I’ve been closely following the Russian Drift Series (RDS) ever since Dmitriy Dobrovolskiy took control in 2016. In the following years, this championship has gone from strength to strength, thanks mainly to forward thinking on Dmitriy’s part. Now, it’s consistently attracting some of the world’s best drifters.
The biggest difference the RDS has over other series is its unique teams championship, which is comparable to the constructors championship in F1 or the WRC. In the RDS, the teams championship is on par, if not more not sought after than the individual drivers title, so it really matters.
For this reason, every serious team competes with three drivers. The stakes are high, so drawing international drivers in has become the norm, and this in turn has really helped raise the RDS’s profile .
Dmitriy is responsible for Team Aimol, and their driver line-up for the 2021 RDS season which kicked off at Moscow Raceway last weekend is crazy. James Deane, Daigo Saito and Charles Ng are three individuals that definitely don’t need any introductions.
James, who built a dedicated Nissan S14 in nine weeks, got a couple of his dreams ticked off in Moscow: He finally battled Daigo Saito and won, then went up against Russia’s best, Georgy ‘Gocha’ Chivchyan, albeit with a less successful result.
The strong Aimol team started a chain reaction. Forvard Avto, Gocha’s team, invited their old friend Masato Kawabata who brought his Nissan 180SX straight from Japan.
Gocha himself brought some new firepower, saying goodbye to his beloved four-cylinder SR20DET setup in favor of a bigger and more powerful Toyota 2JZ package.
Team Fresh Auto, who finished fourth in the 2020 RDS season, switched up their international driver too. Last year it was Tetsuya Hibino, but this year the team are going into battle with Ireland’s Jack Shanahan. That makes two Irishmen on the grid.
Three more drivers round out the international contingent. Kristaps Blušs from Latvia is competing with the Carville Racing Team; 2020 RDS champion Alexei Golovnya is defending his title with Lukoil Racing; and Sergei Sak from Belarus has created his own team, BY Motorsport.
All told, the Russian Drift Series has 44 drivers on the list this year, so even just making the Top 32 grid is a challenge.
To be honest, I was betting on James Deane for the first round win. I thought he would dominate right out of the gate, just as he did in Formula Drift. But that wasn’t the case. Whether it was track knowledge or national pride – or perhaps a combination of the two – the local Russian drivers were on fire.
James’ road to the win was thwarted by Evgeniy Losev in the semi-final, leading to a 3rd/4th place run-off against Gocha, who denied the Irishman a place on the podium.
Earlier in the event, Jack Shanahan lost against Arkadiy Tsaregradtsev in an OMT battle during the Top 8. Arkadiy, another drifting superpower from Siberia, went on to claim the first round with an outstanding drive, which I’m sure he will be very happy about after a challenging 2020 season.
Last year he was given the unfortunate nickname ‘Mr. Saturday’ after qualifying first at four out of six events, but not capitalizing on the advantage during the Sunday battles, usually due to technical problems with his then new Nissan 370Z. If all his car issues are now sorted, Arkadiy will surely be a championship contender this year.
One of the things the Russian Drift Series is best known for is innovation. On top of the teams championship, their Drift Dynamics system, which measures speed, angle and other parameters, is a helpful tool for the judges, and plays a big role when it comes down to tricky decision making. It will be interesting to see if Formula Drift and the Drift Masters European Championship adopt similar thinking for their competitions.
What was clearly visible for the second year, is that the European drivers really enjoy drifting on a fast and flowing track, as compared to the often slow, narrow street-style layouts they’re more used too.
Hopefully the borders will be opened soon, and I’ll be able to experience the 2021 Russian Drift Series in person, rather than by online pay-per-view (although that was impressive in itself). In the meantime, we’d like to send out a big thanks to Russian superstar photographer Evgeny ‘AirJek’ Murugin for these images.
Words by Vladimir Ljadov
Photography by Evgeny Murugin