Despite being less than a month ago, it already feels like some time since I was last behind the lens, I can only put this down to the fact that this has been a crazy year for me. I decided early on that there were several events I would need to attend before it was over, and I tried my best to make this happen. Some things didn’t happen due to other commitments, however others did, and these have provided some amazing opportunities. Let me hit the rewind button…
After spending 2013 shooting mainly local drift events, I was constantly striving to reach the best of my capabilities behind the camera, and getting my shots to a level that I felt satisfied with. I intended for this year to be the chance for me to witness the grander scale that drifting has to offer.
Despite being fully intent on providing coverage for every round of the British Drift Championship, and after going to plan initially, things escalated rather quickly. After witnessing the absolute carnage that went down at Drift Allstars in London, there was no doubt in my mind that Europe is at the peak of the drift game and I was immediately hooked.
This time last year I was stood on the side of my local drift track, enjoying myself whilst shooting away at some drivers that were out destroying tyres with their buddies. Don’t get me wrong, I loved this, and I still do now. There’s something really awesome about the freedom of practice days, and I still find myself frequently visiting them to enjoy the non-competitive side of drifting.
However, if you’d have told me that this time next year I’d be at Valencia’s MotoGP Circuit chatting away to Vaughn Gittin Jr. while he prepared the Monster Energy Mustang for his first ever European competition on his Birthday weekend, I would’ve laughed in your face. However, since I decided to check out the King of Europe Final after visiting it earlier in the year; this was to become reality.
As the Mustang was opened from its container for the first time in the early morning Spanish sun, it quickly set the tone for the weekend. After chatting to Vaughn it was clear that he wasn’t here purely for fun, he was here to compete and take on some of the biggest names that Europe has to offer.
Despite the calm and relaxed mood around the Monster camp, I knew that Vaughn had his eyes on one thing, to take the coveted King of Europe trophy back home to the US so he could add to his ever-growing trophy collection.
With the teams getting set up, it was a good opportunity for the drivers to get their first glance at the track on which they would be battling against each other to compete for the King of Europe crown.
It was also my first chance to see some golden light this year, something that doesn’t happen too often in the UK. Sadly by the time the cars and drivers had prepared for the day ahead the sunrise had passed, my quest to shoot an event during the golden hour still remains!
Day one would consist of a morning of practice, followed by Top 32 qualifying in the afternoon. As always the day would start with the morning briefing, giving the drivers a chance to raise any questions they may have to ensure their highest possible scores during qualification.
I opted to head to the track to see how the drivers were finding the layout and to find myself some vantage points I could use as the weekend progressed. This was the first insight I got into the first of many journeys I would make to the track.
With the drivers heading out one by one and the mercury rising, I began the walk. Little did I know that this would take me around the grandstand and in through the drivers entry/exit. What was a quick drive for the drivers was in fact a 20-30 minute walk in 30-plus degree heat; certainly something I’m not used to dealing with in the UK!
It wasn’t just the people feeling the heat, the cars had started to struggle too. Some of the teams had planned ahead and had pit crew on hand to cool the cars down between laps.
Whilst others would pass me on the walk relying on spectators’ goodwill to help them limp back to the pits.
Once the track was finally reached, it was worth the wait. The drivers were queued up and keen to get out there and begin slaying their fresh tyres.
There was no holding back – right from the start drivers were keen to throw down the best angles they could and get to grips with the track, kicking up the gravel behind them whilst pushing the boundaries.
Drivers were immediately standing out, and the enjoyment that I got from the previous round was flooding back to me. Adam Kerenyi was the current championship leader and was proving a point early on that he was here to take the title.
Meanwhile, drivers like Francesco Conti, who was placed second…
… Adam Frank in third, and not forgetting the rest of the awesome drivers that this competition includes, would ensure that Kerenyi was not in for an easy ride once again.
Whilst enjoying watching the drivers adapt to the track, it took me by huge surprise to see Bartosz Stolarski suddenly appear in my camera viewfinder. I hadn’t seen his car in the pits previously, but I was informed that he’d driven all the way from Poland and headed straight out to the track. As if that wasn’t amazing enough, he also nailed his first practice lap with absolute perfect precision.
