King of Europe: Battle for the Throne

During the off-season I find myself eagerly awaiting certain fixtures to appear in the motorsport calendar. I had set myself a promise that King of Europe would be on my “to do” list for 2014, and I was determined to make that happen. Then, the fixtures arrived and I had never expected to see my local circuit right here in the UK pop up as a destination for the first time. As you can imagine I was quite thrilled to say the least!

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Having followed the series for quite some time via social media and various online video sites, I had an urge inside of me to experience the event for myself. Gone are some of the restrictions that are enforced within the British Drift Championship and with high powered cars and a huge amount of talent I knew that this was going to be an exciting event to shoot.

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Those of you that know me will know that I’m no stranger to Lydden Hill, with the circuit a little over an hour from my doorstep I often find myself hitting the motorway to shoot just about any drift event that’s going on. There’s no doubt that Lydden Hill is a very different track to others featured in the series and it was a challenge that the European visitors seemed eager to take on.

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Upon walking through the pits it was immediately obvious that this wasn’t a typical event that you’d see at Lydden Hill. There was absolutely no doubt that the European’s like their German cars, with BMW being the car of choice. It was nice to see some other platforms that you don’t often see, like this Audi for example, thrown into the mix too.

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It was nice to see some JDM-influenced styling too. Last year’s champion Francesco Conti’s E92 M3 was showing off his new Liberty Walk body kit for the first time along with the new livery designed by AWS Graphics. The car certainly stood out and I couldn’t wait to see it tearing up the circuit.

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It was clear that the Europeans had made the trip over with the intentions of turning Lydden into a smoke bowl. The sheer amount of tyre stacks were ensuring that the crowd were going to be in for a great weekend.

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As practice got under way it was a great chance to see exactly what these machines had to offer. With the clipping points laid out, there was a few differences to the layout that BDC had chosen recently. For this round, the second clip would be placed on the outside of the hairpin and the final clip would be located on the outside of the fast-paced final corner.

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Markus Muller was in attendance for his King of Europe debut with his 1JZ powered E46, having recently won the the Nürburgring Drift Cup it was great to see him in the mix amongst the other proven competitors.

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Whilst making the most of the huge amounts of seat time available, the experience of the European’s was beginning to shine, and they were becoming comfortable with the track very quickly. Some very impressive practice runs were being pulled off and with very little wind Lydden Hill was quickly getting clouded with tyre smoke!

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After the morning of practice, qualifying was next on the list. One thing that I learned shortly before the event was that King of Europe uses a telemetry system which is placed on each car. This proved particularly useful in qualifying as it enables the judges to see an impressive number of figures for what each driver was achieving during their runs. With an accuracy of around 10cm the system left no margin for error and drivers had to ensure they were providing the most consistent runs possible.

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With 47 entrants from both the UK and Europe and with 32 slots available to go through to the battles it left little room for error. Each driver was keen to give their best efforts, especially with some making such long journeys to make the weekend. When travelling across the continent the last thing you want is to go home early.

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Whilst there’s certainly no lack of experience out on track, Lydden can sometimes bite you when you least expect it. With gravel pits just inches from the track each and every slight error will leave you waiting for recovery.

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As qualifying came to a close, the drivers who had completed their laps got the chance to see what the competition had to offer ahead of the battles that they’d encounter the following day.

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With the telemetry results in and the judges giving their expert opinions on each run, Adam Frank took a well-deserved first place during qualifying. I was particularly glad to see this after some car trouble earlier on in the day, he’s a driver I’ve kept an eye on for quite some time and it was great to see him tearing up the tarmac at my local track.

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Despite the European’s putting on an impressive performance in qualifying, it was great to see so many of the local drivers reach the Top 10. With six of the spaces taken up by UK drivers there was no doubt that we were going to have an interesting day ahead when the battles begin.

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After the first day there was absolutely no shortage of slayed tyres. It’s incredible just how quickly the used tyre stacks were piling up, but hardly surprising with so much seat time for the drivers and the dry weather we saw throughout the day.

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As always with drifting, constantly pushing the machines to their limits can cause no end of problems for the drivers. Needless to say the day didn’t go without issues for some of them, and despite their best efforts luck wouldn’t be on their side and they’d miss out on a coveted qualifying spot.

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As day one came to a close, it was an opportunity for the drivers to reflect on the day and prepare themselves for the battles that lie ahead. It was also a chance for the track to cool down knowing that it was going to face a beating again the following morning.

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Sunday rolled around and it was time to get the second day underway, as usual this started off with a driver briefing. It was an opportunity for the drivers to ask any questions they may have regarding their runs the previous day and also to ensure they knew exactly what needs to be done to stand the best chance of taking home a trophy.

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It’s always refreshing to see the feminine side to drifting, Nikolett Szanto managed to qualify at 17th. With her being the only driver to qualify after the rain had soaked the track late afternoon whilst also suffering from a faulty differential I was looking forward to seeing how she would fare in the battles.

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With the drivers preparing themselves for the day ahead, it was a final chance to relax before the madness began.

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Early on proved that it was going to be an unlucky day for a handful of the competitors. Adam Frank, despite taking first place during qualifying would have to sit out the Top 32 after missing the 5 minute rule with car trouble. He would join Nikolett Szanto, Steve Biagioni and Shane Lynch having to watch from the day from the side-lines.

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With the final practice before the battles it was a great chance for the drivers to practice alongside team-mates before things took a more serious turn.

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After seeing so much of the practice, it was easy to see that Sunday had a much more sincere atmosphere and it was immediately clear that the drivers wanted to stand the best chance of getting a podium finish.

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With the battles underway, the drivers were managing consistent runs and showing what the machines were capable of whilst pouring the smoke from the rear tyres.

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With lots of close driving and hard battles to call, it was going to be a tough call for the judges.

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It was making for a fantastic atmosphere at Lydden Hill, with the European soundtracks playing something a little different to what we’re used to hearing in the UK.

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With a lot of great driving on show, and the battles getting increasingly close it was becoming an intense competition. Drivers were letting it hang all out in order to just get an edge over the car they’re competing against.

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Adam Kerenyi had been putting in extremely consistent runs in his ‘rear-seated’ E36 throughout the weekend, and was a well-deserved finalist. He’d find himself coming face-to-face with Team Japspeed’s Paul Smith in the deciding battle. After a fantastic second run Kerenyi had an advantage, but it would be in the hands of the judges to decide the winner.

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After a well fought weekend the King for this round is Adam Kerenyi! It was hardly surprising to see how delighted he was after managing to secure his third consecutive victory for the season.

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With another fantastic weekend over at Lydden Hill, the track was bearing the scars of the tyre-shredding action we’d seen from some of Europe’s finest drivers.

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There’s no question that this event brought us some of the most impressive cars to date, it was great to see the variation between some of the best cars of the UK and Europe go head-to-head. It’s fantastic to see King of Europe’s constant growth, and we hope that it will be the first of many future rounds in the British Isles for this fantastic competition.

-Bill Jefferies