As a photographer you’re continuously trying to one-up yourself. You keep trying to challenge yourself in new ways and get even better at what you do. In this quest for improvement, you also try to look for events that will help you express your creativity and that will allow you to create exciting images. It was during this quest that I found myself in Riga, where the 4th round of the Extreme Drift Allstars was set to take place.
Going to these events, you sometimes have no idea what it’ll be like. Sure, you look at photos from earlier rounds and even though a picture can tell you a thousand words, sometimes it’s just not enough.
Then there’s the stories told by friends that have been there before. The thing is though, do you believe their hype? Will it be as good as they say it will be? It’s easy to get really excited by their stories, but also easy to get disappointed when you get too caught up in their tales filled with promises.
I tried to go to this event with an open mind, even though in the back of my mind I still heard the voices of my fellow photographers: “You really have to go to Drift Allstars!” “Go to Riga bro, it’ll be epic” “There’s this tower there, go climb it.”
After arriving on a Thursday afternoon, it would not be until the next day before I’d get to experience what Drift Allstars would be like. With over 50 drivers from 14 different countries, the battles would no doubt cause the necessary excitement.
The event was held over two days, the first day being solely for practice, while the second day would allow the drivers to qualify for the top 32 battles later that same day. Walking onto the still pretty quiet paddock on the first day was already quite enjoyable, as I could already see some of the best cars the world of drifting has to offer.
And even though the day was still young, Mark Needs already ran into trouble with his gearbox. Luckily he was able to fix the car well in time and seemed to have no further troubles running the car hard.
Slowly but surely the paddock would fill all the way up, and near the end of the day all the teams were there to some practice runs in. This already proved this was an event on a whole other level than what I was used to.
At the end of the first day there was something quite special planned. It involved something that is normally far from legal and would result in quite a few hefty fines…
The entire field of over 50 drivers would take their car to the streets of Riga and as a group would drive to a square right in the centre of the city. Was this really happening?
You bet it was! Some of us photographers got to hop in the back of a big pick-up which allowed us to get shots of the bunch of crazies that was let loose right in the city centre.
Driving through Riga with a bunch of drift cars was already an amazing experience, but was made even better by everyone that came out to see the parade. People were already lined up along the route to catch a glimpse of the madness that had descended on their town.
The city of Riga is interesting to say the least. It is in fact the biggest city in the Baltic States and home to some amazing art nouveau style buildings. Driving through it with all those mad cars, the sound of powerful engines reverberating through the streets, this something you’ll have to just experience for yourself someday. It is truly epic.
And not only is it an amazing experience, it’s also a brilliant bit of marketing. The end of the route was right outside the main train station of Riga, where all the cars were lined up on a public square so people could see the cars from up close and even chat with the drivers. What a way to let people know Drift Allstars is in town!
After that already eventful first day, I could not even begin to imagine what the next day would bring. I just knew it was going to be good!
The next day started quite early with another practice sessions. It gave the drivers time to get those last minute adjustments out of the way, finish the set-up of the car and get the lines of the track down. Everything would need to be perfect for qualifying!
Before starting the qualification runs, it was time to introduce all the drivers and their vehicles of choice to the crowd that came out in big numbers.
Sometimes accompanied by proper Latvian eye candy of the female variety, the drivers would make their way onto the short straight…
…but not without burning some rubber and revving their loud combustion engines. Drifting is a true spectator sport and these guys know how to get the crowd hype!
For now it was all fun and games, but in a few moments the drivers would have to put on their game face. Qualifying it brutal, as not scoring not enough points will mean you’ll have to sit out the battles on the sideline. As these guys are all in it to win it, sitting one out is not something they aspire.
We couldn’t have asked for better weather really, as the sun was out and temperatures were reaching close to 30 degrees Celsius. Imagine having to sit in a hot race car in a full flame-resistant suit, I could think of a few more comfortable places to be really. All in a day’s work for guys like Jakub Przygoński though, as he is no stranger to the scorching heat that riders encounter during the Dakar Rally.
The riders were to line up at the back of the track, out of sight from the spectators, only to enter their line of sight well after initiation into the first corner. While the drivers awaited their turn, the sun kept beating down on them.
Martin Richards from the United Kingdom might not have been used to this weather, as the weather in the UK is often quite dreadful. He still had a smile on his face though, ready to score as many points as possible to secure a spot in the Top 32 and be allowed to battle it out for the top spot on the podium.
Usually during qualifying, as a photographer you will try and spot some of the favourites for the podium, but with the level of drivers being as high as it is at Drift Allstars, this was far from an easy task.
Last round’s winner James Deane was obviously out to go for another win. As he managed to qualify as second, just one point behind top qualifier Piotr Wiecek, things were looking good for the young Irish driver. He is known to be very consistent, so whoever would face him in the battles was going to have a challenge on their hands.
And even though Deane himself is still quite young at 22 years of age, he is also mentoring another young talent from Ireland going by the name of Jack Shanahan. The day of the event was actually the day before his 15th birthday! I can’t wait to see how Jack will continue to develop throughout his career.
