Drift Masters is back, bigger and stronger

Drift Masters is back, bigger and stronger

I seem to say this every time a new DMEC season starts, but this year’s Drift Masters European Championship promises to be the most exciting yet.

The 2023 series has not only attracted a large number of seasoned drifting veterans, but there is no shortage of hungry up-and-comers ready to push their machines to the limit and teach the old dogs new tricks. All this was on display at Round 1 of the DMEC at Mondello Park in Ireland the weekend before last.


The fact that professional racing drivers are not only joining the DMEC roster, but stepping up and committing to a full season only adds to the spectacle. Examples include Dakar Rally regulars Jakub Przygoński and Eryk Goczał, as well as current and youngest-ever WRC World Champion Kalle Rovanperä, who will contest four of the six DMEC rounds under Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT commitments.


In total, this year’s Drift Masters features 50 competitors from 19 nations. It will also be a spectacular highlight of the season, with the final round taking place at the PGE Narodowy stadium in Warsaw, Poland, which has a capacity of nearly 60,000. I still can’t get my head around it.

For now though, Round 1 is back…


After each driver tackled the classic Mondello Park inverted layout, it was time for qualifying, where one driver immediately stood out: James Deane. The Irishman, returning as a wildcard driver, defied all odds to secure a phenomenal 96-point run.

With a display of sheer Irish dominance, the Shanahan brothers proved that talent is indeed in their blood. Jack and Conor attacked the field with surgical precision, each of them was rewarded with a score sheet of 94 points.


Everyone knows that it takes four leaves of a shamrock to trigger “Irish luck” and on this day rookie Dylan Garvey earned himself fourth place on the race board. Talk about the entrance.


When Sunday arrived and the main event began, the tightest tandem battles I have ever witnessed took place. The Top 32 event table featured some wild matchups, but the best of the bunch was Irish drifter OG Darren McNamara and Japanese fan favorite Naoki Nakamura.


Unfortunately, Nakamura was still chasing the gremlins in his S15 Nissan Silvia on Saturday, giving D-mac an easy win. When the Japanese driver qualified the day before, he just passed one practice round. That’s talent for you.


This tandem in the books was a real boost when I saw young Norwegian driver Ørjan Nilsen take on Ireland’s Kevin Quinn and take the win.


During the break before the start of the Top 16, I decided to venture into the paddock, but it quickly dawned on me that DMEC R1 2023 was a record-breaking, sold-out event. There were people everywhere, so there was no need to shoot cars. Instead, I focused my lens on the fans.


And Irish drift fans really are the best. Even the kids were genuinely supportive of their favorite drivers, demanding high-fives from everyone who passed them on the side of the safety fence.


When it came time for the tandem battles to continue, nerves seemed to get the better of some of the competitors. McNamara suffered the biggest crash of the weekend in his PS13 Nissan Silvia. I’m sure he’s very grateful for the foam wall at the corner where he left.


DMEC’s ​​reigning champion, Piotr Więcek, on the other hand, was calm and very determined. The Polish driver finished seventh, but as the day went on, he became faster and more accurate. Więcek met Conor Shanahan in the Top 4 and made it to the finals after a fierce battle.


On the other side of the tournament, blisteringly fast Finnish driver Lauri Heinonen powered his way into the first ever DMEC final in his NASCAR V8 Nissan RPS13.


However, Heinonen’s road to the final battle was far from easy. He met the other Nissan S13 drivers, Dylan Garvey and Duane McKeever, as well as Hungary’s Kevin Piskolty in the BMW – all skilled drivers.


The moment of truth came earlier than expected for Więcek and Heinonen. The Finn’s determined drive pushed him just a little too much, leading to a split-second misjudgment that sent him off course.


Więcek triumphed and took the first round victory. It was a bittersweet victory, overshadowed by the knowledge that Heinonen had driven to the absolute limit.


Like all high-end motorsport, the difference between glory and sorrow is razor thin. Lauri Heinonen’s effort, although it ended in disappointment, showed the true spirit of the rider who left everything on the track. This chapter may not have been the Finnish driver’s, but Heinonen will undoubtedly return stronger and hungrier for his very first DMEC round.

However, until the 2nd round in Sweden next month, Piotr Więcek remains the man to beat again.

Vladimir Lyadov
Instagram: kerekbyvovka