The British Drift Championship have just announced that the series is under new ownership, with Irish Drift Championship foreman David Egan having taken the reigns. As the response to this has been almost universally positive, I wanted to take a look at why this news has been so well-received and, more importantly, what this holds for the upper echelon of drifting in the UK.
I don’t think it’d be unfair to say that there hadn’t been an awful lot of hype surrounding the upcoming 2016 series of the BDC. Unlike previous years where fresh builds had been rife, a new two-day competition schedule had been introduced and new and exciting drivers were set to emerge from the DriftCup feeder series, 2016 seemed entirely lacking in terms of expectations.
Even the unveiling of the championship dates at Autosport International the other week seemed somewhat of a non-event: there were no new venues and no surprises. In fact, I lost count of the amount of people who had predicted the Lydden Hill, Knockhill, Teesside Autodrome, Lydden Hill & Anglesey schedule. While, for the most part at least, these are all decent venues (see my previous article regarding Lydden Hill) and somewhat better than what can be expected in most countries, they are all becoming far too familiar with the drivers and teams that traipse across the UK year in, year out (with the possible exception of Anglesey that was introduced to the BDC calendar back in 2014).
One of the biggest challenges faced by the series was keeping up appearances in the face of other neighbouring championships. Since the aforementioned David Egan took control of the then-stalling Prodrift championship and reinvented it as the Irish Drift Championship for the 2013 season, the series has enjoyed a seemingly never-ending upward spiral of success and garnered admiration from drifting fans around the world.
In terms of European championships, IDC have led the way in terms of presentation, professionalism and technological advancements thanks to the introduction of their hugely popular livestream that now also features slow-motion replays and cameras in the pits, along with giving the judges the ability to explain their often-difficult decisions on camera to those watching.
It also helps that Ireland can boast some of the best competition drifters in the world, with a whole host of talented drivers now being household names to European drifting fans. On top of this, brave moves from David to bring over internationally revered drivers to try and break the Irish winning streak have paid off dividends. British drivers sat up and take note: IDC was the place to be if they wanted unparalleled exposure and the chance to compete against the likes of Formula-D and D1GP drivers, let alone the best that Ireland had to offer.
The BDC followed suit in terms of technological advancements by introducing a livestream with more informative commentary and judging decisions explained in detail but, it always seemed like they were playing catch up to our friends on the other side of the Irish sea. While all of this was going on of course, further afield in Europe the Drift Allstars series was also going from strength to strength, with events taking place everywhere from the streets of capital cities to purpose built circuits inside sports stadiums.
With all of this in mind, it isn’t particularly hard to see why so many UK drivers had announced that their commitments for 2016 laid in championships that didn’t set foot in their home country.
So, crucially, what does this change of ownership spell for the BDC’s future? I think it’d be fair to assume that we can’t expect to see too many changes in 2016 with Round 1 being only a couple of months away. I can imagine new branding is on the cards, along with one or two rule changes and some adjustments being made to the event schedules.
2017 is when I presume the majority of changes will be introduced and, while I can most probably say that they’ll be of great benefit to the championship as a whole, I get the impression that a vast number of BDC stalwarts that have spent the last few years wallowing around in the lower end of the results tables will be in for a shock. David has made no attempt to hide the fact that he views competition drifting as a form of entertainment as opposed to a traditional motorsport, even looking to the likes of the WWE for inspiration. While I disagree with this approach wholeheartedly when it comes to grassroots drifting, when it comes to top level events I can’t help but absolutely agree.
If you want a series to succeed, it needs to appeal far and wide and not just to those who are either family or friends of those competing or those that already have an interest in the sport and would attend regardless. It needs to grab the attention of the casual passer-by (whether that be in person or, as is becoming ever more the case these days, on the internet) and tempt them to invest their time, attention and, ultimately, money in a championship that pits drifters against one-another.
As it stands, the BDC’s lines between a series for professional drivers and race teams and an amateur championship for weekend hobbyists are blurred at best. There are far too many drivers that I can name off the top of my head who compete in the BDC with all of the professionalism they can muster, all the while holding down a 9 to 5 job, trying to build a competitive car and finding the corporate funding many require in order to compete. While this is highly respectable, these are often the drivers that complain that the championship has been trying to progress beyond the grassroots foundations of which it was built on.
Realistically, there is no way a series can remain as a “drivers championship” while appealing to the masses and this is why, despite numerous attempts and ventures, the BDC was never destined to grow any bigger when their focus remained so diligently on keeping their core of amateur drivers happy in order to keep them coming back for more. When driver entry fees pay the bills, it’s extremely difficult to make a change that could alienate these people and, ultimately, cause them to take their time, effort and money elsewhere. In 2017, I expect that David and the BDC will start to implement changes that address this stature.
I make no secret of the fact that, as a whole, top level competition drifting is of little interest to me. Last year’s IDC final was the only drifting livestream I’ve ever brought myself to watch in its entirety (and I was working on my C33 Laurel at the time, so I guess you could say my attention was split between the two). In comparison, I can happily watch the same episodes of Japanese Drift Muscle and D1SL events over and over again without complaint. However, I am in no doubt that widening the gap between the upper echelon of competition drifting and the grassroots side of the sport is by no means a bad thing.
There are far too many drifters who are seemingly unsure of which avenue to pursue. Do they want to perform for the masses in front of spectators and judges alike for the sake of entertainment and the personal buzz that comes with competing to win, or do they just want to drift with their mates at their local track for the sake of having a laugh and sharpening their skills?
I hope that the inevitable reinvention of the British Drift Championship forces this decision upon UK drifters so they can begin to realise why they take part in the sport in the first place: do they focus their time, effort and finances into competing against the very best in the most competitive machinery they can build, or do they decide to keep drifting as a hobby so they can have a laugh as and when they see fit? I know exactly which category I fall into and I hope that for many others it will all start to become clearer.