After months of hype and updates on the drivers’ internet-breaking new car builds, it was time to start the 2015 season with a bang – King of Europe is back and it’s bigger than ever!
Last year was a pretty hectic time for me – which I’m sure those of you who are frequent visitors to Wangan Warriors would have noticed. I shot two rounds of King of Europe, both in the UK and also a round in Valencia, Spain.
Luckily for me, the King of Europe team had been following my articles with interest here on WW – that’s where my story begins…
During the closing stages of the year I was contacted by KOE to ask whether I would mind having some of my work displayed on their stand for the Essen Motor Show in Germany. Like every other photographer, an offer to see your work blown up in front of thousands of motorsports fans – I jumped at the opportunity!
Sadly I couldn’t make it out to the show, but luckily WW’s very own Rens Adams was able to visit and fire me over some shots so that I could witness the scale of the huge 40-foot billboard! I’d say this was one of my prouder moments this level of appreciation towards my work was truly flattering.
After the Essen Motor Show I was contacted by KOE to ask if I would consider covering the full 2015 ProSeries. This would limit my potential opportunities for this season – since I’d require so much time getting to and from each event, but how could I pass up such an amazing opportunity? I enjoyed shooting what the UK had to offer last year, but KOE was on another level.
After my time at KOE Valencia last year, I’d really developed an interest in seeing the level of European driving talent as well as shooting in totally new locations. There’s a different atmosphere at the events, a different feel to the driving style and new challenges for me as a photographer.
After confirming the 2015 calendar, I eagerly counted down to Round 1 which would be a short flight to France to visit the Anneau du Rhin circuit – a new circuit to KOE. Each year the track plays host to an amateur drift competition, however this year they would be letting the fans in for a treat by running this alongside the KOE ProSeries.
After checking my bags repeatedly to ensure I had everything I needed for the trip, I set off for Gatwick, destined for Strasbourg. There’s something really exciting about boarding a plane to get to a drift event, it gives you a chance to get away from the hustle-bustle of daily life and focus on the weekend ahead.
With plans and ideas running through my head, I was picked up from the airport and headed straight to the circuit. With practice already running on the Friday evening, I jumped out of the car and immediately hit the track to begin shooting.
It wasn’t long before I was reminded of one of the several reasons I was most looking forward to shooting here in Europe. With the sun rapidly setting there was a ‘golden hour’ like I have never witnessed before at a track – falling directly behind the drivers as they exited the main bend on the circuit.
One of the main downsides of events in the UK is that they’re run during standard daytime hours. Sure, in the later months of the year you might get a slight glimpse of an autumnal sunset, but even if you get the position right – the weather would most likely be miserable and overcast anyway!
Since I didn’t have a chance to check out the pits before practice, it was a really pleasant surprise to see some of the new builds for the new season looking so impressive out on track.
King of Europe may have once been known for BMW’s, however at this round I’d say that Japanese machinery was dominating – there was undoubtedly more than I have witnessed at any of the previously events, which was refreshing to see!
With practice over, it was time to meet the crazy Europeans I’d be working alongside this season. Despite being an extremely professional and well run organisation, there’s always time to have a laugh and also to enjoy the sport which is part of the common connection between each and every one of us.
Now I’d started to settle in at the venue, it was time for a stroll through the pits. I knew before the event that there’d be quite a few UK teams making the trip over, but I didn’t expect to see quite as many as I did.
As the event clashed with the ever-growing Irish Drift Championship, it was awesome to see teams like Driftworks broaden their horizons to feature in their first KOE round to date. Despite Phil Morrison having an unfortunate collision with a concrete kerb during the previous weekend’s street demonstrations in Coventry, the team worked around the clock to get the car straightened out as best they could to hit the circuit in time for Saturday mornings practice.
Matt Campling would be giving his fresh MX5 build its first real test. With the lightweight car carrying over the 1JZ he used last year, the combination immediately showed that he will be providing an impressive smoke show throughout this season!
My favourite new build so far this season would have to be Amerigo Monteverde’s Brillsteel S14. With the LS1 V8 engine swap which we’re seeing increasingly often in drifting. Monteverde has been planning the build for some time and it was great to finally get to see it in the flesh – it certainly didn’t disappoint!
After practice came the qualifying, this track was extremely challenging, fast and unforgiving – drivers were frequently running off the circuit throughout the day. One wrong move at this level of competition and you were unlikely to qualify, which would be the case for almost half of the 60 entrants; only the best 32 could progress to the battles.
The KOE telemetry system can generate some really interesting facts – including Adam Frank’s fastest qualifying entry speed at a crazy 149km/h (92mph), which showed just how brutally fast these drivers were.
When I’m at a track I always like to look for a new and unique perspective that no-one else is capturing. Having spent my time so far in the obvious areas of the track, for qualifying I decided it was time for an adventure.
