The simple drift practice day seems to be a dying breed nowadays. With an ever-increasing focus on competitions and large scale events that place an emphasis on entertainment in order to draw spectators, very rarely does anybody seem to say “just show up and hone your skills with no pressure”.
I really wanted to have a couple of days of drifting with my friends where we could have as much seat time as possible, drive as hard as we wanted and enjoy ourselves without any pressure or expectations. As a result, I decided to take the plunge and book Driftland in Scotland for a couple of days; these were to be the first Street Track Life: Drive Harder practice days and, thanks to the overwhelmingly positive response I’ve received after the event, they won’t be the last.
Packed to the brim with spares and camping supplies, I drove my C33 Laurel from Manchester up to Lochgelly on the Wednesday afternoon, keen to meet those who had arrived at the track already.
The wind and the rain were persistent throughout Wednesday evening but, thankfully, Yas and a few friends who had travelled to support Tom Gidden in his S14 had brought a plethora of camping supplies with them. It wasn’t long until they had a gas stove going under the shelter of the spectator grandstand and were happily keeping the early arrivals fed and watered.
After a night of sleeping in the car (there was no way I was trusting a tent in that wind!) Thursday morning was upon us, along with the rest of the day’s drivers.
Driftland’s Rennie and Jeek took care of the rules and safety in the morning’s drivers briefing, while I said a few words just to emphasise the purpose of the day; namely, laid back fun with our mates with absolutely no pressure. The relatively late start of 11am allowed everyone to catch their breath in the morning after their long journeys, along with grabbing some breakfast and putting some work into their cars where required.
Driftland usually operates a queue system for the groups waiting to join the track. While the queues weren’t exactly necessary due to the twenty six drivers that were signed on, I made sure that one of the queues was for drivers who weren’t particularly confident with their car, the track and/or their abilities. That’s not to say that this was a queue for beginners, far from it in fact. It was merely a way of allowing people to find their rhythm on track without having to worry about someone flying up behind them and expecting to drift inches away from their rear bumper.
The other two queues were for those who couldn’t care less whether they were driving along by themselves or in the mix of a six car train, knowing full well the potential risks that are involved with driving like this!
In reality though, the queues weren’t even particularly necessary; I think the longest I queued at any point during the two days was five minutes and this was when the track was at its busiest. At many points during the event, the staff even operated an open pit lane policy and allowed drivers on and off the track as they pleased. This was especially great when the track was wet and the pace was a lot slower – I think I was out for a solid fifteen minutes at one point and only left the track so I could go and get a drink.
Due to the early morning rain, Thursday began with the track being patchy in places. It dried up quickly enough though, allowing the drivers to push harder on the chosen track layout that utilised the second cut through from the big corner that led into a quick left and right hander before entering the hairpins at the far end of the circuit.
With the first half of the day over, another drivers briefing was held to discuss the chosen track layout for the afternoon. With the circuit now being completely dry, I opted to go with the fastest layout which uses the full big corner in a clockwise direction.
While this layout isn’t particularly technical, it does allow for some really fast drifting while also encouraging close proximity driving with relative ease. As a result, it’s always a firm favourite with the drivers (myself included).
Slowing down for the tight hairpin at the end of the circuit is always a challenge too! Lock up your brakes and you’ll be taking a trip off the end of the track into the dirt. Bail out too early and you’ll be facing the wrong way on the tarmac. Get it just right with a lot of weight transfer and braking though and you’ll style out your fast drift into the tight right hander with perfect execution.
With the track closing at 6pm just as the sun was beginning to set, it was time to put down the tools and set about socialising with food and drink for the night. At this point I must say a huge thanks to the aforementioned Tom Gidden, his friend Yas and the rest of their group for bringing a BBQ, a van full of food and a mountain of drink with them. The guys were cooking up the sort of meals I’d never seen at drift events in the past and were gladly offering food and drink out while keeping everyone entertained with music from their van. At the end of the day, camping at a drift track is hardly the most glamorous of activities but it’s the people and atmosphere that turn a cold rainy night in a car park in Scotland into a night to remember for all the right reasons.
