After a one year hiatus as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the FIA Intercontinental Drifting Cup was finally back in business last weekend, this time with a new promoter – the Russian Drift Series.
Having come so far in recent years, the RDS was eager to win the tender for the annual event after their star driver Georgiy ‘Gocha’ Chivchyan won the Cup back-to-back in 2018 and 2019. Also new was the FIA IDC being contested outside of Japan for the first time since its inception.
With that said, you might be wondering why the 2021 event was held in Riga, Latvia when the promoter is from Russia. Well, it all has to do with Russia’s exclusion from from the Olympic Games and other global sports. As indicated by the ban, Russia is prohibited to host international sporting events, and their athletes must compete under a neutral flag.
This was the case when the 2020 FIA Intercontinental Drifting Cup (which never happened because of Covid) was planned, but in May this year the RDS together with the FIA agreed to achieve a less broad interpretation of the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) sanctions. Right now, it’s agreed that Russian drivers in the series can use national symbols and compete under the Russian flag. FIA-sanctioned motorsport events can also be held in Russian territory.
This doesn’t automatically mean that the 2022 FIA IDC will be held in the Russian Federation, but the odds of that are indeed high.
But let’s not speculate on what might happen next year, when there’s the past weekend to talk about…
Some years ago, the Russian Drift Series organized RDS vs. D1 competitions, where the best Russian drifters battled the pros from Japan. What’s happening now is basically RDS vs. Europe.
I know that FIA didn’t start on the right foot with drifting – and arguably they are still trying to figure it out – but my opinion is that this year it’s totally the fault of the pandemic and all the restrictions that come with it. A number of overseas drivers were planning to compete at the Riga event, but as the date loomed closer it became apparent that not all teams would be able to travel. My Norwegian mates Ola Jæger and Joachim Waagard couldn’t even gain clearance, so there was little chance of major representation from Japan, the USA and other far-off regions.
In the end though, 27 drivers from 15 countries made it to Biķernieki Circuit. However, by the end of Saturday only 24 had successfully qualified. Daigo Saito, Dmitri Illyuk, and Sergei Sak all faced technical problems and were forced to retire.
Damir Idiyatulin, one of the top underdogs of the RDS, surprised everybody in his Toyota Altezza with a 98-point qualifying run. That score placed him right at the top of the leaderboard in front of odds-favorite James Deane and his Irish mate Jack Shanahan.
We’ve all the seen the plays on Speedhunters window banners, but it seems like HGK has inspired a few funny Eurofighter-style slogans on BMW rear spoilers now too.
It was so awesome to see not one, but two Russian-built Flanker-F cars on this European track. The V8-powered machine is driven by Sergei Kabargin, developer of the Flanker brand; the second car with a less extreme hood is a VR38-powered version, piloted by long-time Fail Crew member Arkadiy Tsaregradtsev.
To simply call last weekend at Riga challenging would be a massive understatement; it was tough. First there was the unpredictable weather, which switched from unbelievable heat to a hail storm and torrential showers. Then there’s the track itself, which is fast but also has three different types of asphalt on the drifting line. Add huge puddles into the mix and you have yourself the drift course equivalent of a waterpark slide.
To show you how bad it got, here’s Estonian champion Oliver Randalu hanging on for dear life.
One thing RDS does differently from Formula D is holding their Top 32 and Top 16 battles on different days. Fortunately for everyone, the forecast for Sunday was dry, with only a bit of rain in the morning.
Sunday practice was the only time I could shoot from the start line without worrying that I would miss something important on the track. Interestingly, the marshal recognized me from last year. Unknowingly I took a picture of his back during the 2020 World Rallycross round in Riga, so I made sure to get a couple of front-facing snaps this time around.
Those who follow the international drift scene will already know that James Deane claimed the overall 2021 FIA Intercontinental Drifting Cup win, battling against local 16-year-old star Nikolass ‘NikNak’ Bertans. If not, you can watch some battle highlights here.
Unfortunately for the Latvian, he suffered a minor technical issue with his accelerator pedal and that might have cost him the win. In this photo from the second part of the battle, you can see how calm Nikolass was in the face of Deane’s pressure, even hanging his hand out of the car, egging on the Irish drifter.
James Deane is always the safest bet to clinch the win at any event, but he’s yet to breach the Siberian RDS defence on Russian turf. In familiar territory, however, he still well and truly lives up to his nickname – The Machine.