HGK Motorsport is not just a name on the side of drift cars competing on two separate continents. Whilst it might be its first season in Formula D, the Latvian outfit is far from being new to the motorsport either. Further to this, HGK didn’t get involved in drifting for any old reason, it came to prove a point.
What makes HGK Motorsport so special is not only that it prepare its own cars, but how the cars are prepared.
Anyone following Formula Drift this season will likely be familiar with the name Kristaps Bluss, HGK’s lead driver and the ‘K’ in the company name. Whilst he’s a newcomer to the FD ranks, Kristaps has being blowing away the competition in Europe and Russia for a few years now. Once he gets to grips with driving in the US series, I genuinely think he will be a future title contender.
Anyone who has taken the time to check over Kristap’s 800hp E46 in the paddock will likely attest to the quality of the build. I’ve not yet had the pleasure of covering a Formula D event, so I can only compare to what I’ve seen myself, but the HGK-prepared cars are head and shoulders above anything else I’ve ever come across.
I’m not saying this for the sake of reaching a particular word count, but whilst I’ve seen some great drift builds over the years, the HGK cars are closer in quality to the likes of top-end GT cars and are probably the best prepared drift cars in the world. It’s no wonder then that HGK is in such demand to create customer cars for clients all around the globe.
Having had the pleasure of examining a couple of HGK’s cars over the past few years (including one of its most recent builds at Gatebil, feature coming soon), when I discovered that the workshop is based at the Bikernieki circuit in Latvia, where Drift Allstars was recently held, I made it my business to get inside its doors.
So, on the Sunday after the main event in Riga, that’s exactly what I did.Behind Closed Doors
I don’t think this is what I was expecting, if I’m honest.
Behind the grandstands at Bikernieki, resides a small industrial area surrounded by a high fence. The yard, which is divided, is home to some containers, scrapped shells and other vehicles hiding under covers. The grey skies that day only emphasised the gloom over this particular part of the city. The large flat-roofed building itself is divided and shared with other unknown tenants. There is no expensive signage, and in fact, if you were given precise directions to HGK Motorsport, you would think someone was playing a practical joke.
It’s only when you get closer that things start to add up. With covers removed, some familiar faces make an appearance.
Some familiar names too. You might remember Larry featuring this E46 ‘kit-car’ from Gatebil a couple of years back. The custom tube-chassis car featured an LS3 and some crazy engineering. Kristaps reckons that it was this car, despite being completely illegal, that put HGK on the map.
“It kind of opened the gates to the world for us back in 2012. At that time it was a pretty crazy idea, because technical rules in EU weren’t as strict as now, so Harijs decided to build a tubular chassis real race car. Many people heard about us and saw our potential and start showing interest in our builds,” Kristaps tells me.
This is my personal predominant memory of the car, being one of the first victims of the now famous Gatebil dirt-drop entry.
Whilst this E46 might have introduced HGK to the drifting world, the company actually goes back much further than this to 2005 when Harijs – the creative engineer, and is HGK’s very own guardian of quality – and Kristaps founded HGK Motorsport. Originally, drifting wasn’t even on the pair’s radar. Instead, they were focused on building primarily BMW race cars for sprint and endurance races.
Inside the doors, a simple layout greeted me. This was the day after the Drift Allstars event, so the workshop had yet to be tidied after a week of hard-graft preparing and repairing cars. It’s something that I feel Kristaps was a little bit embarrassed by, but something that I love. For me, a workshop is the equivalent of an artist’s studio. It should have character and a soul, not be a pristine and sterile environment.
What the workshop lacks in size, it more than makes up for in potential. Everything – except a paint booth – is here to build the perfect car from scratch. From chassis preparation to custom engineering solutions to final assembly. Everything is done on site.
Opposite the car bays, you will find two main rooms. One is host to an office where all of your typical administration tasks take place…
Whilst the other is home to HGK’s CNC machine, where Janis – another of HGK’s staff – designs and creates hundreds of one off parts for the company.
Next to the CNC room, is another small corner office where more technical work takes place, including assembly of HGK’s own – and pretty bad-ass – handbrake levers.
The levers, which start life looking a little something like this, are items which evolved from HGK’s complete car builds and are just one of countless details which set the company’s builds apart. Speaking of which…Building The Best
As a photographer/creative sort, I always feel both incredibly envious and in equal measures inadequate when I see what certain people can create from basic raw materials. I’m struggling to put into words then just how extraordinarily inadequate I felt whilst looking around two of HGK’s current builds, which both were at a similar stage.
HGK might have an affinity towards BMW, but it’s not the only car the company will prepare. In saying that, the two chassis present when I visited were an E46 and E92.
Kristaps estimates that HGK spends around two to three months on chassis preparation alone. It’s this chassis preparation and the obsessive detail that goes into each build, that makes the final product so impressive. Everything just fits together so well.
With the panels removed HGK set about welding the chassis and sealing any holes to ensure no smoke enters the cabin while drifting. This last detail I believe could become a mandatory requirement for all professional drift cars in the future, but that’s a discussion for another day…
I’m certainly no expert, but I’ve never seen welds as smooth as this on any build previously. It’s this quality of craftsmanship and HGK’s attention to detail that leaves me so impressed. Kristaps clearly has a lot of pride in his two welders, Eugene and Maris, who he believes to be the best in Latvia.
Take the door bars for instance. Because of their outward design, most just cut the inside of the door and leave it the door hollow, maybe throwing some paint on there for good measure. HGK will create a custom composite panel to cover that gaping door hole, which whilst a small detail is just one of those things that makes you nod and think ‘why doesn’t everyone do that?’
With the chassis finished, it’s then sent out to paint before returning for final assembly – a process which can take another three or four months. That’s a total of six to seven months to build one car, but Kristaps reckons that the chassis will remain competitive for five years without requiring any major rebuilds provided it’s not crashed.
If it’s a brand new car, one that HGK has never prepared before, the build could take up to a year.
Representing HGK and Evil Empire in Formula D Pro2 is Sergei Kabargin, in the 800hp HGK Corvette. The Corvette is a car that HGK only recently finished, but I think that an attraction has already taken hold. Kristaps believes that with every part ready to go on the shelf, HGK could build a fully-prepared Corvette in just three months or half the time a similar-spec BMW would take, including the completely custom front suspension and extra-lock setup. Why? “It’s already a race car,” he says with a smile.
HGK Motorsport is a small operation with a huge heart. The eight staff (two mechanics Jurgis and Aigars, two welders Eugene and Maris, main engineer Janis, manager Valdis and both Harijs and Kristaps) are making huge waves from their humble workshop in eastern Europe. They’ve got an amazing attitude too. They haven’t come into the sport shouting from the roof tops, instead they’ve kept their heads down and are working hard to earn their success, much the same as how they’ve built their business.
HGK’s ambition doesn’t end here however, it recently started work on developing BMW’s new F22 (2 Series) which Kristaps believes will be a huge success. The team is also already looking forward to their second season in Formula D, where they feel that can do much, much better.
I believe them too.
Additional Photography by Larry Chen