Prior to coming on board as a Speedhunter, I spent years following the site’s coverage on all aspects of motorsport. But there was one genre that always stood out most: drifting.
It was one of the motorsports that seemed to find its way into tracks of all types, all around the globe. So a few months ago when I ran into my buddy Faruk Kugay (the founder of Winter Jam and licensed Formula Drift driver) at my other buddy Marcus Fry’s shop, he mentioned that Winter Jam was coming up fairly soon and invited me to cover it. Right away I figured this would be a great opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and see what all the hype was about.
Bear with me here as this is my first drifting event I’ve attended in many years, not to mention my first actual attempt at this type of coverage as well. Over the course of a few posts, I’m simply looking to share my experience of the event, not necessarily as a drifting connoisseur, but more so as someone who went into the event with a blank slate, trying to understand and make sense of everything going on. I’ve been frequenting many other types of motorsport events in recent years, but Winter Jam ended up being quite different, as there was a lot to take in.
The number one thing I’ve always noticed with drifting is the massive difference between grassroots and professional drivers – whether it be style, vehicle specification, speed and so forth – and Winter Jam was no exception. So let’s take a look at it all.First Impressions
With rain in the forecast for the weekend, I decided to take proper precautions. The last time I was at Winter Jam in 2014 it poured down, which meant being soaked all day and lots of drama on the track. This time around I prepared for the worst and got all of my waterproof gear together ahead of time.
Come Saturday morning, and sure enough the humidity levels were rising. There hadn’t been any rain though, so the day was showing promise. I left pretty early on in the morning to attend the photographers meeting, and as I made my way to the media center I was greeted with excitement in the air. Drift cars were being unloaded from trailers, people were warming up their engines and tires, and final checks were being made.
The first thing that immediately caught my eye after the meeting was Dan Burkett’s JZA80 Supra, which was undergoing final preparations. It turns out that Fredric Aasbø was piloting one these cars too (they were twins), but more action shots of that will come later.
Looking over my shoulder, I noticed the paddocks they pulled out from were filled with Formula Drift Pro drivers, and this was my first time seeing their cars and the teams and mechanics up close. There were people with tuning computers, jacks, and spare wheels and tires all doing their thing. The assortment of interesting machinery was eye-catching as well; I don’t think I’d ever seen a drift-spec S15 prior to this event, so you could say I stood in awe for a few moments.
I noticed that the same thing was going on with the amateurs, but on a much more budget-conscious scale. Despite that though, the atmosphere felt very family-like to me; drivers were wandering around checking out each others cars, discussing setup choices, course knowledge, and even planning tandems with each other. Some were even helping other drivers sort out problems they were already encountering, which was rather heartwarming. It’s always nice to see friendly competition over aggregated or spiteful competition.Odd Balls
With all the madness and chaos going on in the pits, I felt a little more pleased when a few odd balls cars showed up. Maybe it was a sense of relief, or maybe it was sign from above? Regardless, it was random, unexpected and I think they were lost, but I found it a little more within my element of cars that I’m used to being around.
The Jaguar E-Type made a couple of rounds throughout the paddocks, followed by the Singer 911, and shortly after the all-carbon R35 Nissan GT-R – which Trevor will be featuring soon. Amongst these cars were quads and pit bikes all roaming freely in the midst of all the havoc.Inspections & Donuts
Faruk mentioned this was one of the largest drift layouts they’d done for the Winter Jam, which utilized the majority of Sonoma Raceway’s track and skid pad areas. With that in mind, I wanted to ensure I was able to get photos from all of the courses laid out on the day.
As I made the trek to the first location, I happened to pass through the track inspection area. Luckily for me, there were quite a few cars that hadn’t been completed just yet. A few S13s from team Ruf Life, all sporting some seriously awesome livery that was era-themed, immediately caught my attention. I was also happy to encounter a nice E46 BMW M3 and FD3S Mazda RX-7 alongside Marcus Fry’s 510 waiting in the inspection line.
Leaving this area, I noticed another long line of cars waiting to hit the skid pads, and to my surprise there was quite a diverse range of cars going out. When I think about grassroots drifting I usually picture Silvias and E36s, but I was happy to see other platforms being taken advantage of. I spotted an E46 Touring in the traffic jam, as well as a Starion/Conquest with a rather large turbo peeking out of the hood.
They were both smoked out shortly after though, as directly across from them were the two donut pads with some American pony cars doing damage. Eventually the smoke cleared and I was surprised to see an El Camino creep out of the exit. The pad next door is where all the attention was focused though; here a fifth gen GTO was doing perfect donuts only millimeters from the walls.More To Come
Overall, Winter Jam’s morning preparations and warm-up sessions around the track were already pretty epic – almost overwhelming actually. All this, and it was only the first hour of the first day.
I took quite a few photos on entry since there were a ton of awesome cars to indulge prior to all the action, and I think they sum up the first couple of hours rather well, so I’ll leave you guys a gallery below. Both Trevor and I will be posting more about the event in the coming days, so keep an eye out for those stories.