For a while there, things looked a little sketchy. Not for any cars in particular, but for the Australian drift scene in general. The year was 2009, and after a long period of growth and success, the wheels fell off the local drift scene in a big way. The GFC meant sponsorship for the Australian Drift Championship disappeared, and until the end of 2011, we didn’t have a national series at all.
Obviously this had a big knock-on effect on the culture, as well as driver development. We went from having a well-televised national championship to aim for, and guys competing in Formula Drift US events, to well, nothing at all. If you wanted to mix it up with international stars, you pretty much had to go overseas yourself, and as for a national series, the closest you got was stringing together some state-level events you had decided on entering.
It’s these state competitions that actually kept drifting alive in Australia to a large degree over the last few years. Run by some very dedicated individuals, they kept people sliding under relatively (this is drifting, after all) controlled circumstances until those beavering away in the background could come up with a revived national series.
As a result, we may be a couple of years behind the international competition overall, but we still have guys capable of taking on the world, such as Tom Monkhouse and Michael Prosenik (pictured above), whom we likely wouldn’t have had if drifting at a state level had died also.
Which brings me to present day, and Calder Park Raceway. One of the true homes of Australian drifting, as well as last year’s inaugural Australian round of Formula Drift Asia, Calder hosted round one of my local state championship, VicDrift, recently, and given our Ken has been doing such a sterling job of showing the world grassroots Californian drifting, I thought I’d take the opportunity to showcase the antipodean equivalent.
Just to explain things before we kick off, VicDrift is a five-round championship based in the south-eastern Australian state of Victoria, with all bar one of the rounds for 2014 held at Calder (the other is at Winton in Victoria’s north). The Victorian Drift Club, which organises everything, also hosts four practice days after season’s end, as well as both a summer and winter matsuri (the Japanese word for festival) for competitors to get as much seat time as possible throughout the year. Drivers come from both Victoria and interstate, which is pretty impressive given the distances sometimes involved, and all in all, it’s easily one of Australia’s strongest grassroots competitions.
Now, jumping straight into round one, things got started at 9AM after the usual couple of hours of unpacking, scrutineering and general Fixing Of Things. This gave participants around two hours practice time in which to polish up slightly rusty skills and generally tweak things before competition.
Sadly for some, the still-damp track and rusty skills meant the soon-to-be-familiar crunching of fibreglass and metal on concrete began less than an hour later, with Kelly Wong an early victim. Despite clouting the wall hard enough that her front right wheel flopped uselessly within the wheel arch, preventing a tow-based extraction, her team got her back out in time for quali – an impressive achievement.
Not long after, Daniel Shalders decided the plastic barriers forming a mini-turn before the wall run were in fact just a pain, and obliterated them completely with his R33.
Amazingly, the car was still drivable afterwards, and after some decidedly unorthodox lunchtime repairs…
… which involved tow straps attached to what looked like underbody sections on one side, and big utes on the other…
… as well as a bit of a radiator swap, things were looking good.
Well, not good, but clearly workable enough to use the ‘expression session’ periods in between competition (having missed quali, door banging was clearly out of the equation) to lay a few lines, anyway.
Cars weren’t done hitting the wall just yet, though. One final victim before seeding runs could commence was Brad Humphrys, whose R32 would take no further part in proceedings.
Even when quali did get under way, we had dramas in the form of James Mackie’s classic XY Ford Falcon losing its wheel studs after turn two (as seen in the second picture).
Unlike Kelly Wong and Daniel Shalders, though, Mackie’s team couldn’t fix things up on-site, despite valiant efforts and at least one decidedly blunted drill bit, forcing Mackie to borrow another car.
Perhaps the inscription on the back of the Falcon proved a little too accurate in this case.
All incidents aside, the rest of practice and quali went smoothly, with both guys and gals laying down some great lines on the drying track and leaving enough smoke to kill a horse.
Seriously, look at it. Anyway, rather predictably, the drivers with more pro-looking cars ended up closer to the top of the table, such as John Papadopoulos, who qualified third in his Insane Drifters S14…
… and Moe El-Haouli, who bludgeoned his way into first with his incredibly loud supercharged V8 S13. I actually think this, Fredric Aasbo’s RS-R GT86 and Mad Mike’s MADBUL should have a competition for world’s noisiest drift car.
Getting back to the action, those running with far less support certainly didn’t shame themselves, though. Scott McQueen, for example, qualified fifth in a borrowed Supra that ran almost no stickers other than the requisite race number.
However, biggest surprise of the meet belonged to Rob Prosenik, who split El-Haouli and ‘Papa’, as he’s known, with a stunning run in his missile-esque S13 to grab second. In some respects, his success shouldn’t come as such a surprise, being Michael’s brother, but shock many it did.