Anneau du Rhin is a stunning circuit, surrounded by dense woodland that is clearly seldom visited by overly-excited photographers! Despite an agonising amount of stinging nettles hiding in the overgrowth, I decided to venture off the beaten track towards the start line.
After walking for quite some time, it became apparent that this probably wasn’t the best idea, having not seen anyone for a good half-hour, and also hopping a fence and entering an enclosure of some description – I noticed a non-human shadow moving in the distance. Sadly I’ve spent too much time writing articles to do nature research so I didn’t have much of an idea what was staring at me at the time!
Despite not knowing what it was or whether it liked eating Englishmen, I couldn’t miss the photo opportunity. With the animal walking a little too quickly towards me for my liking I decided to briskly head towards the hi-vis jackets I could see through the woodland and opted to get scratched to pieces by a variety of angry French vegetation in order to get to what I hoped was the start line.
I had found the track, but I had underestimated the sheer scale of the circuit – most drift tracks in the UK are tiny, but this was absolutely gigantic in comparison. I was nowhere near the start line, in fact I’d only reached the first clipping point, confirmed as the first car came flying through at an insane speed!
I couldn’t see any media in sight, just me and circuit staff – it was worth staying around here for a while to know I’d go home without having the same coverage as everyone else.
It was time to continue my venture to the start line, thankfully I was nearly there and by this point the light was starting to fade. I was hoping that the sunset was going to match the one I’d witnessed the night before and I had a few shots in mind that I’ve wanted to capture for quite some time.
Before I knew it, golden hour had well and truly begun. As drivers continued their final qualifying laps – despite visibility being extremely low in the setting sun – it was a great opportunity to get up-close and personal and capture the raw emotion involved in an event like this.
Most people that bring a camera along to an event spend their time hammering away at their shutter button in the hope of getting the best shots of the action as possible. As much as I love doing this sometimes, there’s nothing quite like taking the time to frame the perfect shot you had dreamed about, in the perfect natural lighting.
I’ve never wanted to snap so many shots in such a short period of time, the conditions had turned into visual porn for any photographer, and luckily the drivers were adding to the magic of the shots with their start-line burnouts
After spending most of the night being infuriated by French internet speeds, I headed back to the track after just three hours sleep. It’s amazing just how little sleep you can cope with when you desperately want to succeed – admittedly several cans of Monster may have helped!
Despite the weekend being baking hot most of the time, there were several amazing thunderstorms. Despite the downpours, the tarmac was so warm the standing water quickly turned to steam and the track would be dry again.
As everyone prepared themselves for the top 32 battles, there was no doubt that the outcome here was going to be an interesting one. Adam Kerenyi sadly suffered a fatal gearbox failure and Baggsy was facing car problems which seemed to plague his entire weekend.
As the battles continued, we would see experienced drivers get knocked out as just the slightest error would be enough to hand over the victory. With drivers being informed in briefing that two wheels off track would result in a 0 point fun, the drivers were quickly learning that KOE takes no prisoners.
The risks didn’t stop them getting up-close and personal at every given opportunity, the driving was still second-to-none.
With the skies clear and the sun beating down on the track, the ever-growing crowd were in for a treat.
With some of the more well-known drivers getting knocked out of the competition, the suspense was rising to see which drivers would feature in the final.
Sadly the DW86’s kerb-related issues meant that it was extremely difficult to handle throughout the weekend. Phil is one of the UK’s most experienced competition drifters, to see him exit a competition after two 0-point runs in a battle is almost unheard of.
Szilvezster Gyorgy had been pouring red smoke over the fans and competitors throughout the weekend, his driving level had been extremely high but sadly he was knocked out by Christian Lewis.
In the final would be Norbert Kovacik’s 500bhp BMW M6 go up against Amerigo Monteverde’s brand new S14 build. With Kovacik narrowly taking the win in the first battle, it was open for Monteverde to maybe take the win. Unfortunately both drivers scored 0 points in the final run, meaning the first run would dictate the victor…
Norbert Kovacik would take the winners medal for the first round of 2015!
It was great to see the Hountondji Driftbrothers at the event, I last saw them at the drift demo at the Nürburgring 24H event. I’d hoped to see them again and they certainly didn’t disappoint while deservedly taking home the medal for best team. I know that a lot of people would like to see them feature in the series a lot more this year!
It was time to say goodbye to France, and reflect on what an amazing weekend it had been.
It was above and beyond what I’d expected from the first round, and round 2 will see me venture somewhere I’ve been looking forward to shooting for quite some time.
I’ll once again be boarding a plane – this time venturing to Karpacz in Poland, for what could well be the most exciting event I’ve shot to date. With the Polish mountains playing host to the ProSeries, King of Touge and Queen of Europe in one weekend, it’s sure to be an insane event!
With the competition travelling to Austria the following week for Round 3, it’s sure going to be an exciting few weeks!
Until next time!
– Bill Jefferies