EVENT: Bucharest Grand Prix 2011: Part II: Free Practice & Qualifying
After returning back from the circuit on Friday night we hadn’t really gotten the rest we needed after being awake for over 36 hours – it was a lot to take in. Just to make matters worse it seemed like the hotel air conditioning wasn’t working too well – even with the thermostat set at a reasonable 22 degrees the room had managed to heat itself up to a stuffy and toasty 31 degrees during the night – not a great way to start the day if your feeling a bit ropey. I knew we were going to be in for another long day over at the Palace of Parliament so even though I was ready by 9am I hung back at the hotel until about 11am to make sure I was as rested as could be expected. In the hotel bar the Romanian news station on the TV was again advertising the Bucharest Drift Grand Prix. After filling up with as much breakfast and coffee as I could myself and a few of the other media guys took a yellow Dacia taxi from the hotel down town to the palace.
The traffic directly outside the hotel was at a standstill before we’d even pulled onto the road. Yesterday we’d travelled through the city at getaway car speed but it wasn’t going to be that way today from the looks of things. It took about 5 minutes of moving at snails pace before we finally got a chance to see what the hold up was – A black Mazda RX-8 was now half a foot shorter after a run in with a few other cars. Once the rubber necking was over with we were back up speed heading down Splaiul Unirii which is separated by the Dâmbovița River that runs into the city.
Dropped at the end of Bulevadul Unirii we took in some of the cold city air as we walked the 500 or so metres to the oval of tarmac in front of the palace. Even from a distance the venue looked far more complete that it was the previous day and already starting to fill up with drift fans. Something else was different – there was a smell of rubber in the air and engines could be heard bouncing off the high-sided buildings of the square.
Walking through the pits to get to the track it was strangely empty with most cars 2 streets away on the start line. The Jap Performance Cars pit was a busy place with Sajid Moghal and Walton Smith busy re-assembling the back of their Subaru after yesterday’s hub bearing destruction. Garage-D’s Julian Smith had arrived with the necessary parts and the boys had even managed to find a garage near to the hotel to help them press in the new bearing. Things were looking good – the car was almost ready to roll. I was so happy that the Jap Performance Parts team would get to run after their epic journey across Europe.
Morning practice was already under way and on reaching the end of the pits I had a nice view right the way up to the end of the street – there was already a good crowd lining the outside edge of the first turn. I could hear a car in the distance accelerating hard from the start line – moments later Nigel Colfer came into sight with massive speed and angle. Considering these early runs were the drivers very first attempts at the course they were already at maximum attack as you would expect at this level of competition.
After the first rear clipping point the drivers then transition back across the wide straight for yet another rear clipping point – its a long fast entry into the next part of the track. Piotr Wiecek and Brendan Stone hit the second rear clip in very very close proximity for open practice. Its so nice to have a fast wide track to give the drivers a chance to stretch their machines to the maximum.
The cars then power right into the bowl of the palace square. With masses of speed and noise the PUZ/Valvoline E30 BMW of Marcin Mospinek enters the square – foot still flat to the boards with a huge amounts of smoke (as if you were in any doubt!).
No long after the drivers enter the right turn they have to immediately transition back for the rest of the long turn. Carrying so much speed at this point can make the transition in a bit tricky considering the track also narrows a little – many drivers were caught out here on the first few runs through the course. Finlands Juha Rintanen had no such issues – the change in geometry settings made on the Friday were obviously having a positive effect on things. The huge rear wing with its massive end plates was now missing from the car after rubbing along the tyre wall on the main straight prior to this corner.
After a foot to the boards run round the outer edge of the bowl the drivers then have to kill significant speed for a fairly tight 180 degree turn to the left. Midway though this turn the surface of the track changes from normal road to the block paving of the square. High speed and changing grip levels gave the drivers a real challenge here.
Once round the tight corner the drivers then pass right then left through an s-shaped section of track. It got quite busy here at times.
The drivers then come through the final left hand turn towards another rear clipping point. Wesley Keating completes another run through the course – his front bumper removed by the water barrier-lined apex.
I waited by the start line for the next batch of cars to come through the course so I could safely move out on the long straight – it was quite misty here at times with the breeze carrying all the smoke back towards us.
Whilst the cars moved back up to the start line I positioned myself in the middle of the long straight. Moments later the violence of hard acceleration could be heard as the first car piled on speed down the hill into the first left turn. Pawel Trela bursts into view with his foot flat to the boards – so much smoke is billowing from the rear wheel arches it has nowhere to go and begins to engulf most of the car. From my vantage point here the sense of speed was incredible. Trela is seriously on it.
Standing on the apex of the inside of the first turn was insane. By the time the cars have taken a good run up from the start line further up the hill they are carrying a serious amount of speed by the middle of the turn – cars start off in the distance – they come close – and then disappear down the road into the distance many without a single lift of the throttle. Poland’s Mateusz Włodarczyk was seriously fast here. Many drivers were clocked at well over 100mph (160kph) which I do not doubt for one moment having been given the opportunity to get this close to the cars.
