With the Top 16 drivers from each class selected, the stage was set for the battles of the opening round of the 2012 British Drift Championship.
As Teesside Autodrome came alive on Sunday morning, thankfully we had been given a respite from the dirty weather that had to be endured through qualifying. However, any weather forecast you cared to look at was predicting the mother of all storms was due to hit at around 3pm.
After a quick briefing to clarify exactly what the judging team were expecting of the 48 drivers through to the finals…
…morning practice was open for business.
Poking a camera though an open window can be met with a multitude of reactions from the driver inside..
With open practice I was met with nothing but smiles and thumbs-up, as the drivers revelled in the dry conditions.
Damien Mulvey was looking devastating in practice. Aggressive as ever, he attacked the course as if it had stolen his last Rollo.
Team Japspeed’s Steve Biagioni missed out on qualifying for the Top 16 by just one point, so he was using the open practice session as a pressure-free shakedown for his the new sequential ‘box and cooling system.
With a dry track and cars leaving the grid just seconds apart, you find yourself looking for gaps in the smoke to shoot through. At some points the track resembled a scene from John Carpenter’s ‘The Fog’! Thankfully without the ghoulish seamen.
A screaming AE86 always warms the heart.
Of the many changes to the SATS Supra, perhaps the most noticeable is the removal of the enormous rear wing. Mark Luney was reporting back that it had actually improved the handling of the big Supra, eliminating some of the mid-corner understeer that he suffered throughout the 2011 season.
Portuguese driver Hugo Fernandez was looking good for a result in the Pro-Class.
A mechanical failure is never a good thing, especially if it is something infuriatingly simple. Kirsty Widdrington’s sump-plug had worked its way loose, dumping all the oil from her SR20 and stranding her on the grid with nothing to do but thing about all the valuable seat-time she was missing. Thankfully she managed to shut the engine down before any major damage was done.
12pm and free-practice came to a close. Every class was then briefed individually on the afternoon’s proceedings.
The lunchtime entertainment was epic! Ken Hall brought along his Metro 6R4 and was offering the spectators a chance to win passenger laps around Teesside. I do believe clerk-of-the-course Mark Buckle fulfilled a lifetime ambition by scoring a couple of fast laps in the passenger seat.
Before the battles kicked off, all 48 drivers came onto the track for the spectator meet-and-greet session.
This gave the fans a great chance to meet their favorite drivers and to put faces to guys driving the cars they had been watching all morning.
Just as the meet-and-greet session was coming to an end, word came from the pits that number one Super-Pro qualifier Brendan Stone would not be able to make the grid due to a terminal engine failure.
To make sure of a full grid for the finals, everyone was moved up one place in their qualifying positions. This meant that Steve Biagioni was promoted from 17th position and back in the running.
First out were the Semi-Pro class. It became obvious from the very first runs that everyone had upped their game from 2011. Spins were few and far between and the battles gave the judges plenty of work. It was an awesome display of driving from the grassroots class of BDC.
Of all the drivers, Brian Egan and his black AE86 stood out. Fast and aggressive and damn exciting to watch.
Top qualifier Ricky Emery’s day ended early, losing out in the Top 16 to Jay Green.
The Semi-Pro final came down to Brian Egan and Lee Barry. Unable to judge them apart, the battle went OMT with Egan taking the win and Gareth Taylor taking the third step on the podium.
The bar was evidently raised in the Pro Class as well. Hugo Fernadez was looking awesome in his battles with Christian Lewis. But no matter how good his driving, a single error in judgement saw him out of the Top 16 after he missed the pace cone.
The battles got closer and closer as the as the 16 came down to eight. Micheal Sheehan was looking primed for a podium place.
That is, until he met the hard-charging Marc Huxley in the Quarter Finals. This was Huxley’s first event in the Pro Class; already top qualifier he really had the bit between his teeth and badly wanted his first Pro Class win.
Huxley progressed through to the finals to meet Christian Lewis in what was to be the closest Pro battle of the day.
With neither driver giving an inch the only solution was to run them One More Time. The resulting re-run was just as close, but a minor mistake from Huxley saw Christian Lewis take the Round One Pro-Class win, with Gareth Taylor in third place.
The predicted storm was due to hit right as the Super-Pro drivers were scheduled to take to the track. The dirty black clouds formed, but as luck would have it a favourable wind took the nasty weather a few miles north, completely missing Teesside.
Onto the big enchilada. The premier class. Super-Pro. Wet or dry this was always going to be a titanic battle – the fact it was going to be a dry event was just another spoonfull of salsa on the enchilada.
Steve Moore showed an aggression not seen before, beasting Team Falken’s Alan Green round the track to take first blood in the Top 16.
2010 Champion Phil Morrison met 2011 Pro champion Mike Marshal in the Top 16. All was looking fairly close until Marshal ran wide and left the track in the first hairpin, handing Morrison the win.
Mark Luney shadowed team-mate Wayne Keeber through the first run, looking to take a slight advantage.
But as Luney exited turn three on his leading run, the revs on the big Supra flared and there was no more drive to the rear-wheels. A running gear failure put an end to his day and Wayne Keeber through to the Top Eight.
Steve Biagioni was not going to waste the chance given to him by Brendan Stone’s retirement. A tough battle with Simon Perry saw him also progress through to the Top Eight.
Ian Philips had got through with a win against Damien Mulvey, and in the Top Eight battle Steve Moore attached himself to the door of Philips’s V8 R33 Skyline and refused to let go. Moore went though to the Quarter Finals.
Biagioni was on a roll! A win against Wayne Keeber saw him through to the Quarter Finals.
There he met Japspeed team-mate Shane O’Sulivan. In a close battle O’Sulivan took the win and progressed to the Final, while Biagioni was left to fight it out for third place.
His battle was against his other team-mate, Paul Smith. I bet team principal Paul McCallum’s heart was in his mouth watching his cars out there battling for two consecutive runs.
The final saw Team SATS Steve Moore go head-to-head with Japspeed’s Shane O’Sulivan.
It was far too close to call, so the judges wanted to see them again in a OMT. I really wouldn’t have liked to have been a judge on this one. With crazy speeds, and matching each other throughout the entire course, the win eventually went to…
..Shane O’Sulivan! Steve Moore placed second and Steve Biagioni in third. The British Drift Championship has really knocked it up a cog for the 2012 season – if the opening round is anything to go by then the rest of the season will be truly unmissable.