After an extremely positive practice session, it was time for the cars and drivers to head back to the pits for lunch and a much needed cool-down.
Before we knew it, it was time to get back to enjoying the action. As the crowd took their places for the qualifying session…
… drivers would once again begin punishing the asphalt, with each and every run being closely scrutinised by the judges.
Huge smoke clouds were billowing from the tyres as drivers were gaining momentum and looking increasingly impressive. It’s always a pleasure to see Conti’s E92 M3 GT3, but this could be the last KoE event for the car before he shows off the first BMW M4 to feature in professional drifting.
Karolina Pilarczyk is always a crowd favourite at King of Europe and it’s always great to see women holding their own at events of this level. She put down some fantastic laps…
Whilst also ensuring that she spent time thanking the fans for their support when off the track.
Steve ‘Baggsy’ Biagioni is a driver I’ve seen a lot of this year, he’s put in fantastic performances whenever I’ve seen him in the BDC and he’s also shown he’s more than capable of holding his own against some of Europe’s finest.
With day one coming to an end, I couldn’t wait for the battles tomorrow. It had been an amazing start to what was shaping up to be one of the best events I’ve ever attended.
With another early start, it was straight back to the track, there was an eerie silence early in the morning, before the roaring engines returned.
As drivers prepared for the day ahead…
It was time to announce the qualifying results from day one.
Vaughn Gittin Jr had taken the top spot, with local driver Arnau Gomez finishing second and third place going to Francesco Conti. Series leader Adam Kerenyi was placed fourth, whilst Bartosz Stolarski took fifth place. With qualifying results announced and the fresh crowd forming ready for the day ahead, it was the last opportunity for the fans to wish the drivers luck for their top 32 battles.
As the top 32 battles got underway, drivers were showing that no-one had turned up here for fun, the competition was on and it was time to get down to business.
As always at these events, it wouldn’t go without issues for the drivers. The teams would be on hand to ensure the problems are fixed as quickly as possible whatever it takes.
With the Top 32 battles continuing, we were starting to see the Top 16 line-up take shape. It’s this stage of the game that really begins to separate the drivers and it becomes increasingly tense.
Teams were on hand to ensure that the remainder of the competition would go as smoothly as possible for the drivers, whilst also relaying vital feedback.
With the Spanish sun beginning to shine once more and the spectators coming out in their masses, the competition was certainly heating up.
The midday sun would prove too much for some, who would take every opportunity possible to appreciate the shade and rehydrate during the lunch break between top 32 and the subsequent knockout stages.
It would be the final chance for the drivers to meet with the fans.
The level of interaction that the drivers have at these events is always great to see. I’ve never seen so many photo requests from spectators, and the drivers were always more than happy to honour them. There was a friendly atmosphere, despite some of the drivers having the upcoming top 16 battles lingering in the back of their minds.
Fans headed back to their seats to witness the Top 16 approaching…
These battles were not to be missed, and everyone was desperate to soak in the action.
The first Top 16 battle was Adam Frank, (who had taken second place during the previous round in Bordeaux in his 1000bhp 2JZ E46 M3), up against Vaughn Gittin Jr.
It was a match-up that would’ve been fit for a final, but due to Adam encountering issues in qualifying we were treated to this epic match early.
After two great runs from both drivers, the judges called for a One More Time to take place. Vaughn took a moment to psych himself up after seeing how fierce this competition was going to be.
After a well fought final battle for both drivers, despite Adam Frank trying his best, it was Gittin who went away with the win and advanced to the Top 8.
Frank would sadly miss out on a podium spot. Both times I have seen him competing this year he has looked fantastic, and there’s no doubt that the car is an absolute beast. Sadly he appeared to suffer quite a few problems throughout the season, but I have no doubt he will come back better than ever next year.
Next up would see Abdulhadi Alqahtani put up a great fight against Baggsy, with Baggsy taking a narrow lead to advance to the next stage.
Bartosz Stolarski was to go up against Monteverde next. Stolarski carried on the consistency he had shown all weekend, whilst Monteverde appeared to encounter some issues. With Stolarski keeping his foot solidly planted to the floor he even gave Monteverde a tap during a perfectly executed drift. There was no doubt that Stolarski was headed through to the next round.
