EVENT: Extreme Drift Allstars Lithuania: Setting the stage
Six rounds, six countries, 140 drivers, 20 nations, one champion.
The winner of the 2014 Extreme Drift Allstars European drift series would all come down to the final round of the championship, to be decided on a fast, challenging and unforgiving custom street circuit constructed in the heart of Kaunas, the second largest city in Lithuania.
At the forefront of the race for the title was Falken Motorsport driver James Deane in his 2JZ-powered S14, built purposefully for the 2014 Extreme Drift Allstars series.
Hot on James’ heels were two of Poland’s finest; Budamat Auto’s Piotr Wiecek and David Karkosik.
Both drivers would look to upset James’ title dreams, with every single point meaning the difference between victory or a bittersweet second step on the podium.
Putting together a high-level competition event such as this on a public road is no mean feat.
This isn’t an obscure, unused section of highway out of sight, out of mind either - the four lane section of highway runs right through the centre of Kaunas, tracing the curves of the Neman River.
After the hustle and bustle of Kaunas life dies down on Friday evening, the Drift Allstars team move in to build the circuit while the city sleeps.
Over 2,500 metres of safety fencing, 600 metres of concrete, daisy-chained concrete barriers, two huge grandstands and just a few hours of darkness in which to put it all together.
The citizens of Kaunas wake to find a racetrack in the middle of their city, and the dulcet rumble of over 30 high-horsepower machines stirring to life.
The Extreme Drift Allstars final has arrived.
From day one, the series has set out to challenge the drivers with every twist and turn. These are the best drivers in Europe, if not the world, so there’s no easy ride to be had.
Walking the track in the morning, the risks that this street circuit brings are immediately apparent, but each and every one has been addressed with making the circuit as safe as possible in mind.
Concrete barriers loom over high kerbs, the asphalt dips and rises as it winds alongside the river. The Drift Allstars judges have set the clipping points up to challenge the drivers; get it just right and the track flows graciously from one transition to the next. Get it wrong and you’ll be picking up the pieces, literally.
For us photographers, shooting street circuits never gets old. The city becomes our playground.
There are endless creative possibilities to explore throughout the course of an event. It’s like an amalgamation of motor sport photography and Urbex, with nearby run down buildings, rooftops and ruins providing both interesting vantage points and backdrops.
For the drivers, I’d imagine navigating the course to be somewhat of an assault on the senses.
Traffic lights still perform their dutiful cycle from red to amber to green…
…and signs warn of impending pedestrian crossings, albeit dormant during this weekend.
The surrounding street furniture and tall buildings, adorned in the series and sponsor branding all fight for their attention.
Eyes on the prize is definitely the way forward, there’s no time to take in your surroundings here.
The city takes no prisoners.
The track is fast too, really fast. Speaking with Nexen Tyre/Aerokit driver Nigel Colfer in the pits, he commented on how just quickly those concrete walls approach when you’re barreling along sideways in a 600bhp drift car as the ground underneath you does its best to upset the grip levels.
As the drivers take to the circuit for practice they quickly find their feet. The runs get faster, and the rear clipping points are slowly worn away by the gentle scrubbing of fibreglass bumpers and metal impact bars.
I’ve watched the Extreme Drift Allstars series grow year on year and the work that goes on behind the scenes at these events really has to be seen to be appreciated. It’s no happy accident that it all works as well as it does.
Come race day, the machine is operating at full pace; the hiss and crackle of walkie talkies or a team member rushing past clipboard in hand is a common sight.
The media team operate around the clock too. In the day and age that we live in content is king, and the demands of a large, eager audience mean that there’s no rest for the wicked.
Images are shot, processed and uploaded to the Drift Allstars social streams almost instantly, the video crew work to put out an impressive array of high quality content every day, as well as producing a television show which will air later this year.
Meanwhile, back on track, the drivers push on; perfecting their line and eking every last drop of performance out of themselves and their machines.
Kristjan Klemets is driving on fine form, pushing his LS1 V8-powered S15 hard from the first practice to the last.
Nigel Colfer stands out too, with high-angle passes, aggressive lines and lots of pace.
After suffering engine damage at round five in Estonia, Nigel flew out to Riga, Latvia, where his car is stored during the season, to rebuild his 1JZ, finishing it just in time to ship the car over the Lithuania for the final.
Fredrik Sjödin’s clean street-style Zenki S14 looks perfectly at home on the inner city circuit, and Fredrik isn’t afraid to push his car hard lap after lap.
One thing that strikes you about the current standard of drifting in Europe is that there are no easy rides. There’s no such thing as a ‘safe’ run and you definitely can’t give anything less than 100%.
If you do, you simply won’t make the grade.
As qualifying boils down the fate of the title is still unclear. James Deane, secures a vital second place with an impressive 90-point run.
Nigel Colfer secures third with an all-out 87-point run,
Local Lithuanian driver and crowd favourite Timas Simniskka is on point too, seriously impressing the judges with high angle, high speed and lots of aggression. He takes fifth position.
Janis Eglite is super consistent, as ever, filing into fourth position.
But it’s title contender Piotr Wiecek however who takes the top spot. Piotr piloting the Budmat Auto RB26 R34 in place of his usual S14. The championship is still wide open.
With the run down for Sunday’s main event settled it was time for Extreme Drift Allstars to invade the streets of Kaunas.
I’m sure you read about the crazy street parade that took place at round four in Riga, Latvia?
Take that and turn it up to 11. With pretty much free reign to go wild, there was no holding the parade back.
Can you imagine walking through the centre of your home town and seeing the Drift Allstars roster parked up in your town square? The #dakaunas hashtag instantly exploded on Twitter and Instagram.
As the night ends in a euphonic exhaust notes and a thick fog of tyre smoke, the stage was set.
For now Kaunas sleeps again. Tomorrow a new champion would be crowned.
Part II to follow…
Words & Photography: Jordan Butters