Ok Folks, it's Show Time again. The 2009 Need For Speed European Drift Championship kicked off at Oulton Park on Saturday.
As everyone who reads a paper or watches the news or checks their bank balance knows, things are tough financially out there. No question about it. Even drifting is not immune to the problems raised by the current circumstances but as has been said before we Speedhunters are glass half full people.
So yes the numbers were well down on 2008. Some of that is down to the economy, actually almost all of it is down to the economy. Andy Barnes reckons that there were at least 6 new projects that just failed to make the deadline of Oulton Park. We are all having to run twice as fast to just keep up so things do slip. Knockhill and Silverstone should see the missing links arrive in the paddock…………and the 17 cars at Oulton put on a show, let's not forget that.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the non-arrivals was the "Stiggy" Lexus………..the early hours of Saturday morning was the point at which Steve Evans realised that there was no chance of finishing the car…….ECU still to be wired, windows to be fitted, the list was too great. However rather than let the EDC and the fans down, he gave it "one more time" for the Toyota Starlet.
Seventeen cars means one qualifying battle and one poor soul going home really early. Gary Hughes must have wondered what he had done to upset the Drift Gods when he ended up facing the on form Phil Morrison. His Skyline looked immaculate but he was never going match the Driftworks boss.
As if facing a brand new course was not enough of a challenge the practice session was the time when the weather forecast of "heavy showers" proved to be right. Drifting through standing water taxed the skills of all the competitors but somehow the field got through unscathed. Here Lex Drew scrabbles for traction in the R32 Skyline.
So on to the last 16. The efforts in getting the Lexus to the grid took their toll on Evans, and the Starlet left the track on both runs, giving James Russell's R32 safe passage to the next round.
Next Paul Conlan and the S15 got the upper hand against Ian Harrison's Skyline.
The track was drying but there was little or no smoke……..still there was some fire as Alan McCord's S15 looked in strong form leaving Lex Drew in his wake……….possible winner?
The track may have been drying but there was little grip and the E36 M3 turbo of Steve Will struggled in the difficult conditions handing the win to Pete Barber's RX7.
Phil Morrison was on top form and sent Andrew Cooper home early
Without doubt the biggest story of the day was the performance of the 13-year old Dwain McKeever who remained cool under the pressure of 2007 Champion, Brett Castle. After a good first run the teenager was sticking to his lines when Castle hit a slippery patch and slid off the track and out of the competition.
Also victim of the treacherous conditions was Kieron Cameron gifting the round to Declan Hicks.
The final encounter of the first round was between Mark Luney in the 350Z and Paul Cheshire in the S14a, early bath for Paul.
By the time the finals were ready to be run, the sun had come out and it was Morrison against McKeever. The teenager had an instructor sitting next to him but even up against the Champion he did not seem fazed.
However Phil was not going to lose and nor did he but Dwain showed loads of skill and plenty of intestinal fortitude, he will be a star sooner than later.
Arguably the closest contest of the day featured Luney and Hicks, many felt that it was worthy of a one more time but the judges gave it to the 350Z driver.
The third quater-final was Conlan and Russell………….Conlan pressured Russell into a mistake or two, thus sailing into the semis.
Final place in the last four was the target as Barber's RX7 chased the McCord S15…………a little too brave into the first corner and off the track resulting in an all Nissan pair of semis.
The action on the track reached boiling point as Luney and Morrison pushed each other really hard, the Driftworks car getting the nod on the thinnest of margins.
Another close contest saw the two S15s of McCord and Conlan run each other close but the McCord just shaded Conlan.
So the final came down to Phil Morrison in his Nissan S15 2JZ……………
.And the Nissan S15 V8 of Alan McCord……………..
Phil had been on top form all day, showing speed and aggression, and the final was more of the same and he took a deserved victory.
I spoke with Phil after the competition and as you might expect he was very pleased with the win, feeling it was the perfect way to start the season.
Driftworks had spent the off season revamping the car to make some subtle improvements. The exhaust and turbo installation had beed revised to improve the response of the wastegate, reducing lag.
Here is Phil on the top step clutching Champagne, a Cosworth trophy and a goodie bag with a stack of EA Games.
Phil told me that the engine is now good for 666bhp. I suggested that to go with the new black paint job he should wear a black mask and cape like the villains on the WWF……..on reflection maybe it would not suit his affable personality.
The other major change to the S15 is in the suspension with the introduction of the Driftworks own CS2 system……..they do say racing improves the breed.
Standing trackside it appeared that Phil carried more speed and aggression onto the track than the others right from the beginning of practice.
He said that he took a calculated, if big, risk from the off. The track was new to everyone so to find the limits he pushed very hard early on, nearly too hard, he admits. Of course this approach paid off when the rain came and truncated practice, especially in the abscence of qualifying rounds. Track time at the limit was crucial.
So could the most difficult round of the EDC be considered a success? Yes can be the only answer. The EDC is part of a package with Time Attack and would seem to be popular. The paying crowd turned up and numbered in excess of 5,000, they were enthusiastic about the event, staying till the end…………an indication of the popularity is that MSV, the circuit owners, ran out of car parking space, underestimating the demand.
Roll on Knockhill.