Friday morning once again started wet and so I opted to run with the slow and steady track layout that utilised the first cut through from the big corner and the full infield section. While this layout combined with the slippy track conditions didn’t really accommodate for fast and brave entries (I did try my best!) it did allow for the drivers to practice their close quarters driving without the fear of causing a lot of damage by ploughing into one of their fellow drivers if they got it wrong.
After the afternoon’s drivers briefing the track had begun to dry and so I opted to return to the fastest of the track layouts once again. However, in true Scotland fashion, no sooner had this decision been made before the heavens decided to open and douse the track with a fresh layer of rain.
While the rain didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits, it did however result in a half wet and half dry track which led to quite a few excursions into the gravel by many (myself included!).
The track continued to dry out though and, by the time the last couple of hours came around, everyone was back up to full pace. At this point the the circuit staff were running an open pit lane which led to some drivers staying out on track for as long as they could until their tyres couldn’t take any more. This was a pleasure to watch and it was great to see how much some drivers improved purely as a result of having the ability to settle into a groove and not worry about time constraints or other cars around them.
Mark Norfolk drove his super cool PS13 all the way from Kent to Driftland (a 500+ mile trip each way!) so that he could drive on both the Thursday and Friday. He also used his Silvia as accommodation for both nights by removing the passenger seat and inserting an air bed in its place in the evenings.
An unfortunate coming together with the wall caused Norfy to break a tie rod and bend a lower arm during Thursday’s drifting but, after sourcing replacement parts, he was soon back out there and having fun with everyone again on the Friday before driving all the way home through the night.
Steve Saunders had also made the drive up with Norfy from Kent, albeit in his JZX90 Mark II.
Despite this car’s pedigree and relative value compared to a lot of drift cars, no one can deny that this stops Steve throwing his big Toyota around without a care in the world.
Watching him snatch fourth gear as he initiated along the Driftland wall and smash the rev limiter was one of the highlights for many of the spectators. Fast drifting with huge angle might be what people want to see in competitions but, when it comes to just having a laugh, watching someone through a huge saloon car against a wall while abusing a 1JZ rev limiter is a whole lot more entertaining.
Josh Munday drove his 90s styled S13 up to Lochgelly from Manchester to drive on the Thursday. Considering the car only has essential modifications such as coilovers, adjustable arms, rack spacers and a very basic SR20 setup, Josh drove exceptionally well despite his relative lack of drifting experience compared to many of those around him.
I followed Josh for a handful of laps on the Thursday afternoon, giving him enough space to breathe but remaining close enough for it to be enjoyable and look cool. Unfortunately, an uncharacteristic spin as he entered the slowest section of the track left me with nowhere to go and I bumped into him.
The damage to both cars was minor at best (my headlights and bumper bore the brunt of the impact, while Josh’s door has now certainly seen better days!) and we both laughed off the incident as one of those things that you can expect to happen when drifting.
Adam Maciejewski also drove his FC3S Rx-7 up from Manchester on Wednesday night to give it its first shakedown since fitting the boosted Mx-5 engine setup.
Everything on his FC (aside from the mapping) has been done by Adam on his driveway and in his garage. Whether it was dropping in the engine, fabricating the manifold and downpipe or fine-tuning the rear arches to provide the perfect wheel fitment, Adam has it all covered and managed to put his car together in record time in order to make it to Driftland.
Unfortunately, engine trouble meant an early finish for him on Thursday afternoon but, considering he has never drifted with more than around 150bhp before (the new boosted 1.6 Mx-5 lump is putting out around 260bhp) he made it all look easy and you’d never have guessed that he’d been out of the drivers seat for so many months.
Speaking of boosted Mx-5 engines, Mat Pickering’s little Roadster was an absolute weapon out on track. Making its debut since being freshly mapped to push out roughly 300bhp, Mat took it all in his stride and was mixing it up with all the higher powered Nissans and Toyotas without breaking a sweat.
