AN INVASION OF HORSEPOWER – EXTREME DRIFT ALLSTARS TAKES TO THE STREETS
AN INVASION OF HORSEPOWER – EXTREME DRIFT ALLSTARS TAKES TO THE STREETS
This past weekend saw the arrival of Europe's premier drifting series, Extreme Drift Allstars 2014, to Riga, Latvia. This Baltic metropolis is Latvia's capital city, and home to some of the most die-hard drifting enthusiasts in Europe. Riga would be the stage for the fourth round of the 2014 championship, succeeding London, Sosnova in Czech Republic, Mantorp Park in Sweden and preceeding Tallinn in Estonia, Kaunas in Lithuania and the final in Warsaw, Poland.
Stretching across seven countries, the Drift Allstars events are scheduled so as to make life as easy as possible for those competing, with one event transitioning nicely into the next, both in terms of geography and timescale. If you take out a map, you can literally trace the wake of tire smoke and partying as it travels across the continent. Drifting is serious business in this part of the world, yet its potential is only just starting to hit the world stage, and the Extreme Drift Allstars team are spearheading the European drift movement. Ridiculously detailed high-end builds, super aggressive and talented drivers, and some of the most unforgiving circuits in the world make this a series for only those with the confidence, ability, and workmanship to remain competitive.
The fourth round of this year's championship was one eagerly awaited by all, for a wide range of reasons. Firstly, no two rounds of the season so far have been won by one single driver. Such is the level of competition here – everyone is at the top of their game. While at some events it's been easy for me to read who's going to do well and who's not during practice, in Riga, I just couldn't call it. The speed, the aggression and the commitment of these guys is without comparison.
Second on the list of reasons, the Biķernieku trase in Riga is completely unique. Sitting on the edge of a large pine forest within the city itself, just a few miles from the Gulf of Riga and the Baltic coast, Biķernieku was the first purpose-built race circuit circuit in the former Soviet Union. Constructed in 1965, it was designed in two configurations: the Ring of Excellence, designed for motorcycle racing, and the Speed Ring, for racers of the four-wheeled variety. Now, within the circuit itself sits a public park and swimming lake, and the former 'Speed Ring' is largely used by cyclists exercising on the weekends.
Biķernieku trase still displays its former Soviet roots, and provides an amazing backdrop to shoot against. An eclectic mix of hard steel, solid concrete, and the surrounding forest, which has started to claim back areas of the circuit, make this particular venue a photographer's playground. It just so happened that when Drift Allstars arrived in town, Riga was in the middle of a heatwave. I'm from the UK, so I don't cope particularly well with 90-95°F sun. The conditions made Biķernieku feel all the more hostile and unforgiving.
The circuit throws up plenty of surprises for drivers and fans alike. Looming walls, surprisingly high curbs, and severe undulations in the surface of the circuit all add to the excitement. You'd think, given the build quality of some of these machines, such as Jakuba Przygońskiego's ORLEN team 1000bhp GT86, that the prospect and going flat out in such a testing and brutal environment would hold them back. This isn't the case at all. Przygońskiego was full throttle, smoke pouring and wall-rubbing all weekend with the rest of the pack.
The famous Riga dip in particular is like a magnet to photographers. Each car reacts differently depending on its weight, speed, suspension set up, and the driver's exact line through the corner. At times, some cars just bobble about. Others, such as Nigel Colfer's 1JZ-GTE-powered 180sx, shown here, are flung up into the air, smoke still pouring from the rear tyres. It's quite a sight to behold, but I'm not sure how the drivers manage to remain so composed throughout the experience. Come the end of practice, many of them were using the jump as a transition point, the jarring landing giving them maximum grip and propelling them towards the next bend.
Another reason for the excitment towards Riga is that the cars built in this corner of Europe are some of the most developed and insane that you'll ever have the fortune of witnessing. Drifting here has received huge injections of cash from Poland, Russia, Latvia and the surrounding countries. HGK Garage, builders of the famous Evil Empire and Fail Crew cars, including Ryan Tuerck's new European PS13 Silvia, are located within the grounds of Biķernieku. I certainly never thought that I'd see an LS3-powered, twin turbo E64 6 series drifting in Europe. Ingemas Jekabson's 2014 build is certainly something special!
