GRASSROOTS: FCD:MP Mallory Park Drift Blizzard
The Mallory Park FCD:MP day run on the 16th of December was likely to be one of the last drift events in the UK before we see out 2010, over indulge on food and drink and think forward to what the world drifting has in store for us all in 2011. What better way to spend a relaxing day away from the office than to stand outside in driving rain and snow for 6 hours with a camera.
Neither Jord or myself are fair weather photographers and with the right kind of weather proofed equipment we really have no excuses. Waking up to pooring rain and clouded over skies I knew it was going to be horrid from our point of view – layers of thermal clothing and a stupid hat would be mandatory. We’ve had some pretty daft weather in the UK of recent with LOTs more snow than we’d typically see at this time of year. Even the weather forecasts on the television are becoming suitibily vague – one minute its going to be an ice age scale extinction event – the next its just cloudy and cold. The rain sucked – but it was better than snow.
Arriving at the circuit an hour after the start time ensured there would be immediate action. I waited at Shaws Hairpin for a natural break in track activity so I could roll down into the pits and paddock on the infield. The rain was lashing down – lots of standing water and a bitter cold wind – instead of staying planted firmly in the BMW’s nice sofa-like heated seats I watched the days drivers exploring levels of grip out of the hairpin and towards the drop into Devils elbow.
When there is this much water about cars can be made to do very stupid things at much slower speeds – tiny gentle tugs on the wand can extend slow and graceful entries into corners for what seems like forever – the tiniest of throttle, brake and steering inputs can make the car change direction so much more easily.
Tyres offer massively reduced amounts of lateral grip even before they spin up – its great for smoothing out your technique and what you learn in the wet makes better in the dry. This level of dampness also turns a place like Mallory Park into an entirely different playground for drivers whose cars maybe dont have masses of power to play with.
Once in the pits it took some time to figure out who was who – everyone wrapped up to the max often only with ninja spec openings in hats and scarfs to see out of. There was a serious gathering of bodies in the back corner of the pit garage – the Mallory tea urn was operating at full steam to keep drivers warm between outings on the track and Bob had even kindly provided a seemingly infinate supply of mince pies and biscuits!
After a warming cup of strong coffee and some pies we figured it was time to get down to business and head out to the massively exposed Gerrards corner. As we squished through the mud path that leads out onto the corner you couldn’t help but notice quite a bit of the lake was still iced over.
It had been a good 3-4 days since the region had seen any serious snow but the cold temperatures were doing their best to stop the melt. Turning to face the corner left us with harsh freezing cold rain pelting our faces – nice!
Gaz Moose was putting down some nice moves in his s13. Whilst lots of drivers constantly seem to be swapping cars and changing things Gaz has owned this car for as long as I’ve known him. There is something about this car – it just looks right.
Tony N was having a ball in his turbo-charged late model AE86 Trueno. The car makes use of a fairly standard 4AGE engine with a small T25 turbo modified slightly with a T28 front housing. I’m not sure of the power figures but I can imagine it will be somewhere in the region of 250bhp which is about perfect considering the cars weight. Given the car is still running the standard rear axle any more power is likely to start breaking things. Hats off to Tony – it seems to go incredibly well.
Corollas have seemingly become a rare sight in the UK drift scene so its refreshing to have 2 present. This car was pure 4AGE and ideally suited to today’s track conditions.
Andy’s s14 was flying round Gerrards with headlights blazing. No big smoke trails today – just steam from the standing water out on the track. On days like this tyres last for much longer and transmission components don’t take their usual beating. Its a much easier time for the cars mechanicals that’s for sure.
After what seemed like hours (20mins) we could face the weather no more and we took cover in the pits to enjoy more hot drinks and pies. Its always nice to see the guys from the Driftworks posse and Al Clark, Paz, Jim of the Factory, Kenny and Mike were all tucking into the festive trackside banquet. Fresh from their recent trip to Birmingham Wheels to skid in the snow they were back for some full circuit fun. I didn’t much fancy going back out into the rain so I figured I’d strap myself into Jay Walker’s NA8C Mazda – with a working heater it was a no brainer.
Having owned a caged up drifty MX5 myself I completely get what they are all about. Sometimes when people passenger in them for the very first time (and this really goes for any lower powered drift car) they fear for their lives and quite likely think the driver has some sort of wanton death wish. You can’t rely on power to keep you sideways in a little car like this – its all about weightshift and you have to take lots of speed and momentum with you into the corner because there is little chance of getting it back mid way through (however dampness makes this easier to deal with).
Jay is no stranger to the low-powered way of doing things coming from an AE86 background and this is massively obvious to me from the passenger seat. It was hilarious that we were having to hold back on the main straight to get some space between ourselves and the s-bodied cars – even doing so we would still ending up catching them by the end of Gerrards meaning we’d often have to abort stupidly long entries into the chicane. When Jay got the full length of the corner all to himself the little Mazda really shined. Two thirds of the way round the bend Jay was giving the Mazda one final squirt of gas to aid with getting the car to its maximum angle, coming completely off the throttle and ‘maintaining’ the cars angle with tiny little tugs of the handbrake before shift-locking down into second really for the flick into the chicane. If you have never drifted or passenger’d in a car like this you should – it will open your eyes.
