ‘Stiggy’ Evens check over the car.
No problems or advisories for Brad and the Dragon Motorsports team – the car is built to a very high standard and the car is issued its sun strip and number for the weekends competition.
With a long queue now forming Clarkey and Stiggy were in for a busy morning. Lets take a look at some of the other cars.
The two almost identical Polish E30 BMWs of Marcin Mospinek and Grzegorz Hypki were both packing the punch of V8 engines along with massively widened front and rear tracks.
The beautifully built NASCAR styled S15 of Anthony Morthley was easily one of the best prepared cars of the weekend…
And with this potent RB27 under the bonnet it had the performance to match its looks too.
Hungary’s Nikolett Szántó was one of the weekends female competitors – her carbon fibre clad BMW Z4 packing the punch of on M5 engine…a serious bit of machinery.
No problems here so Nikolett applies her sun strip.
Whilst the rest of the cars were being checked over I decided to take a walk about the venue. Trucks routinely dropped off large piles of water barriers that would be use to line areas of the course…
Large tyre walls were built and large concrete barriers were moved into place which are normally used at the FIA GT Car races that also run on these streets.
The road which would serve as the start line for the track was still open to city traffic – tractors and all. Looking back at the first left hand turn the road was easily six lanes wide and was going to make for some spectacular entries!
Whilst walking the circuit the officials had found an area of ground where the paved area met the main road they weren’t quite happy with. Not to worry – a few subtle modifications to the ground with a pneumatic drill and we were good to go. Can you imagine trying to do this at somewhere like Buckingham Palace?
Even though the event didn’t really start until the Saturday morning there was already quite a gathering of people at the venue so it was time to entertain. Terry Grant stunt driver and world record holder wasn’t able to bring his full arsenal of cars out to Bucharest but the tiny motorbike engined Legend would be enough to seriously impress the crowd.
Terry proceeds to spend most of his time in front of the crowd outside the car – he also used a live TV presenter as part of the show doing inch perfect donuts around her for the evening news slot.
Next up we had champion rally driver Vali Porcisteanu blasted up and down the road outside the palace with anti lag bouncing off the high sided buildings to the applaud of the ever increasing crowd on the slopes in front of the Palace.
And now it was time to bring out the drift cars – First up the 8 strong Polish team – buried in the middle of the very talented Pawel Trela who I’d last seen drive back in 2010’st JDM Allstars round at Wembley.
As the light went away for the day some of the Irish drivers came out onto the track for quick demo. Walton Smith’s RB26 powered GC8 impreza has had a busy year all over Europe and a third place finish in this years Drift Allstars Championship. Unfortunately during the demo the impreza sheered one of its drive shafts causing the rear hub bearing to collapse. The car was pushed off the course on a trolley jack but this was far from the end of the weekend for Walton. A short phone call later Brother Garage-D’s Julian Smith was on his way to the airport with a few spare half shafts and a bearing in his hand luggage! That’s dedication for you.
Nigel Colfer was reunited with his 1JZ powered Marangoni tyres S13. After a 2nd place finish in this years Drift Allstars championship he was surely one to watch this weekend.
Brendan Stone’s RB25 powered MG Crash Repairs S15 Silvia sat popping huge flames from its exhaust on every blip of the throttle.
With the days action drawing to a close it wouldn’t be fair to let the crowd leave without a bit more drifting utilising more of the course. Stiggy and Clarkey prepared to give the open section of the track a final check over before letting a few of a cars out for a cheeky little drift. They were most impressed by their BMW safety car complete with flashing lights!
Watching multiple cars manji up and down the street really helped to convey the width of the track after the first turn. Their would be 2 rear clipping points along this straight and they would be spectacular given the speed the drivers would be carrying by this stage of the course.
As the last few cars cleared the track the event was wound down for the night. having been on my feet for well over 10 hours it was time to go and hunt down some food.
10 minutes later I was at the Unirea Shopping Center in the centre of Bucharest on a busy Friday night hunting down distinctly Western fast food. Considering the event hadn’t even started yet it had been a pretty amazing day. I think prior to leaving the UK I had seriously underestimated what was in store over the next few days of my time out in Romania. The sheer scale of the city and venue, the fact we were actually going to be legally drifting on the city streets, the massive distances that drivers had travelled to all take part in this. Time would only tell what the next few days would have in store.
Keep an eye out for Part 2 of our Bucharest Grand Prix coverage in the coming week…the main event.