Disney may claim to be home to the happiest places on earth, but I think that’s somewhat subjective. Don’t get me wrong, I love Disneyland (never been to Disney World, not having been to the US). But the queues, the cost, the queues, the parking and the queues are hardly my idea of happiness.
So where can you go to find happiness as a petrolhead? Somewhere where queues are virtually non-existent. Somewhere where the cost of entry won’t bankrupt you? And somewhere where you can just sit and enjoy one of the greatest shows on earth? Your local grassroots motorsports scene.
We here at My Life At Speed love grassroots motorsport, and for good reason. There’s the points outlined above, but more than anything else, it’s the atmosphere. The people are relaxed. It’s fun.
Then there’s the easy access to your favourite drivers and their cars. There’s less pressure on everyone as well. I’ve hardly ever walked away from a grassroots meeting with anything other than a smile, and I’m pretty sure that goes for all my fellow My Life At Speeders, too.
And grassroots drifting brings all that together with a healthy dose of showmanship, smoke and possibly the loudest amateur competition cars you are ever likely to experience. Unhappy about the new, quieter F1? Head down to your local grassroots drift meet and see how you like the roars, screams and intake whooshes of straight pipe V8s, sixes and fours, all matched up with copious amounts of tyre squeal.
Sadly, I haven’t actually been able to attend many local drift meets this year, due to scheduling conflicts, but recently, I made a point to attend the final round of our local state competition, VicDrift, here in Victoria, Australia.
VicDrift is one of the country’s biggest and best organised state competitions, attracting entrants from not just around Victoria, but also interstate. Kelly Wong from South Australia is a regular, undertaking a 16-hour round trip just to attend each event.
And this round, we even had one of Australia’s top national drifters, Beau ‘The Show’ Yates, attend from New South Wales. Given he and his wife only decided to drive down on the Friday before the event, it must have been quite the effort to organise everything and get everything sorted.
It really is a testament to ‘Yoshi’ Abey and his crew at the Victorian Drift Club, who put in a hell of an effort each year to ensure Victorian drifters get the chance to practise and compete multiple times per season in a safe, controlled environment. It means our state is home to some of Australia’s best drifters, and thanks to the support they get, we have more young guys and gals trying their hand each year. It’s great to see.
Of course, while drifting is just about the most fun you can have on tarmac, there is a serious element to all of this. The final round of VicDrift saw the title on the line. Thanks to strong performances all year from both Moe El-Haouli (pictured above) and Michael Prosenik in their respective V8-powered S13s, the two were only separated by a handful of points coming into this round. If El-Haouli lost out in the top eight, and Prosenik won or came second, Prosenik would score a come-from-behind win. If El-Haouli went into the final four, there was no hope for Proz, as he’s known.
Before we learnt the two contenders’ fates, though, we needed to get through some proper competition. Things kicked off in the Top 32 bracket, with a surprise elimination in the form of Rob Prosenik. Michael’s brother, Rob only started drifting in competition this year, using a hand-me-down car, but soon made a name for himself in more ways than one, thanks to some good results and (sadly) an impact or two. His unexpected loss meant vanquisher Anthony Baiano would go on to face perennial favourite Matt Russell in his SR20-powered AE86.
Given Russell’s reputation and seriously well-prepped Levin, it was hardly a shock to find he beat Baiano, but Anthony put up a good fight.
Other losses in the Top 32 included Manuel Garginian in his R33, who ended up being left behind by Moe El-Haouli’s extraordinarily loud V8 S13 …
… and Kelly Wong, who came out the worse after a battle with newly-wed Finny O’Hare.
Wong was joined by Catherine May, who couldn’t quite match Shaun Pidwell …
… and Michael Bonney, who despite refreshing his 2JZ-powered S15 before the event, couldn’t get past Jared Smith in his RPS13. At least his car seemed happy!
This being drift, you are always going to get some interesting battles where the winner is perhaps slightly easier to spot than in others. Steven Dart in his silver S13, for example, had a fairly easy by when Josh Mackey ended up spinning coming into the second turn.
Come the top eight, Dart’s fortunes were reversed when he ended up narrowly avoiding collision with Michael Prosenik. That ended Dart’s impressive run until then.
Sticking with the top 32 for one more battle, easily the most popular win of the day belonged to Choonga, or Matthew Choong (right). Choonga is about as regular a presence in the Victorian drift scene as it’s possible to get, and is universally loved thanks to his great sense of humour and kind nature. However, he’s normally on the other side of the track acting as a flag marshal.
This round, however, he donned his helmet, jumped into his 180SX and engaged in only his second-ever competition, beating the much more experienced Scott Dickie in the process and earning his first ever battle vicory.
To say everyone was happy for him was an understatement. The crowd, the photogs, everyone. Well, perhaps Dickie less so.
Sadly, Choonga’s run came to an end in the top 16, when he met the might of Tom Sabo, whose experience, skills and green and white V8 S13 (yes, another one) proved just a bit too much.