Taking a walk back to the other end of the course I passed through the large grass bank in front of the palace – this place was set to be jam packed later on in the evening when qualifying started. It also served as a good opportunity to grab a bite to eat – I had a busy afternoon and evening ahead of me. Lets take a look at some of the drivers in action during the afternoons open practice.
Poland’s Bartosz Stolarsk in the Bud Mat Auto S14a…
And team mate Piotr Wiecek.
Romania’s Marius Mitrache was obviously a big hit with the local crowd.
This E36 4door belonging Serbia’s Bojan Kurbalija was flying through the course with a cool looking anti-camera chrome vinyl wrap.
The Dragon Motorsports 500bhp Rotary Mazda FD and Brad Hacker were having a very successful open practice. The light FD carrying lots of speed in the corner and even hoping a front wheel into the right hander at the end of the main straight.
Walton Smith had missed the first of the mornings practice sessions whilst repairing his car. The delay had been caused by loosing the spacer ring that sits between the drive shaft and the hub during yesterday’s failure. Watching Walton wait for the queue of cars to move back to the start line he was buzzing with excitement! It wouldn’t take too long to catch up on the lost time.
Bulgaria’s Galin Petrov’s was back out for open practice after a busy night righting some of the issues with his car that caused it to fail scrutineers checks on the Friday. BMW didn’t make a compact version of their E30 back in the day – but if they did – this is likely what it would have looked like – I doubt it would be packing a v8 in showroom form though.
With the close proximity of the cars you’d be forgiven for thinking we were already into the battles. Walton Smith had a bumpy start to practice after piling into the tyre wall at the exit of the first big turn – fortunately only cosmetic damage to the drivers door. Coming towards the end of open practice this was a good opportunity to spend time in close proximity to other drivers – many of which had never done battle before given drivers from so many nations. The E36 4door of Hungary’s Ádám Nagy was packing a very potent sounding 1JZ motor.
With open practice over there was a break for a few hours which I was pretty glad of having been stood up all day. I found a nice little cafe on the corner of the oval to escape from the cold. By the time qualifying started the light from the day was gone.
Saturdays qualifying drew one of the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen at a drifting event. Drift Allstars MC Bryn MusselWhite got to work and soon had the spectators all pumped up and ready for the action to start – his voice echoing round the streets from the sizable PA system. His words were then re-spoken in Romanian for the non English speaking members of the audience.
Drivers were queued up at the finish line and guided along the main straight and up the hill to the start line by the safety car – flashing lights and all. At this point things got serious – with 45 drivers and only 16 places in the battles the field was set to be trimmed down considerably. Lets take a look at some of the action from qualifying.
Walton Smith had been having a tough event so far what with Friday’s breakage and a crash earlier in practice – the tyre wall had clearly left its mark on the drivers door. Walton bagged himself 15th place in the qualifying making the long journey the team had made all the more worthwhile.
Polands Mateusz Włodarczyk and the White E46 BMW make it through in 14th place.
Brad Hacker qualified in 13th place in the Dragon Motorsports Mazda RX7.
Polands Bartosz Slolarski qualified in 12th place.
Piotr Wiecek and the Bud Mat Auto S14 bagged 11th place – at only 20 years of age Piotr has a great career in drifting ahead of him.
Bulgaria’s Todor Dunev is a familiar face from the last round of the European Drift All-stars at Wembley Stadium in the UK…10th place for him.
Brendan Stone and the MG Crash Repairs S15 qualified in a tidy 8th place.
Hungary’s Adam Nagy qualified in 7th place.
Poland’s Grzegorz Hypki bags 6th place in the PUZ/Valvoline V8 E30…
Team mate Marcin Mospinek comes in with the 5th best qualifying score making use of a huge spotlight in the middle of his E30 BMWs front grille to light the way.
Finnish Champion Juha Rintenen takes 4th spot – the purple tinted headlights make this car so obvious to spot in the darkness.
Romania’s Maurias Mitrache took 3rd place with only a 1 point difference between him and 4th place man Rintenen. Maybe a large home crowd gave him just that little bit extra?
It was no great surprise to see Pawel Trela qualifying in 2nd place. Pawel had absolutely flown through the course the entire day. A very close run thing with only one 1 point separating 2nd and 1st place.
Serbia’s Bojan Kurbala nailed the 1st place spot in qualifying with is anti-camera chrome-wrapped BMW E36 4door with 3 super consistent runs.
With the runners and riders decided for Sunday’s battles the event started to wind down for the evening and it was time to go and escape from the cold and get a bite to eat. As the crowd began to leave the venue the grass banks in front of the Palace started to empty – a few lights remained on high in the palace where people had no doubt been enjoying the action taking place on their door step. The organisers of the event had seen a simply HUGE number of spectators through the gates and tomorrows crowd was set to be even bigger. In all my years of following the sport I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Sunday wouldn’t come soon enough.
Watch out for the final instalment of Drift Grand Prix of Romania soon.