I can’t imagine what 300bhp in such a small car must feel like but, judging from Mat’s grins, it’s a whole lot of fun. The only issue was just how quickly the little Mazda killed pairs of 15″ tyres.
I must also give huge credit to the other Mx-5 drivers that were taking part. While they may not have had the pace of Mat’s boosted car, Conor Wilson, Chris Godfrey and Ryan Asquith were mixing it with the rest of the guys on track regardless of the relative lack of power that they had at their disposal and totally held their own.
Watching all three of them drive, you’d never have thought they had to drive their respective cars home from the event either but they spent all of Thursday and Friday putting in some of the most impressive runs of the event!
Matthew Hurford also brought his Mx-5 along and joined in the fun on Friday. A newcomer to Driftland, it was great to see him getting to grips with the varying conditions and stretch his little Mazda’s legs.
Commiserations must also be said for Ross Doyle and his little Roadster as a collision with the wall early on Thursday meant a premature end for his event. Hopefully he gets the car sorted pretty soon and he can be back out there enjoying drifting again ASAP.
Alan “Keeve” McIver was another driver whose event also came to an early end, although thankfully for Keeve this was due to a turbo failure rather than an impact with a solid object. It was a real shame as I’d really hoped to see his S13 out there and mixing it up with Josh Munday’s similarly styled car.
On the subject of similarly styled cars and George Campbell’s and Reece Cannell’s respective 4-door R32s can’t be ignored.
Both of the guys drove their Skylines up to Scotland from Brighton (a 12+ hour journey each way!) so that they could have fun with us for a couple of days.
While both drivers started off tentatively, it was great to see them progress rapidly throughout the Thursday and Friday and it wasn’t long before I saw them mixing it up with other drivers and getting involved in multi-car trains.
While both cars had their fair share of off-track excursions, the smiles on George and Reeces’s faces showed just how much fun they were having while getting to grips with their cars. A broken offset rack spacer and steering rack couldn’t kill their spirits, even when considering the huge journey home they had ahead of them.
Natalie Younger was another driver that was never seen without a smile on her face throughout the event. Having driven her PS13 up to Driftland, I was really hoping to see a huge improvement in her driving and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
Natalie is one of those drivers who never seems to lose determination to get better and learn more skills and this attitude is certainly starting to pay off for her now.
In the past, it’s always frustrated me while watching Natalie drifting at big events or busier practice days. As a beginner, it’s difficult to develop basic drifting skills when the track is full of other cars, or when you only get to drive a lap before queuing up for 20+ minutes for your next turn.
It’s impossible to develop a rhythm and all too easy to psyche yourself out in situations like this, so seeing Natalie drift around the track for a solid 15 minutes at times was a joy to watch; you could see a visible improvement in her driving with every single lap as she went that little bit faster, found a bit more aggression and wound on a tad more steering lock.
Saule Del-Rio is another driver who has struggled to find a rhythm in the past due to similar experiences and so it was great to see him finally getting some serious seat time in his S14.
While mechanical issues plagued his day, it was awesome to see the freshly liveried S-body being thrown around and, while some laps resulted in excursions into the bank and exploding fibreglass, it’s all part of the learning process and none of this could put a downer on his day.
On the other hand there were also plenty of experienced drifters taking part, such as Alex Law (S14) and Dan Joyce (S15).
Both of the Low Origin guys made it all look easy on Thursday and could be found door-to-door on more than one occasion, either with each other or any other driver that wanted to drift with them.
Unfortunately for Dan, his SR20 lost compression on one of the cylinders during Thursday afternoon which meant the end of his drifting. That didn’t stop him borrowing Saule’s S14 on Friday afternoon though and giving it a good thrash.
Mechanical issues have often plagued Alex’s S14 but it performed without a hitch for the entire event, including the 500+ mile round trip to and from the track. I myself enjoyed some great twinning with Alex on the Friday as we practiced our close quarters skills; the grins on both of our faces afterwards said it all, despite a coming together as a result of a mis-shift by me.
The event definitely wasn’t short on good looking S14s, with Dori Labs’ Daniel Ferrie bringing his stunning Zenki along.