Another well known driver by the name of Christer Halvorsen was also ready to do battle. He’s had a rough year so far, but I’m happy to see he is still determined to finish the year strong with his sexy Gulf themed S15.
It seems that in most professional drift competitions, Drift Allstars included, the V8 power plant is slowly taking over. Then there’s the occasional in-line six, often putting their power to the rear wheels of a BMW. Some purists might still scream murder, but these guys have good reasons to swap out whatever is powering their car for something that will give them loads of reliable power and more importantly the torque that these drivers need.
This is where Dmitriy Illyuk comes into the picture. No V8 for this man, not even a six-cylinder… No, this man is still running an SR20! Screaming loudly, this engine seems to be able to take a beating and just keep on going.
What Dmitriy’s badass S13 might lack in raw power compared to some of the other cars in the pack, he makes up for in driving style. Absolutely balls to the wall and keeping as much momentum as possible into the corner, he is giving guys with a lot more horsepower a run for their money. He has told us though that he and his team are working on a new engine, but I’m not going to ruin the surprise. It’ll be good though, I can tell you that much.
Now I could go on and on about all the great drivers that make up the roster at Drift Allstars, but let’s leave some for next time. We need to get on with the battles now!
Already during practice the day before there were some drivers getting in the rhythm for battles and as soon as the actual battles kicked off, I was blown away. The proximity these guys were getting while still at high speeds were the exact kind of spectacle that makes professional drifting so great to witness.
Engines screaming as they’re put under immense stress, the wheel speed increasing to a point where big clouds of smoke come pouring out the rear tires, sometimes completely blinding the chasing driver. This is exactly what brought me to this sport, this controlled chaos!
As the battles went on the field of drivers coming back onto the track got smaller and smaller as this was a straight-forward single elimination bracket. Lose your battle and you’re out, no second chances.
This did make sure though that all of the drivers gave it their all, pushing their machines but also themselves to the absolute limit.
As the sun was setting, I figured it would be as good a time as any to start making my way to the top of the infamous tower. I had to sacrifice capturing a few of the battles for it, but once I got up there…
… the view was breathtaking! The structure of the tower wasn’t all it used to be though, so while it was swaying in the wind I wasn’t at my most comfortable.
It was definitely worth getting up there though, as it gave anyone that dared venturing to the top a completely new perspective of the action, normally only reserved for people with drones.
After a small struggle to get down again, my feet finally touched the ground and I could go back to shooting from a less scary spot. In the meanwhile we had now reached a point where the battles were incredibly intense, as the drivers could almost taste the champagne and could see themselves jumping on that podium.
Further on in the brackets in quite the upset one of the favourites James Deane was taken out by Estonian driver Harold Valdma. Coincidentally Harold’s E46 is built by the guys at HGK Motorsport, who’s workshop is right next to Biķernieku trase, the track were all of this action was taking place.
Judging from what I could see, the chase run must be one hell of a challenge to be faced with, especially if the lead car is making as much smoke as Fredrik Øksnevad is making here. No visibility whatsoever, no way of knowing how much angle you’re actually at and probably having no idea how close to your opponent you are.
It’s at this moment where the experience of the drivers shines through. Despite the tricky circumstances these gentlemen were able to still get their car exceptionally close the lead car, especially considering the speeds they were reaching.
Getting closer and closer to that final battle, it was still anyone’s game. Would it be one of the international drivers that would take the win, or would it be one of the locals like Janis Eglite that would win in front of his home crowd?
The crowd was the biggest one I’ve seen so far at a drift competition and from what I could tell they were enjoying this as much as I was, which was a lot.
Both young and old were enjoying the show that the drivers were putting on for them. It’s great to the next generation of drift fans being raised here. Who knows, maybe one of them will end up being the next Drift Allstars champion?
After numerous one-more-times we had now reached the final battle of the day. The sun had already disappeared behind the trees of the park next to the track, but there was still just enough light to see these two battle for the win. Would it be Bartosz Stolarski and his S14, one of the most powerful cars of the competition or the local hero Kristaps Blušs?
In the very last battle of the night it was Stolarski who perhaps caved under the pressure Kristaps put him under, spinning out on his lead run and thereby granting the win to Blušs!
It was no surprise that both the crowd and Kristaps went wild. Winning in front of his home crowd was his goal this weekend, and I bet it must’ve felt too good for him to be able to jump on that coveted top step of the podium! And the crowd got what they wanted as well – a local hero winning.
As the sun dropped behind the horizon, so ended this marvellous weekend… or did it?! I don’t really have any pictures that are suitable to show you here, but I can tell you that the Drift Allstars afterparty in club JUST was as crazy fun as the rest of the weekend.
Even though I have only experienced one round of Drift Allstars, it’s not hard to see that this competition will continue to be pivotal in the future of drifting in Europe. Drift Allstars has found a way to turn it all up to eleven!
This certainly won’t be the last time I have visited a Drift Allstars event. It was an honour to be a part of the family there and have never felt so welcome at an event. So to every single person involved in Drift Allstars: Thank you and see you soon!
Words and images by Maurice Bergers