Last week I traveled to Riga, Latvia, to speak to some of the Baltic region’s drifting organizers, drivers, judges and some people that will hopefully step up and become new judges in the near future. For those that aren’t aware, the Baltic region is comprised of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which are all nestled together on Russia’s Western border just North of Belarus and Poland. Approximately 60 people were in attendance, which impressed me immensely as most had to drive between 1-3 hours to attend and they stayed until the very end, asking questions and offering different points of view throughout the night.
I was invited by Eline Berke, Head of the Latvian Automobile Federation Drifting Working Group, to give a training seminar of sorts. Her plan was to educate the event organizers and judges to the Western judging methods espoused by Formula Drift, with the goal of convincing everyone involved to a
dopt these methods so the entire Baltic region would be on the same page when it comes to judging. Currently their technical regulations are all very similar, which means a car that is approved to compete in one country can compete in all 3 without any issue, but the disparity in judging regulations has Eline feeling uneasy.
To understand what their concerns are, first I’ll need to break down the major differences between the 2 judging systems.
From what I gathered, the traditional European judging format is as follows:
While in Formula Drift we use:
The first thing you’ll notice is they still use speed as a major portion of the overall score. When I probed a little further about their speed points, I received different answers, as some organizations use a speed gun, some use the judge’s eyes to look for a driver maintaining pace throughout the course, and I also heard that some will combine both in a 10/20 ratio to come up with the 30 point total. To be honest, multiple Formula Drift drivers tell us a few times per season that they would like to see speed come back as part of the judging criteria, but everyone within the organization has the same question for them when they bring it up: what happens when it rains? To be more specific, what happens when it starts to rain part way through a qualifying session? Or when it starts out raining, then stops 30 minutes in and the track dries up? When either case happens we end up with part of the field driving on a very wet track, another part driving on a dry track, and some in between. It is impossible at that point to apply a standard points-per-MPH system, as nobody is driving in the same conditions, and all of the speeds would then have to be thrown out. If there’s a possibility we have to throw points out due to weather, there’s no sense in utilizing that system in the first place, so we don’t. I made these arguments during my talk and got a few nods of approval.
Another one of my arguments against using speed as a judging parameter is that promoting the highest speeds possible in any area of the track leads to sloppy driving. If we set the judged speed area at initiation, lead cars have even more incentive to try to get away from the chase car to set a new top speed. Same goes for any other part of the track, as the lead car will lower their angle in an attempt to increase their speed in a game of risk versus reward, maximizing their speed points gain while hoping to minimize their angle points loss.
I asked everyone a simple question: what is more important, clocking a high speed from a couple of drivers, or good tandem all around? I think that our main goal is to promote close tandems over all else (except safety of course). I would say that everyone would rather see cars door to door at 90MPH than a car apart at 95MPH. The speed they’re driving isn’t as important as how close they are to each other, within a certain speed range of course. I’m not saying they should be driving 40MPH to stay close, but I think you get my point. My argument is if we aren’t concentrating on speed, drivers are free to concentrate on fulfilling their responsibilities in the lead and chase positions, and it’s those responsibilities, especially from the lead car, that allow for close, aggressive, nail-biting tandems. These cars already have ridiculous amounts of power, they’re going fast regardless, we’re just trying to give them the ability to get close and stay close. And as I pointed out to the group, part of the lead car’s responsibilities is maintaining pace throughout the course. If they don’t fulfill that goal, it will be held against them, as we’ve seen in the past in Formula Drift.
Another part of the Formula Drift scoring system that I spoke about is the Style portion. We break the 30 style points up like this:
Initiation 10 points
Fluidity 10 points
Commitment 10 points
With this system, we cover all the ways a car moves in drift that is attributable to a driver’s personal style, and it rewards aggressive, smooth, confident driving as close as possible to to things that could potentially destroy a car.
We spoke about using the chicane and strike system to ensure the chase car has a fair shake at initiating with the lead car. Without that ability, it’s very difficult to have any kind of tandem battles, as being behind at initiation is almost impossible to overcome throughout the rest of the run. Once the chase car is within proximity, he needs to know he can rely on the lead car to not play games or make mistakes that could cause him to lose that proximity. I explained the role the accel/decel map plays in giving the chase car the confidence to get close and stay close. I also emphasized the importance of integrity during an event, from the judges calls to following the rulebook as written for all technical and procedural issues. Finally, we watched a few videos of some past local events so I could give my opinion of how a Formula Drift judge potentially would have called the battles. We had some good laughs and we discussed how using the Formula Drift judging system could have resulted in different outcomes for the drivers involved. Some more nods, hopefully nods of approval.
One thing Eline mentioned before the seminar is that they are in need of new judges throughout the Baltic region. I don’t think it’s much of a secret that it isn’t the easiest job, that those who are judges aren’t always the most popular people at an event and that it can be a very stressful position at the best of times. Hopefully adopting the Formula Drift judging system will give more ex-drivers in the region the desire to become judges, as it puts more emphasis on how the drivers are adhering to the judge’s requirements, and allows them to be more confident in their calls with everything they have at their disposal.
Overall it was a very productive 3 hours with a group of people that are clearly drifting enthusiasts and want to keep growing the sport in their respective countries and series. They showed their dedication to the sport and their desire for growth and improvement by making the trip to listen to me ramble on about a series half a world away, and as Eline said “It was a great experience for everyone involved and I expect it will help to recruit more new judges while making some skeptical people think more progressively. Hopefully it will help them go in the right direction with the judging systems in their Championships.”
Thanks to the entire group that participated and I hope to return to judge some more drifting in the region soon!
As a bonus, here are some Baltic Region Drift videos for your viewing pleasure:
And the ultimate insight into the Baltic drifting lifestyle, confusingly with some Americans as drivers: