In a scene reminiscent of an intense, professional league football match, Warsaw’s Olympic PGE Narodowy Stadium came alive as 58 of the top drifters from Europe and beyond battled it out in front of over 53,000 spectators.
The final round of the 2023 Drift Masters European Championship (DMEC) was always going to be a spectacle, but this was on a level that drifting has never seen before, anywhere in the world.
The track, exclusively crafted for the DMEC final, was a masterpiece. It was constructed in just three days and demolished hours after the smoke cleared from the final tandem battle.
The journey that led to this historical end to the 2023 DMEC season began in Ireland, before sliding into Scandinavia with stops in Sweden and Finland. From there, it ventured south to Latvia, before landing in the heart of Europe, Germany. But it all came down to the finale in Poland, with no less than six drivers still in the running for the title.
Heading into the Warsaw weekend, Conor Shanahan was leading the championship points, closely trailed by Finnish competitors Lauri Heinonen and Juha Rintanen, and then Conor’s old brother Jack Shanahan. However, the presence of heavyweight contenders, like the 2021 and 2022 DMEC champion Piotr Więcek, added an element of unpredictability.
As always, qualifying played a pivotal role in setting the stage for the main event. Only 32 drivers would get a pass for the battles, resigning everyone else to the stands where they could start planning their 2024 comebacks.
World Rally Champion Kalle Rovanperä secured the top qualifying spot with a 99/100 run. Kevin Piskolty took second, and Lauri Heinonen from Finland – the closest DMEC 2023 contender – third.
Conor Shanahan qualified in fifth with a 95-point run, which should give you some idea of the quality of driving at the pointy end of the DMEC field. The young Irishman didn’t have it easy in the brackets either, fighting his way through the likes of Mika Keski-Korpi, wildcard David Sposób, and Portuguese ace Diogo Correia, before facing Poland’s own Pawel Korpulinski in the Top 4, which resulted in an OMT battle.
Conor needed to beat Korpulinski to secure the championship, and he did so after the gripping rematch. Here’s the moment the realization kicked in after the judges ruled in the Irish driver’s favor.
On the other side of the table, Lauri Heinonen was also on form, keeping his championship hopes alive until the very end after beating Czech driver Marco Zakouril.
As the old drift competition meme goes, it could only have been scripted that Conor and Lauri – two of the of the 2023 season’s best – would meet in the final in the biggest drift arena in the world. Eventually, the young Irishman proved exactly why he deserves to be the 2023 DMEC champion, clinching the event win as well in one of the closest battles of the night.
Completing the season podium, Juha Rintanen secured third place overall. Piotr Więcek – the defending champion – finished fourth, with Jack Shanahan and Duane McKeever in fifth and sixth places, respectively.
Surrounded by the biggest crowds they would have ever seen from their cockpits, every one of the drivers that lined up for the 2023 DMEC final left nothing on the table. The battles were electrifying, and the echoes of fans chanting around the stadium just added to the whole experience. Some of the very best drifters in the world translated their emotions, excitement, anger and frustration through their cars and onto the tarmac – that’s honestly how it felt.
Conor Shanahan’s dream night in Warsaw, Poland will be etched in the memory of 53,000+ passionate fans who witnessed it firsthand, and many more drift enthusiasts worldwide who watched it unfold live on Red Bull TV.
The 2023 Drift Masters European Championship not only showcased the finest drifting, but showed that this completely illogical but exhilarating motorsport is still growing. I’m excited about what new heights can be reached in 2024.