NDC Round 4: The core of German drifting

Let’s take a moment to talk about German drifting, something I wasn’t too familiar with until last weekend when I headed to NDC Round 4. The Nürburgring Drift Cup has been a growing phenomenon since the first event which was held in 2013. After the birth of drift culture in Japan it has infected numerous motorsport enthusiasts from all over the world and evidently Europe has got a taste for it as well. Finally Germany has a solid home for drifting alongside some of the bigger leagues from the UK, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. The famous Müllenbachschleife has been the playing field for this event over the last 5 rounds and has proven to become the core of German drifting.

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Practice day: Let light do the talking…
I’m going to talk you through this in chapters, because each day had it’s own character and situations. Not only for the drivers would the first day be practice and testing, because I too needed to get a feel of the event and get a feel of what I had jumped into this time. I used to be all stressed out to get action shots from the second I set foot on the track, but I have to admit that those days are long behind me and it helped knowing that I had three days ahead.

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We arrived early, and I mean the kind of early where you can witness the sunrise over the track and you still have the feeling you’re late because the first competitors are already burning tyres through the glorious Schumacher S. There is no better way of waking up and hearing the sounds you hear around the Nürburgring while you’re staying there. Even though this was my first time attending NDC, I already felt at home and safe.

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The first thing we did was take a short walk over to the paddock to pick up our media vests at the Skylimit Events booth, shake hands here and there and get an initial impression of what teams were present. The people who were already awake were already trackside and paying attention to how their competitors were doing. The little but gorgeous light I was working with was already noticeable in my first shots and I decided to approach the day with paying attention to some light contrast.

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It’s always great to get an impression of the international level of an event during the first few minutes of the day. Danish drifter Niels Becker was present in his S14a and brought more fellow drifters from the North. I already spotted some Dutch, Belgian and French speaking people so that promised me that this was more than just a German drift party.

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We slowly started to make our way to the track to check out some photo locations. It’s always a complete exploration for me at a new circuit. Of course I’m more than familiar with the Nürburgring but the Müllenbach loop was a new experience for me.

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During the red flags when practice groups changed we had the opportunity to cross the track at the Schumacher S bend. For some reason I always find it a mighty feeling to walk across a track and it gives me a real idea of the place, and just how wide, steep and and sharp all the bends are.

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It was great to see a couple of known Dutch drivers like Jasper Spaan in this competition and I hoped that the Dutch group would make an impression for the rest of the teams. I think drifting is still too small in our country compared to the potential it actually has.

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As the title of this part of my article said I let light do the talking and it was mainly a day of practice for me as well on the first day. It wasn’t too bothered if I missed a certain shot and the relaxed atmosphere which I experienced had a good effect on my photography.

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Everybody gets more than plenty of time on track and there seriously is constant action which is fantastically set up by the organisation Skylimit Events. Even though you’re not really competing for a top 16 qualification, you’ll have loads of fun and plenty of seat time during the practice sessions.

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I made my way back to the paddock to have a chat with some drivers and ask how everybody was doing during practice day. There was no animosity amongst the teams and everybody was helping each other out. It looked like everybody was ready for day two and after a successful and fun day for each and every one of us, I couldn’t wait for it!

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Qualifying day: Nürburgring, you’re doing that thing again!
Everybody who has been to the Nürburgring must have experienced the unstable weather conditions. It’s not too weird if you experience 3 seasons of weather in one single lap around the Nördschleife, and that was exactly what we experienced this weekend. The second day of NDC Round 4 was such a weird day. Several teams got in some serious mechanical problems and the thick fog wasn’t really working with the whole situation, it started to look like that the qualifications would be cancelled and rescheduled to Sunday.

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The morning started with some nice drizzly rain which wasn’t a very warm welcome for our camera gear, nor for the track as it looked like we were going to miss out on some nice smoke shots during the drift sessions.

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It’s safe to say that luck wasn’t on everyone’s side during the early hours of the day. I spotted one of the Turbogarage Fairladies next to the track with what looked like a major engine issue. The team had a major task ahead of them to get it back running.

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So the morning practice and open track sessions were mainly driven in wet conditions which wasn’t the best way to test the latest adjustments to the cars. Training in the rain and having to qualify on a dry track later on in the day could cause for some misjudgements on the track because the cars behave completely differently.

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That brings us back to the ever-changing weather conditions, because not long after the practice sessions were over, the entire Nürburgring was covered in thick fog and all activities were cancelled and postponed until further notice. We had a couple of hours to browse around and see how it had its effect on everybody, because it started to look like the qualifications would now be driven early in the morning on Sunday.

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In the paddock life pretty much went on and nobody was overly bothered about the whole situation. Luckily they had already had a lot of time on the track to practice and test their cars.