Thankful for my warm up by the little MX5’s heater I was back in the pits and ready to brave the elements with the camera. On my way back to the car to grab the camera Kenny Lam offered me another chance to keep warm in his lovely JZX100 Chaser. There is something just so very right about Kenny’s car – it hasn’t been compromised as a road car and still retains all of its interior so it can double up as a car that can carry 5 people in comfort – and at speed.
Considering the weight of the JXZ100 the car seems so incredibly nimble and changes direction really nicely. Only at one point did the weight of the chaser really show – coming out of ‘Edwinas’ Ken had to give the Chaser a bit of encouragement with the clutch in preparation for a gentle manji on the lead up to the Cooper Esses. From such a large angle the weight of the car threw us back round quite quickly – the wet surface didn’t help either with no friction from the tyres to take away some of the momentum. At this point we were backwards at speed – we crossed tarmac, grass and then tarmac again before finally taking to grass again. Both Kenny and I were watching the back of the chaser hurtle towards the armco in slow motion through the gap in the front seats – it seemed like forever but the Chaser finally came to rest a few feet from the wall. I proclaim a Tsuchiya-style ‘Safe!’ – we giggle and get back on our way.
I found a wet and dejected Jord back in the pits gripping a warming cup of tea. Whilst I’d been warm and dry he’d been wandering about in the wet with fingerless gloves gripping a far from light drift paparazzi-spec camera (its like holding 5 bags of sugar at eye height). Peering back out of the pit garage the sky had clouded over massively and the rain had been replaced by snow – great.
There was no more shying away from the bleak weather and it was time to get back out on the track and the snow didn’t seem as bad from here. A 5 series BMW came sailing by lighting up the standing water that was now everywhere on the track. Right now the drivers must be having a challenging (but hugely fun) time with such little grip available.
This 7 Series limo had been amazing all day and was being thrown into Gerrards with huge commitment. It must be tricky to feel anything at all in such a luxury car in these conditions. A few laps later I noticed a sudden drop in engine noise and spotted the front wheels locking up…
moments later 1 wheel was in the air and 3 wheels down into the soggy grass at speed can’t have been a fun place to be. The tank-like 7 series charged onwards spinning and gliding over the grass towards the tyre wall. Seriously well done for getting the car to stop – you both became just passengers for a moment there.
This driver wasn’t going to let a bit of snow stop his fun either. Entry speeds into Gerrards didn’t seem to be dropping at all given the weather conditions. The approach the drivers were taking now was the last half of the corner was now all about preparing for the entry into the chicane.
The snow continued to fall but this wasn’t putting off any of the drivers – in fact there seemed more eagerness for people to get out on the track – maybe to get the most amount of seat time possible in track conditions that are generally rare in the UK. For Jord to get this shot he had obviously retreated back to the pits – he had nearly frozen to death for the cause in the morning whilst I was keeping warm in cars – it was only fair I stayed out trackside.
Driftworks’s Al Clark was having a ball. Al has years of circuit driving experience under his belt and it really shows (Al’s second home is the Nordschleife).
The Canary Yellow PS13 Silvia continued to sail through Gerrards at full beans with huge amounts of standing water and driving snow.
By this point I was truly frozen and the snow was coming down pretty hard. Jay Walker and Chris ‘Paz’ Parry continued to chase each other round the track at maximum attack. Visibility was now pretty bad – most cars windscreens were struggling to stay clear making it hard for drivers to see where they are going. The chicane was also becoming very busy – sometimes packed with 4/5 cars at a time.
The snow was showing no signs of giving up and trying to track and focus on the cars themselves was starting to get tricky. The light was starting fade so it was a natural end to the days activities. With the snow continuing to fall drivers and spectators were very eager to get packed up and start their long journey’s home before things got much worse. We said our fairwells and the pits cleared within 20 minutes. It was obvious that everyone in attendance had an amazing time out playing in the rain and snow and hopefully taken away some good experience from driving in far from perfect conditions.
The event wrapped up a rollercoaster year of drifting at Mallory Park. We cannot stress just how important this venue is to UK drifting and it still needs the drivers to get out there and take full advantage of it. Where else can you drift on a proper circuit with open pit lanes for an entire day? The beautiful thing about the attitude at Mallory is that there is no pressure on drivers to go out and be heroes, you drift the corners you want to drift and progress at your own pace. I guarantee after a day’s driving at Mallory you’ll be begging for the next one to roll around.
On 29th-31st July 2011 Mallory Park plays host to Driftworks’ Awesomefest 2011, a weekend festival of full circuit drifting, skateboarding, BMX, music and food. It looks set to be the event of next year so get your tickets booked and be there! The Drifted crew will be there en mass to bring you all the action from the weekend and to see how much we can injure ourselves partaking in our chosen extreme sports disciplines.
You can find more shots from the day on our Flickr Group.