Having virtually attended the first four rounds of the 2022 Drift Masters European Championship (DMEC) from the comfort of my living room sofa, I was excited to get back trackside and soak up the atmosphere of a world-class drifting event in person. Round 5’s industrial location in Germany last weekend was all the motivation I needed.
Ferropolis, ‘The City of Iron’, is a decommissioned coal mine that’s been converted into an event spot with a drift course, and that makes it truly unique.
This museum of sorts, situated in the outskirts of Gräfenhainichen, 140km from Germany’s capital city Berlin, is home to a number of mid-20th century industrial machines, some of which are 2,000-ton monsters of engineering. DMEC last hosted a round here back in 2019, so everyone was itching to get back.
In previous Drift Masters event stories, I’ve talked about how far this series has come. DMEC is certainly not resting on its laurels either; it’s still improving every step of the way while continuing to nurture Europe’s finest drifters. Without any exaggeration, I would say that Drift Masters is currently the most versatile and entertaining drift series in the world.
The level is so high that it feels like the vast majority of drivers could podium, but at the very top there’s a hardcore bunch that are rarely beaten by an underdog. I’m speaking about the Irish trio of James Deane and brothers Jack and Conor Shanahan, along with Northern Irishman Duane McKeever (who missed this round due to mechanical issues with his car), Poland’s Piotr Więcek, and perhaps the heavy-footed Norwegian Tor Arne Kvia too.
Leading up to the Ferropolis round, Piotr Więcek was heading the 2022 championship with two wins and 353 points. Conor Shanahan shared 281 points with James Deane, but the young Red Bull driver sat in second after his Round 2 win. Jack Shanahan sat in fourth with 271 points, and Tor Arne Kvia closed out the top five with 245 championship points to his name.
I need to make mention of Duane McKeever, Adam Zalewski, Juha Rintanen, Jakub Przygonski and Orjan Nilsen, who in that order rounded out the top 10. These are all phenomenal drivers, and every one of them is still in the fight for a top five finish this season.
At Round 5, it was all on the line for these drivers. With only one round left after Germany, no one could afford an early defeat.
The practice rounds were intense with tandem battles starting almost instantly. I could tell everyone had brought their A-game and were doing everything they could to prepare for the Top 32 battles. Ferropolis is not a fast circuit by any means, but all the corners are flowing and that makes them perfect for battles.
Weather-wise, the conditions did prove difficult though, with rain hitting the track every morning. Occasionally the surface did dry up, but not everywhere, making things quite unpredictable.
Losing a rear bumper or smashing a spoiler on this track is as common as seeing someone wearing jeans.
Before the battles, drivers still had qualifying to get through. Twenty-five competitors would not make it into the Top 32 show, so it was a nerve-racking experience for many.
When the smoke cleared, Conor, Jack and James – the Irish trio – took the three top qualifying spots. For Conor, a celebratory donut was in order.
There was a few hours before the Top 32 started on Saturday evening, and the drivers were having fun, setting up their cars, meeting fans and enjoying local currywurst, all in between five giant industrial excavators.
I’ll let you figure out who this fine gentleman in a Formula Drift t-shirt is…
Ukrainians Alexey Holovnia and Yaroslav Tresh made it through qualifying and were busy preparing their cars for a long evening ahead. While war is raging in their home country, it’s one of the few things they are able to do to support their nation from abroad.
When the main show got underway, the light was barely breaking through the dark grey clouds. Even though I was waiting to see how the battles would look in the dark, I was happy to catch some action in the daylight.
The first big upset came early. Remember how I mentioned the track being unpredictable? Well, James Deane missed a lot of the practice session due to a clutch issue, and at the very first eliminator round sent his Nissan into the wall. It was a rare mistake from ‘The Machine’. When James’ car reached my position, it was basically limping on three wheels.
Jakub Przygonski debuted the first drift-spec GR86 on European soil. I have to say, it looks great and is obviously very capable, but electrical gremlins ended his event early.
By the time the Top 16 battles started the daylight was long gone. I’m sure the drivers felt like the concrete walls were now closer to the race line than ever.
The battle between Steve ‘Baggsy’ Biagioni and Conor Shanahan was particularly interesting. Both drivers had an inkling they’d meet in the tournament, so had made a few door-to-door runs in practice. In the end, Baggsy – who placed 2nd here on DMEC’s last visit in 2019 – bumped the Toyota on initiation, but that didn’t stop Conor from pressuring the Nissan driver in the chase position. The young Irishman received the blessing from the judges in this energy drink face-off.
The next driver to receive a nasty surprise was championship leader Piotr Więcek. His lead run against Benediktas Cirba was solid, but when it was time for the Lithuanian to lead, he came out of the corner alone. Piotr’s differential was ruined.
Most talk, however, centered around how great Pawel Korpulinski’s driving was. He fought against the best in every round of the competition, and was particularly masterful in his chase runs.
Jack Shanahan ultimately stopped the Polish driver, but it happened in final battle of the event.
The Irishman clinched the overall win and became the new Iron Drift King. Now, after the penultimate round of competition, Jack Shanahan is only 12 points behind defending champion Piotr Więcek. Moto Arena in Łódź, Poland is where the 2022 Drift Masters European Championship will be decided on October 1, and I for one can’t wait.