For one last time in 2014 the Drift Allstars circus would descend upon a town, turning it into their home for the weekend – Kaunas in Lithuania would set the stage for the series finals. With all the drivers still hungry for a podium finish and the overall championship still up for grabs for a select few, the street track would prove to be the ultimate setting for this day of judgement.
After the amazing experience at round 4 of the series in Riga, I decided I had to be there for the finals. This once again meant traveling to one of the Baltic States, this time it would be the second-largest city in Lithuania – Kaunas. So far all of the big drift events I have shot took place on (part of) a race track, but this was to be my first experience shooting a street track.
Lined with concrete barriers, this would definitely be a truly unforgiving track. One mistake could mean serious damage and a premature ending to the event for those who venture too far. This didn’t mean that drivers would go easy to spare their cars and themselves… In fact it was quite the contrary.
From the moment practice started the drivers were pushing hard, getting closer and closer to the oh-so dangerous walls. Drift Allstars is just filled with talent that will drive hard every single run, whether it’s during practice, qualifying or the battles – they go all out, all the time.
Meanwhile, I was getting used to shooting a street course, looking for new vantage points to shoot from. It certainly was a challenge as there is less freedom of movement around the track than you’d normally have, but a fun challenge nonetheless.
Regardless of where I was standing, it was pretty crazy to see these cars going HAM on this custom built city circuit, right next to the Nemunas river.
The combination of insane builds, the most talented drivers Europe has to offer, this lovely Eastern European setting along with the great weather was one that put a big smile on my face throughout the weekend.
Practice sessions also give the photographers time to just go out and explore without having to worry about capturing that crucial moment. One of us found a way into an old abandoned building right next to the track.
I understand now why there’s entire groups of photographers who dedicate their time to urban exploring, as these dwellings are actually quite interesting and make you wonder about all that took place there in days gone by.
The top floor of the structure gave us a lovely top-down view of the first corner, where we could see the drivers initiate and slam the throttle to attack the rest of the course.
Even though the building was stood there for many years, I decided the ground would probably be a safer place to continue shooting from, so I decided to make it back down to the side of the track.
Meanwhile the drivers were now pretty much accustomed to the track and were preparing themselves for the upcoming qualification session.
For some this would mean their last chance of a spot on the podium in 2014. For others the stakes were even higher, as there still was a championship on the line. For the locals it meant a chance to prove themselves in what is probably the toughest drift competition in Europe.
James Deane was under immense pressure to do well, as he was leading the championship going into this event. He would have to make it far into the battles and finish above his direct rivals to actually secure his win.
Closely following Deane was Piotr Więcek from Poland, who was still out to take the top spot from the Irishman and was willing to do everything in his power to grab that coveted winner’s trophy.
Both of them would first have to make it to the top 32 battles though, and with a field littered with not only top international drivers but also a lot of very talented drivers from the Baltic States looking to cause an upset, that would be a difficult task.
After suffering major engine damage at the previous event in Estonia, Nigel Colfer did not only manage to get his 2jz-powered 180sx back in working order for this event, but he also managed to secure a third spot in qualifying.
Closely following him was one of the guys that had helped him get this 2jz back together again – Janis Eglite in his beautifully built E46.
Qualifying in fifth place was one of the local drivers in his Lexus SC300 – Timas Simniska. Eager to take a spot on the podium and represent his country he really was giving it all he had.
Taking the top two spots after the qualifying session were none other than Deane and Więcek, with the latter taking the first place. They had both made it to the battles, but with a top 32 filled with possible upsets it could still go either way.
After qualifying it was time for another one of the (in)famous Drift Allstars street parades. The drivers would drive their car on public roads to a nice picturesque town square, but not without causing some mayhem.
While the street parade in Riga might have been longer, this one was perhaps slightly crazier. Burnouts and other antics were pretty much a given before arriving at the town square, with drivers loudly revving their engines.
An immense amount of people came out to see the cars, which shows there is a lot of interest in the sport. Both young and old came to admire the cars, cars which are becoming increasingly complicated and high level.
After giving the people of Kaunas some time to check out the cars and meet the drivers, it was time to head back to the track. I believe there was a single police car to escort us all back, but the drifters were basically let loose on the streets, while the normal traffic pretty much had no idea what was happening!
Crazy? Yes. Fun and absolutely awesome to experience? Oh god yes! Doing things you’re not supposed to can be quite exhilarating and starts when you are a little kid. And if you grow up things don’t really seem to change, it’s just the toys that get bigger.
Everyone woke up on Sunday knowing this was the day where the championship would be decided. As the sun quickly rose to the sky, spectators came out in big numbers lining the track, to witness the finale of the Drift Allstars season of 2014.
A final practice sessions before the battles would give the drivers some time to get into the rhythm of the track again.
Only 32 drivers would get to battle for that top spot on the podium. The last one before heading into the off-season to prepare for the 2015 season.
After the introduction of the drivers to the crowd, which usually means loads of burnouts and donuts, everyone and everything was ready for the battles to begin.
For the drivers that meant it was time to shake off those nerves and get shit done.
The only things standing in their way between them and a podium finish were the best drivers in Europe and a treacherous track that would swallow you whole if you made one mistake.
Martin Richards, who was in a fourth position overall after Estonia, unfortunately got knocked out at an early stage of the battles. Hopefully we will be paying him a visit later this year to check out this privateer’s preparation for the 2015 season.
Another one of my personal favourites, as he drives a stunning S14 Zenki, Fredrik Sjödin was also on the losing end on one of his battles before he could try and claim a spot among the top three.
With the battles being single elimination it means that the order of qualifying can often be completely disregarded. This time that wasn’t the case though, as the top four qualifiers had fought their way through the pack and were going to battle it out all the way till the end.
After spending the days leading up to the event together trying to fix Nigel’s engine, it was Janis and Nigel that would have to battle each other for the third spot.
Both are incredibly consistent drivers and after the first battle the judges were simply unable to pick a winner. The crowd didn’t seem to mind at all when it was decided the drivers had to go one more time. After their second battle it was Nigel Colfer who came out as the winner, getting a well deserved and hard-fought spot on the podium.
As for the finals, you really couldn’t have come up with a more exciting way to end the season. The top two qualifiers and the two leaders in championship points, Deane and Więcek, decided to end this season by facing off in the final battle of the day which was also the final battle of the series. What more could you ask for?
It was Poland versus Ireland. Who would do their country and their team proud and take home the win?
Piotr’s lead run was extremely solid, but James was there right up there with him, from the start till the finish line.
On the final run of the day it was James’ run to lead. Coming around the second corner, you could already see James had managed to create a bit of a gap between his S14 and the Budmat AUTO R34. But then again this is drifting, so it would all depend on the decision made by the judges. Would it be James or Piotr that would take home the final win of the 2014 season?
After one of the craziest weekends of 2014 it was Falken driver James Deane that took the highest step on the podium, not only winning the sixth and final round of the 2014 Drift Allstars season, but he was also the overall winner of the 2014 season!
With drifting becoming increasingly popular all over the world, I’m very much looking forward to what 2015 will have in store for us. Drift Allstars has proven to be a series that will continue to push the sport of drifting forward and I’m curious to see where that will lead.
One thing’s for sure though – I will definitely try and be there for even more Drift Allstars events next year!
To everyone that’s a part of the Drift Allstars family and to the new people I’ve met: Thank you for a crazy cool weekend and see you all soon!
Words and images: Maurice Bergers