The top 16 also ended Finny O’Hare’s run, when he fell to one of Australia’s most famous drifters, Stirling Wright in his R33.4 ‘drift police’ machine. As you can probably tell, he came in a bit too hot to turn one, and …
… executed a not-so-perfect reverse entry. Such is life.
Michael Prosenik also put Shaun Power out of the competition with some decidedly aggressive moves, especially coming into turn one, where he actually made some fairly heavy-sounding contact with Shaun’s passenger side door. Thankfully the run continued, but I’m sure it certainly didn’t help Shaun’s nerves.
Biggest shock of the bracket, and the meet, though, came from Moe El-Haouli’s loss.
Going up against Jos Roder in his black 180SX, Moe looked good at first, but ended up taking himself out. He thus left the door wide open for Proz to step in and claim his second consecutive title.
Would he, though? We’d find out later, but first, the remainder of the Great Eight battles had to be decided. That meant Beau Yates would go up against Matt Russell, Stirling Wright against Moe’s brother, Khudar El-Haouli (pictured in the S14) and Jos Roder against Tom Sabo. As we’ve seen, Michael Prosenik closed out his battle with Steven Dart thanks to a spin, which left only three other battles in the group.
Of those, the most anticipated was Yates versus Russell, as it meant a rare 86 versus 86 intergenerational battle. The march of progress can be cruel sometimes, though, and so it proved here – Yates gaining the upper hand overall. You can bet the 86 Club was happy, though!
Next up, Moe’s older brother, Khudar El-Haouli, battled Stirling Wright, and this time, the drift police did not get their man. Khudar pushed hard (as you can see) and made the most of his opportunities, netting the win. It was a fair effort considering he blew his diff in practice and ended up having to qualify in his brother’s car, only fixing his own just in time for the battles.
Finally, Sabo (seen here in another battle) beat out Roder to settle the top four. However, I later found out Roder had no third gear, even in his battle with El-Haouli, so it was a great effort to even get this far.
So after all that, we ended up with a top four consisting of Prosenik versus Sabo in a V8 showdown, and Yates verus El-Haouli in a turbo four-pot battle – both running tuned versions of their original engines as they were.
In a funny coincidence, both El-Haouli and Yates were actually talking about suspension set-up at lunchtime prior to the top 32 battles commencing. It was here, listening to their conversation, that I realised one very important thing you should probably know if you ever battle Yates: The guy is smart. Like properly smart. Hearing him talk to Khudar on the finer points of suspension geometry, tower location and so on, it became patently clear that Yates wins battles not just because he can drive, but because his car set-up knowledge is vast. It was enlightening.
Admittedly, in the final scheme of things, that knowledge perhaps didn’t mean as much in his top four battle, as El-Haouli ended his own chances by overtaking Yates out of turn one, but it surely played a part in the final.
The make-up of which was decided in a fantastic stoush between Prosenik and Sabo. Quizzed by Yoshi at the top four introductions as to how he would go against Prosenik, Sabo simply said he would “kill it”, but while he very clearly tried, he just could not inflict a fatal wound on Prosenik.
Of course, the Proz had a very good reason to pin it hard. In order to win the championship, he needed to secure second place or higher. So onto Tom’s doors he stuck, closer than anyone on anyone else that day. The crowd loved it.
As the sun began to dip in the sky, all eyes thus rested on the final pair standing – Yates and Prosenik. One had guaranteed his second consecutive championship, but clearly wanted the round title as well, while the other was out to ensure his 1000km trip from NSW was not to be in vain.
Perhaps it was the fact the main game was in the bag for Proz, or perhaps it was the fact Yates’ and his team’s prep really was next level, but when it came down to it, the victory was fairly easy. Despite a massive horsepower disadvantage from their turbo FA20 compared with Prosenik’s supercharged LS, Yates easily gapped the thundering S13 out of turn one on his lead run, and despite Prosenik’s best efforts on his own lead, Yates was never dropped. It proved enough.
So it was that, with a setting golden springtime sun as the backdrop, VicDrift’s 2014 season came to a close.
The Proz got his repeat, and looked suitably chuffed with his spoils.
Yates actually walked away with not just the round win, but so many other awards that his arms could barely hold all the swag.
And despite coming second overall, Moe El-Haouli managed a pretty big smile, too.
That just left the obligatory burnouts. Which, judging by the smile on his face as he span around in the smoke, was probably Prosenik’s favourite part of the whole show.
Of course, Yates obliged also.
Perhaps he went a bit too hard, though, as having had his exhaust fall off prior to the final battles, the re-attached item fell off again after the circle work. Sadly, it was left to his wife to pick up the pieces. (I bet all the ladies reading this are saying something like, ‘How familiar!’).
Wandering back through the pits afterwards, admiring the post-burnout carnage, I felt exceedingly happy I had managed to witness the final round of VicDrift competition for 2014. There had been thrills. There had been spills. There had been a great atmosphere with a bunch of great people. It proved to me that for a petrolhead, the happiest place on earth really is your local grassroots scene.
I urge you to go out there and support it if you’re not already, because it’s the only way to access such wonderfulness so cheaply. And did I mention no queues?
P1 Race Photography – AKA Chris Nicholls