You might think that having 800bhp-plus cars sliding around and shredding tyres would be a popular form of entertainment. Something to really get the old motorsport blood pumping.
Drifting, though, isn’t trying to compete with other, more mainstream racing like Formula 1 or the British Touring Car Championship. Not, at least, according to David Egan, vice-president of the Drift Masters European Championship (DMEC). “I’ve always looked at drifting as a form of motorsports entertainment,” Egan explains, as the DMEC gears up for the start of the 2021 series. “Comparing it to Formula 1 is like comparing BMX stunt bikes to the Tour de France. It still has the technicality, the precision and the skill of traditional motorsport but it is very much catered towards a live audience.”
While live audiences could be thin on the ground again this year, the DMEC is determined to put on a show for its fans who follow the slide-and-catch antics on YouTube and other forms of social media. “I think that the growth of drifting has aligned itself very much with the growth of social media,” says Egan. “Where traditional motorsports would have used traditional media – radio, television, newspapers – drifting has very much younger, more PlayStation-generation fans. They’re on YouTube, and social media streams like Facebook, Instagram and Tiktok. It has become a huge sensation to the younger audience which maybe isn’t the traditional audience of traditional motorsport. Drifting has actually grown exponentially to the point where online events are now getting millions of views.”
Drifting’s growing popularity is due, says Egan, to the sheer excitement of the machinery. For example, the rules are less stringent than in F1, so the design and mechanical package of the car is more open to interpretation and essentially down to the individual. Plus, a full season might only cost €500,000, making it relatively more accessible to up-and-coming superstars than more traditional racing. Even so, the sport has clearly come a long way from its midnight club origins in 1980s Japan. Even Motorsport UK now has an official drifting championship, doubtless keen to latch onto a younger audience.
The DMEC season will start at the end of May, in Greinbach, Austria. This year, the tracks will include the likes of the vertiginous Lillesand Arena in Norway and the Bikernieku Trase Circuit in Riga, Latvia, where competitors hit almost 100mph before starting to slide the cars. Bikernieku is considered so hard that it will have its own special prize, ‘The King of Riga’, attached to the event. There will also be what might prove a wild, city-centre drifting battle in Tbilisi, Georgia, where the organisers – perhaps fancifully – want to build a ‘Monaco of drifting’.
While the series has a distinct Eastern European and Nordic flavour – following the fanbase, to a certain extent – drifting could be about to catch on in the UK with the appearance of some home-grown talent. Well, close to home-grown. One of the big stars of 2021 is likely to be Ireland’s Conor Shanahan, from Cork.