Unfortunately, a blown turbo meant an early finish for Daniel but I was extremely grateful for him bringing out his S14 and having fun with the rest of us.
Mark Rowell’s S14 is another car that has been plagued by mechanical issues. Having been out of the drivers seat for quite some time, it was great to see Mark getting to grips with his fresh engine and gearbox conversion in a no-pressure environment and, come Friday afternoon, he was putting together some great runs and mixing it up with everyone else.
Despite its pedigree, Freddie couldn’t have appeared to have cared less about his incredible S15 and was driving like a man possessed throughout both days.
As a result, the Silvia ended up beached on the Driftland bank on more than one occasion! On the other hand though, some of Freddie’s runs were absolutely fantastic to watch and his aggressive style was a joy for the spectators.
There’s no way I could mention aggressive driving without bringing attention to Toby Aspinall or, as most people will probably know him, Monky London.
While there isn’t a straight panel left on his JZZ30 Soarer, spending a few minutes watching Toby drive will quickly explain why this is the case. A man without fear, his driving style is hugely entertaining and always a joy to watch as literally anything could happen.
Toby was also putting together a video at the event which I’m definitely looking forward to seeing (especially the chase footage from when he followed me extremely closely around the track for a couple of laps).
I’ve seen Chris Brace’s absolutely slammed S14a in action at Three Sisters Race Circuit in the past and so I made sure to invite him to come and drift with us at Driftland.
While steering rack issues seemed to plague his car, that didn’t stop Chris from enjoying every moment on track and mixing it up with drivers he wouldn’t usually get to drift with.
Rich Jauncey also made the trip up with his FD3S Rx-7. It was great to have an FD amongst us as it made a change from the assortment of Nissans and Toyotas and it was also cool to see how he got on drifting on a proper track for the first time.
Rich’s friend Jish also made a cool vlog from the event which you can check out in the above link.
Tom Gidden brought his street style S14 along for the event and made the absolute most of the available track time.
He was one of the first on track on both days and one of the last to leave at the end, with an engine issue at the end of Friday’s final session putting the only downer on his few days of drifting.
Tom was another driver who was great to watch as a result of how much he was improving in such a short space of time and I hope to see him and his crew at many future events.
Axel Hildebrand was going well in his Zenki S14, even after a coming together with the wall and his front end at one point.
Craig Macleod’s event was thwarted by mechanical issues before it even began as his tow truck broke down before he’d even managed to make it to the track on Thursday morning!
Thankfully, he managed to get fixed and enjoyed two days of drifting with us in his blue S14.
Taylor Bloomfield and Ross Colquhoun are two of Driftland’s regulars and were happy to join in the fun on Friday.
Taylor’s SR20 powered E30 BMW is a pleasure to look at and an even greater pleasure to watch on track thanks to his wild driving style.
Ross’ 180SX-fronted S14 is certainly a unique car to look at and that’s before you even consider its RB20 engine swap!
Unfortunately his day was cut short by clutch issues but it’ll be great to see him back out there once his car is fixed.
Ritchie McBride also got involved on Friday in his really cool looking Altezza, although it looked to be a bit of a handful in the variable track conditions.
And as for me? Well, I just enjoyed getting to drive my car as hard as possible with all of my friends.
I may not have drifted on track since February and made a quite substantial change to my C33’s suspension setup just before the event by moving from Geomaster to 326Power knuckles but, despite this, I had such a great time.
While the car got a little beaten up with damage to both bumpers and the headlights, it was only cosmetic damage and, considering some of the near misses I had (especially on Friday afternoon when the track was littered with wet patches) I think I came off relatively well and still managed to drive the car 260 miles home (with headlights held in place with cable ties and cardboard, no less).
I’d like to finish by saying a massive thank you to everyone involved in the first ever Street Track Life: Drive Harder practice days. Whether you were a driver, a spectator, a passenger, a photographer or a member of Driftland’s excellent staff team, thank you so much for taking part and I can’t wait to do this all over again. It’s time to start planning for 2017…
All photos are courtesy of: