While Ireland might be renowned for its levels of precipitation, it’s usually an exaggeration. It doesn’t always rain here. Except last weekend, when it really did.
The occasion was the sixth and final round of the 2019 Drift Masters European Championship. After stops in five other European countries, Europe’s elite level drifters made the long trek to Europe’s most westerly International race circuit; Mondello Park. With some travelling from as far as Australia to compete, I had the pleasure of a 35 minute drive out of Dublin for it. Makes a change from having to fly to LA for a drift event anyways…
Our very own Jordan Butters is the official series photographer for Drift Masters, but following an existential crisis after being unable to decide his next personal license plate, I heroically stepped up to save the day. I say heroically, but I don’t think anyone noticed I had replaced Jordan. It must be our fantastic levels of sarcasm and quick wit which leaves people unable to tell the difference. For future reference, I shoot with Canon, Jordan shoots with the wrong brand.Friday, Practice
The stage was set after the previous round in Germany, with James Deane leading Duane McKeever and Jack Shanahan in the overall point standings. Regardless of what happened in Mondello, DMEC would have an Irish champion again. However, with the Irish remaining undefeated on home soil for 17 years, there was an opportunity for the rest of the grid to spoil the party.
It might have seemed a predictable outcome on paper, but the weekend had a number of tricks up its sleeve. From the sunshine of the early practices sessions on Friday, to the deluge of rain during the Top 16 which nearly brought the event to an anti-climactic and pre-mature end, there was no shortage of drama for the final DMEC round of 2019…
Saturday saw the DMEC drivers share track time with the Irish Drift Games Extreme series, the successor to the Irish Drift Championship. With just an hour of practice in the dry conditions, it served more so as a day for the field to make repairs or changes to their cars, ahead of the main event on Sunday.
At this point of the weekend, we all knew that we were in for a wet Sunday, but nobody was sure just how wet it would be. Certainly no one expected what we actually woke up to on Sunday morning…
When I left home at 6AM on Sunday morning, I was pleasantly relieved. Sure, the roads were still wet but the rain had stopped with only some spray being thrown up in Project GTI’s wake. It was only as I started to get close to Mondello Park that the conditions significantly worsened. Heavy rain, standing water, rivers across the roads and floods on the rural routes.
By the time darkness slowly turned to light, the rain had eased and slowly stopped leaving the circuit and paddock saturated with water. It would eventually almost tease us for a while before qualifying ended that it might dry up, with smoke tyre smoke starting to re-appear and providing the drivers with an unpredictable course, but by the time we took to the track for Top 32, there was no doubting how wet it was going to be.
You see, the thing about drifting in the rain is that it’s not like racing in the rain. Drifters are compelled to use the same rubbered-in line (and therefore extremely slippery when wet) which was set down at the start of the weekend, as opposed to racers who can decide their own wet line to find maximum grip. By the time Top 8 came around, and championship contender Duane McKeever had been eliminated by fellow contender Jack Shanahan, James Deane was already champion, despite having been hit in practice leaving him with significant steering issues to contend with in qualifying and the battles so far.
When it came time for Deane’s lead run in the Top 8, he immediately lost control of his E92 Eurofighter after initiation and was helpless as the BMW aquaplaned into the wall, before being again hit by his rival, bringing his event to an end. The accident and worsening conditions prompted the organisers and judges to do something unprecedented; with the agreement of the remaining drivers, they changed the line to avoid the river of water running down from the start / finish line.
With a capacity crowd still in place, seemingly unfazed by the weather and captivated by the incredible driving and car control on display, just two Irishmen, Jack Shanahan and wild card entry Lee Scott, were all that stood against six European rivals determined to take the streak down. As it happens, they were both prepared to answer Ireland’s call and by the time the final arrived, the streak was successfully defended as both Irishmen faced off. Shanahan would pip Scott to the event win, and jump to second overall in the championship.
If this feels like an abridged version of events, it’s because it is. No amount of words can accurately convey the conditions, drama and action from the final round of the 2019 Drift Masters European Championship. I’ve been shooting drifting and motorsport for as long as I’ve been a photographer, and this will remain up there as one of the the all time great events.
For so long, European drifting has been crying out for an elite series on par with Formula Drift in the United States.
In Drift Masters, we finally have it.