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It was also a welcome breather for the teams to do some final adjustments and preparations. The people at Turbo Garage were rebuilding a new engine and managed to get it finished in time for the finals.

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Other teams were standing by for the track to be cleared and spent their time joking around with other drivers and talk about the drifting culture in Europe.

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Whilst the fog still wasn’t completely gone but visibility was acceptable enough to return to the track, the first group of qualifiers lined up to start with the qualifications. I was happy to know that some intense action would start from this point but the reality was that it’s a hard knock-out race, if you don’t make it, you’re out of the competition.

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After the last round my fellow shooter Alex told me about this interesting Mitsubishi FTO which had a RB25DET hart transplant. I couln’t wait to hear more about it so I was happy to meet the owner Mike Blank who clearly had a great time on track getting to know the car because it was only his second time here at the NDC.

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The action and serious business starts here. Game faces on behind the visors and it was time to give their absolute best for the judges on the few critical corners. Due to some technical issues Marcel Uhlig didn’t make it to the top 16, but he sure gave everything!

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A personal favourite of mine was this Miata driven by Dennis Köhler. He was able to qualify 10th after his three runs and I think that’s a very good job amongst all the high horsepower competitors.

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The Dane Niels earned a much deserved qualification because he showed us how it’s really done, not only on the track but also in terms of respect. He allowed Markus Müller to qualify in his S14a as well because Marcus’ 2JZ powered BMW was still out of the running after he blew his headgasket. I think that is the most noble thing that happened during the course of the competition.

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It was a really close competition between both himself and Remmo Niezen from Falken NL. He made sure he got his points so that nobody could touch him. The question still remained as to whether Marcus would be repaired in time for the next day of finals. Excitement was all over the place!

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At the end of day two everything was still possible. Some cars were still being fixed, whilst other drivers would use their extra time to get those additional vital practice laps in. Those ones who didn’t make the top 16 still had plenty of free practice time to enjoy themselves after being knocked out of the race. It was time for the third day, the last day of a full NDC season and the day where crucial things would happen.

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Finals day: The Champ is here!
A couple of practice sessions and free training before all hell breaks loose. We arrived early to ensure we didn’t miss a single moment of the day and were surprised to see that we were gifted with some very good weather. It’s been a strange but successful weekend for all of us but we had the 6 most exciting hours of the season ahead of us. Who would go home with first place, and who else would win a trophy for their hard work?

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The runs were driven with lead run and then a follow run, the best driver would then advance to the next round until only the best were left to compete in the deciding battles.

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There is no denying that there were some very close battles which must have been extremely challenging for the judges to decide, despite this they were able to make their decisions very fast so that the top 16 could continue in a quick pace. In this shot Christoph Krämer was still leading in front of Elias Hountondji, who was also very close to a podium place.

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The last couple of battles were driven and most of us started to get a clear idea of how the podium would look for the NDC Round 4. Toughness, precision and persistence were hard to deny in every single run, as a newbie to the NDC every single driver was a winner in my book.

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Remmo Niezen was the one to have the upper hand with his V8 M3 in the finals and I couldn’t agree more with the judges of the organisation. One hell of a season for the Dutchman and I believe he was a spectators favourite as well.

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A great victory goes hand in hand with several traditions, and one of them is receiving a decent Champagne shower. It looked like all the trophy winners were teaming up to have a last say in this battle and sure they did during this moment.

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Markus Müller who made it just in time for the top 16 wasn’t able to generate enough points for a podium place for this round but had one hell of a season under his belt nevertheless.

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He finished second in the overall classification which is an amazing effort and he can look over his shoulder and say he has done everything he could. Another example of the tremendous dedication that lives within the drivers at the NDC.

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Cristoph Krämer snatched second place in this round with his S13 with 97 points which is an amazing result.

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Elias Hountondji won the lead and follow battle against his brother in his pickup S13, and then battled all the way to a deserved third place with 95 points.

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The talented Kevin Corsius from Belgium ended 4th in this round but stands 3rd in the overall placing and will certainly return to settle a score and work his way further up. Will he kick Remmo from his throne or will an underdog take the lead next season?

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So where are we now? We’re at the end of a successful season of the Nürburgring Drift Cup and I can only think that I’ve experienced just a fraction of all the amazing moments over the last year. I set myself the task and goal of following and capturing the next season of this lovely event. It’s close to home, high level, well organised and absolutely joyful in every way. The friendship, respect and willingness to help amongst the teams and drivers are something else.

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If you’re reading this and think of going to one of the next rounds, just do it. If you’re reading this and think you can compete against some of the NDC top competitors, come over and show them what you got. If you’re reading this and think how the hell did I miss out on this? I can tell you I had the same feeling after this weekend. One thing is for sure that I’ll return to capture more of the action on the Müllenbachschleife. You should go too, for any reason possible, you won’t regret it, take my word!

Rens

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