This mix of both sponsored and unsponsored drivers is something I want to touch on briefly, as it’s new to VicDrift for this year. Previously, club-level drivers and state-level ones competed in separate groups, but all that’s changed for 2014. Now, the club guys can take on the state’s best, which I think is a great idea. Sure, you run the risk of less experienced drifters causing accidents for the bigger names, but that didn’t happen this round in any meaningful way (the odd love tap aside) and it just means the overall skill level goes up, which is good news for everyone.
Another piece of good news, which also evens out the field slightly, is the move to restricted tyre specifications. From 2014, drivers will be limited to a maximum of 265-width rubber with, and this is the important part, a minimum 240 treadwear rating. Obviously this means cheaper, longer lasting tyres, more of a challenge to the big guys and just a more fun experience overall. It’s just one way VicDrift is working to keep drifting more affordable and enjoyable.
After a little lunch break, which provided fans time to relax…
… and check out some of the machinery, top 32 battles got under way.
Early victims included Rob Quigley in his beautiful S13, who proved no match for Matt Russell’s AE86…
… and Kelly Wong, who trailed well behind Rob Prosenik in her mended Cefiro.
Unfortunately, the only other female drifter in the field that day, Catherine May, also fell early to Moe El-Haouli, but given both girls went up against two of the top qualifiers, it’s hardly a big deal. The important thing is that both Catherine and Kelly are improving every time they compete, and will no doubt be knocking on regular top eight finishes soon enough. Frankly, I’m just happy to see more girls in motorsport, and it’s great to witness a higher proportion of girls in drifting than in almost any other four-wheeled pursuit down here. Perhaps it’s the younger crowd drifting attracts – the culture just seems to be slightly more open-minded.
The rest of Top 32 competition saw pretty much all the big names progress, such as Michael Prosenik and Jason Ferron in his V8 R31…
… as well as both Papa and Insane Drifters team mate, Andreas Paraskevas, better known as Aggess.
A few smaller-name guys also made it into the Top 16. These included Ryan Swingler in his R32, who defeated Chris Grinter in a Cressida…
… Ender Esenyel, who actually had to use a borrowed car after his gorgeous S13 (pictured) blew its gearbox…
and Andrew Knight in his Mark II Escort.
Frankly, I believe that anyone drifting a Mark II Escort is winning anyway, but taking out Moe’s brother Khudr? A guy who showed himself no slouch at Formula Drift Melbourne? That’s nice work.
Things continued apace in the Top 16. Aggess took out Scott Dickie and his S14, while team mate Papa ended Swingler’s run. Jason Ferron also vanquished Ender Esenyel.
Meanwhile, Michael Prosenik had only to glide by a helpless Matthew Goodlet after his engine died mid-battle.
Sadly for Mark II Escort fans, Andrew Knight’s valiant effort came to an end in the Top 16, beaten by Sean Power’s S13.
Easily the most controversial win came from Rob Prosenik, who not only tapped Adrian Blanksby in his Top 16 chase run, but also ended up being accused of bullying him into the wall on his lead. Sadly, I couldn’t verify that from my vantage point, but I’m sure it will be a topic of debate for a little while yet.
After all that drama, the Great Eight seemed much calmer, with easy wins to Aggess, who blew Michael Prosenik into next week, and Moe El-Haouli, whose V8 power proved too much for Matt Russell’s little AE86.
Sean Power also ended Michael’s brother’s run, before the Insane Drifters showed how just strong a team they were – Papa demonstrating great door-to-door skills to kill off Jason Ferron’s chances.
The Final Four thus came down to Sean Power, Papa, Aggess and Moe El-Haouli. However, to decide who would reach the final and who would battle it out for third, two more match-ups needed to occur. Of those, Aggess versus El-Haouli proved closest, to the point judges required a rerun take place (our local version of a One More Time) before deciding the winner.
Eventually, El-Haouli managed to get a large enough gap on Aggess to take the win and move onto the final, but not before the crowd enjoyed some great action.
After Papa showed Power what real power looked like, the two final battles came down to Aggess versus Power and Papa versus El-Haouli.
In the battle for third, Aggess ended up being gifted the win after Power spun out behind him (you can see the start of the over-rotation here), leaving Aggess with a little battle scar for his troubles.
The final, though, was a more closely-fought affair. In a see-sawing first battle, both drivers made gains and losses in different areas, leading to a rerun. Even after that, opinions around the track seemed divided on who won, and only a tell-tale roar from the massive El-Haouli clan, probably Australia’s biggest drifting family, signalled the victor after both drivers returned to the judging area.
After that, it was just a matter of handing out the prizes and getting official confirmation.
Aggess seemed pretty happy with his third place…
… while Moe saluted the crowd and enjoyed the spoils of victory.
Finally, as the crowds started to leave, drivers performed the obligatory post-celebratory burnouts, leaving photographers choking on the vaporised rubber and struggling to see what in fact they were shooting.
So that was VicDrift 2014 Round 1. Hopefully it gave our non-Australian readers an insight into the grassroots scene here. One I believe is strong, diverse, affordable and ready to take the next step to a higher level of skill and, most importantly, enjoyment.