With the competition advancing through to the Top 8, despite some amazing battles going down, we had barely started. Baggsy prepared himself for what would be one of the biggest battles of his career against Monster Energy teammate Vaughn Gittin Jr.
Gittin was giving his teammate no chances.
Despite Baggsy putting up an extremely good fight and squeezing every single drop of power from his S13, Gittin would stay hot on his tail throughout. After four great runs, it was decided that Baggsy would have to make way for Gittin to advance to the next round. A huge blow for Baggsy as this would mean he would miss out on a podium for the season.
In another Top 8 battle, Bartosz Stolarski would go up against Adam Kerenyi, who had already secured the season title by this point. Kerenyi was not willing to give up easily, but absolutely nothing was stopping Stolarski, who would sit on his tail round the entire track securing his spot in the semi-final.
The semi-finals: This moment was one of my biggest highlights so far. From the minute I had seen Stolarski head out to the track at this event I knew he could be taking home the win. Gittin had also been on fire, and there was no doubt that this was going to be an epic battle.
There was absolutely no way that this battle disappointed, both drivers performed fantastically and in fact, from where I was standing I couldn’t tell you why a One More Time wasn’t run.
Despite being some way from the grandstand I could hear that an announcement had been made, which was quickly met by disappointment from the fans. Stolarski’s amazing weekend would come to an abrupt end, I can’t say for certain what the outcome should’ve been; and with drifting being a judged sport disagreements will always happen. It would’ve been amazing to see this battle take place once more, and I’m sure both drivers would’ve been more than up for it.
Potential controversy aside, there was still a final waiting to take place. Gittin would be facing Francesco Conti, who had already secured the Vice-Champion title in the series. Vaughn was looking more eager than ever to win this battle. As I approached his car on the start line, I’ve never seen anyone quite so ‘in the zone.’ I quickly pulled my camera up and snapped him re-enacting how he was intending to drive the track. It was great to see a driver so focussed and determined, something which he never made me doubt throughout the entire event.
As Gittin hit the track, he put down an impressive run which the judges scored at 7-3. With the result being given, Francesco Conti was clearly unhappy with the decision. Evidently distracted by this, he made a costly mistake on the second run. This would leave Gittin the freedom of the track to complete the lap and take the top spot on the podium.
I caught Vaughn taking a moment to stare at the crowd. Competing in Europe for the first time and getting to add the King of Europe trophy to his already huge collection clearly meant a lot to him, and I admired the attitude he showed throughout the weekend. After heading back to the pits, his birthday celebrations were going ahead. Vaughn had decided not to party before now, as standing at the top of the podium was more important.
Monster quite rightly took the team winner award for this round and decided to give the media a nice Monster Energy soaking! Note for future reference: Monster is substantially stickier than champagne.
Vaughn was clearly delighted to have taken the win, and quite rightly so. It had been an extremely challenging weekend which had seen some fantastic battles push him to his absolute limits.
It was once again a pleasure to have watched Stolarski, he gave one-hundred percent throughout the entire weekend and it was fantastic to behold. I look forward to seeing him once again next year and hope that he will get the opportunity to deservedly take the top spot.
After seeing Kerenyi at the Lydden Hill round previously, I know that he’s an absolutely fantastic driver and he’s more than worthy of winning this series. A podium position wasn’t to be for him this weekend, but he went away with enough points to secure the Championship and is now “the King of Europe”.
Valencia was an amazing experience for me and it was an appropriate chance to reflect on what an incredible year it’s been. I appreciate that this has been quite a bit longer than my previous articles, however it will be the last from me this year. My season has personally ended on a huge high, and I hope the atmosphere and emotion has been conveyed.
As I left the scorched and beaten MotoGP track, I wondered what may be ahead in the future. Each time I have shot a European event this year, it’s felt so much more exciting than my UK experiences. I can’t help but begin to looking at next year’s calendar and already start to note events down on my ‘must-visit’ list. I think I may well end up clocking quite a few air miles, and I hope that you will return to share my experiences.
– Bill Jefferies