Hello, Austria. I tried to visit you two times in the past, but you turned my plans down for various reasons. Now vaccinated, I was determined to see this beautiful country for myself, even if just for a short while. And what better time than coinciding with the first two rounds of the 2021 Drift Masters European Championship (DMEC).
Austria met me with unusually hot 34°C+ weather, so the first day I was just happy to explore the Styrian countryside in an air-conditioned car. This was the setup day for what is the biggest year for DMEC yet: 56 listed drivers from 22 countries, five rounds, and plenty to prove after a 10-month off-season.
The 2020 season was canceled due to the pandemic, but the 2021 season has also been impacted with only three stops on the calendar: Austria, Latvia, and Georgia (Austria and Latvia being double-header rounds). DMEC boss Dave Egan’s stress levels must be up there.
PS Racing Center Greinbach is a really interesting track. It’s narrow and technical, which all has to do with its heritage – it was built as a rallycross track in the year 2000. Another giveaway of its off-road nature is a paddock that’s almost entirely gravel.
Drivers took it steady at first, figuring out the layout, grip levels, and the correct racing lines. Those who were too eager ended up on the dirt pretty fast.
Generally, this corner proved to be the hardest: after a long drift at roughly 130km/h (80mph), drivers had to decelerate into a hairpin-type turn. It’s fair to say that it caught out everyone at least once during the weekend.
With this post I’m just going to share some of the highlights and personal observations, so if you want to know how every battle panned out, you can catch up on Red Bull TV.
Last year, Jordan wrote how DMEC has the drifting world’s best-produced video broadcast. There were times during the event that I tuned into the livestream, and it was indeed impressive. The diverse camera angles were great, but mostly it was the infotainment that made me happy. Having the speed, winning probability, and progress and performance based on the zones covered added a new element.
The Red Bull Driftbrothers are taking things to a whole new level this year, becoming the first team to not only be officially backed by BMW, but specifically their M division. This new partnership has so far resulted in two brand spanking new G82 M4s with factory S58 engines tuned up to produce 1,040hp and 1,280Nm. Prior to the event, the cars had only been shaken down during a couple of events at the Red Bull Ring, so there was a lot of setup work to be done.
No time was wasted either. Whenever there was a spare moment, the M4s were up on stands having their suspension adjusted, differentials tweaked and ECU mapping fine-tuned.
As new cars, these BMWs really do look and feel different to other drift builds, even the high-end ones. There’s a lot to say about them, so I will dedicate a separate post to the cars in the near future.
Tor Arne Kvia from Norway was a driver who really impressed me at this event. He put in a strong performance all weekend long, and is a natural showman. Behind the wheel of his Nissan RPS13, Tor won the first qualification round while on fire, and the next day made a phenomenal run with the car’s hood up. He’s definitely one to watch this season.
Dmitri Illyuk, the 2019 FIA Motorsport Games winner from Ukraine, brought his fan-favorite ‘Drako’ out to Austria for the double-header. This Rocket Bunny Boss-kitted S14 is powered a Nissan VK56 and is always exciting to watch. In the past, Dmitri had a fire-spitting exhaust coming out of the hood, but this year the whole turbo setup is on display.
Polish driver Piotr Kozlowski appeared with a similar engine setup to Dmitri, so I’m sure I wasn’t the only hoping they’d get to battle each other.
The DMEC 2021 roll call features a number of British drivers, but 16-year-old Max Cotton was the only one flying the Union Jack in Austria. Where were the championship favorite Duane McKeever? Unfortunately, he had responsibilities back home competing in the British Drift Championship, while Steve ‘Baggsy’ Biagioni and Martin Richards were entertaining the crowds at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. This really begs the question: will the Brits be motivated enough to travel to the next three DMEC rounds knowing that the championship is not theirs for the taking?
Conor and Jack Shanahan now both compete in Toyota 86s, and they seem to be working well. The Irish brothers are easily among the best on the grid, and they prove it with their results. Round 1 was a success story for the Shanahans – Conor finishing second and Jack grabbing third. The second round was less successful, but both drivers still ended up just shy of the podium steps.
Piotr Więcek however, drove faultlessly all weekend long. He won both rounds, cementing his status as one of the most talented drifters on the planet.
After a quiet 2020, it really feels like the only objective Piotr has is to dominate the European championship. I would hope these round wins and a potential title will ultimately see him back competing in the USA.
With Covid-19 limiting the season to three countries and five rounds, it’s understandable that the 2021 Drift Masters European Championship will be tough on the drivers and their machinery. Technical problems are common in motorsport, but I believe such a test will only make everybody stronger.
Riga, get ready!