Forget your sterile V8 swaps. Eastern Europe takes V8s, turbos them, adds a second turbo for good measure, and then tosses on a shot of nitrous to boot. Many of the cars run complete one-piece front ends for weight-savings and easy maintenance, and they seemingly all run Wisefab suspension components for an insane amount of lock. The average horsepower of a car in the Extreme Drift Allstars series is 650bhp. Six hundred and fifty horsepower. Above, Johan Halvarsson's 2JZ-GTE S15 puts out 780bhp!
This was my second Extreme Drift Allstars event this year. The organizers have a rich history of doing things a bit differently in comparison to other series. Their demographic is predominantly the young, edgy, extreme sports crowd, rather than your more traditional motor sport enthusiast. They know this, and play to their strengths. 2014 title sponsor Extreme Sports Channel fits the bill perfectly. Driving hard goes hand in hand with partying hard. One thing that I particularly enjoy is the family mentality here – with so many different nations involved you'd expect cliques to form; however, this couldn't further from the truth. These guys and girls drive together, party together and travel together. As a relative newcomer to the series it's rare to feel so welcome right away.
The series also has a history of introducing drifting to places that you really wouldn't expect to find it. Round one of the 2014 season took place in the heart of London, England, right outside the Stratford Olympic Park. This concept of bringing drifting to the people, rather than dragging the people out to see drifting, is tried and tested. There's no denying that it works.
Therefore, as part of the proceedings at Riga, following the first day's practice session, the drivers were invited to join in on the crazy police-escorted parade from Biķernieku to the heart of the city. This 1.5-mile procession is like nothing I've ever seen before. It was never going to be a tame affair, letting these crazy drivers in their huge horsepower machines loose on Latvia streets with almost free reign. Despite the Latvian State Police presence, the drivers only showed restraint for a few seconds once outside of the circuit gates. The sound of huge turbos spooling, tires squealing and exhausts popping and firing soon filled the air.
On a circuit, the level of power in these cars is an extreme amount by any standard – but the power takes on an all new meaning as it's unleashed on the busy streets of Riga. We're not talking about a factory-tamed supercar herem, mind you. There's no dumbed-down, softened experience on offer – no traction control or electronic gadgetry designed to keep the cars on the straight and narrow. These are hard, unforgiving race cars, designed to go fast and go sideways.
Now, multiply that by forty, and give the drivers an excuse to go wild and really show the Latvian public what drifting is all about. "Jaw-dropping" does not begin to describe what the people of Riga witnessed on Friday evening. As the drivers maneuvered around pick-ups and flatbeds carrying the various media and Drift Allstars staff, people rushed to the already busy streets to see what the fuss was about. I shouldn't need to tell you this, but the noise and energy was immense.
As someone who's spent the past few years driving, judging and then shooting professional drifting around the world, I'm pretty tough to impress, but after a day witnessing on-the-edge driving on track, followed by the sounds of the Drift Allstars army rolling into Riga city centre, the experience was beyond comparison. There's something about seeing a purpose-built race car outside of its natural habitat that just screams for your attention. As the cars thud-thud across tram tracks and thunder over the cobbled streets, more and more people stream onto the sidewalks to discover the source of the commotion. Riga; meet drifting, drifting; meet Riga.
As the procession comes to a halt in the plaza outside Riga Central Train Station, the crowd flocks around. Excited and freshly converted fans are probing drivers for information, discovering more about the cars, grabbing autographs, and heading off with their first experience of the extreme nature of drift machines and a need to see more. Of course, the whole purpose of this unannounced procession is to jam drifting in the faces of those who normally couldn't care less. I'm sure the noise bothered some people, some might have been inconvenienced by the temporary gridlock, but far more people just wanted to know more about drifting, and where they could see it for real.
Come Saturday's main event, the cast concrete bleachers at Biķernieku were packed with fresh faces. Not only the hardcore drift fans who travel the width of Europe to see their favourite drivers compete, but the local Latvians fill the stands as well, eager to get their first taste of the sport. The street parade worked. It's a brilliant stunt, and one that has helped the Drift Allstars organizers widen their demographic in every single city they land.
Series organizers around the world should sit up and take note. The chance to see, hear and shoot drift cars going wild in the city is one that I want to see at every event. It's a paradox that I don't think will ever get old. As I sit here back in England writing this, I'm still buzzing from the Drift Allstars experience. I've shot a lot of events of the years and few have revitalised my love for the sport more than my short trip to Riga. This is how motor sport should make you feel.