OMG fellas, it has been a really intense and full 2 days, I haven’t gotten a decent nights sleep here yet, and it’s not for lack of trying, its been ALL business (some fun, but all mandatory) since we got here, and we get in around 11, and up around 5-6, and apparently there’s a damn discotech next to our room in Hotel Misnk. That’s just a preface to understand the kind of state we have been in the last two days.
Our cars are down here somehwere right?????
Carluch hard at work
Dyno Success!! (now let’s go to sleep!)
We finished up around midnight, Mikey and I roll into our hotel, they have us booked into one room, and we don’t generally roll like that, but we are FAR too tired to protest, so we just get cleaned up and try to pass out, its nearing 1am, and right as we hit the hay, a dull thumping of generic techno starts to invade our room, up from the floor. We are already nearly delirious with sleep and decide to suffer through it, as we have unpacked and just want to rest. We are booked for a half hour to hour shakedown session at some kind of truck testing zone out in the deep forest. Our alarms fire off after what seemed to me about an hour of sleep, I am excited/nervous to hammer on the car since it hasn’t really seen action in a long time, and the tune seemed good on the dyno, but it hasn’t driven under it’s own power yet.
at the shop by 730, load up the 2 cars onto these small rollbacks, and head into the woods…..
we rolled up into the woods themselves, onto some dirt roads, where there are people walking in mud boots, picking mushrooms in the forest, and we rolled up to a big stone walled fortress with barbed wire lining the tops of the walls…. looked like something from the USSR days (and probably was), and once we got inside, it turned out to be a HUGE chunk of decent asphalt, only really 2 ways to run it, sort of like balcony style, but a bit bigger, and in the middle of Eastern Europe.
That went pretty well actually, the surface was wet in several places, but the car seemed to work pretty well. We are running Bridgestone tires for this event, and I was a bit worried about the grip of the Adrenaline tire, and in only a 255, but even in the wet, it seemed to work pretty well. It’s also been a really long time since I have driven in competition, but that simple track was a good refresher, and I got it down ok in the short time we were there. It was like 9 am now, and we had to get loaded up, and cleaned up and over to Tissot for a photo/video shoot, they are a sponsor of the team, and the event, and they wanted to get some shots with Tjan and me and the cars in front of some retail outlet.
Rolled up and unloaded into the street with the help of this cheery Belarussian officer.
This one is just for CJ.
So also, they were super cool, and as sponsors they gave us each a watch, we could choose whatever we wanted in the store up to like $900 bucks or something! I did a bit of searching around and found something i liked, plainish, part of the racer line, and leather strap. Check it out.
Ok, then we were off to some private Russian poker game, high stakes! The main guy at FX OPEN, the investing company that paid our way over there, had been talking aobut this poker game for like a week. Set it up, and told us how he was gonna take our money, buy in was $550 USD and the winner would walk with about 4k. I’m not really a poker dude, but it seemed rude to not enter, and it was mostly for our benefit, so we both went for it. (Djan and I). It was ten dudes, and at a casino, which seemed pretty official, we paid the casino direct, they gave us a drawing for what table and seat to take, and then we sit down. I wound up on the 2nd table, where i know NO ONE. English isn’t very prolific, and i feared I would be stabbed. I kept not noticing the blinds and whatever, and looked like a goon. Was falling asleep at that point in the day already. I started playing pretty hard, and these dudes were SO Russian, like shirts with snakeskin on them, and ed hardy jeans, doing chip tricks and acting like we are at the world series of poker. I get a ton of good hands, and within seriously ten minutes, Djan and Denis (the sponsor) are both out of chips from their table. I play pretty well, and i think i’m about even with the chip leader at my table. The tables now combine, and there’s 8 serious russian dudes and myself. I’m like swaying and exhausted, and I can barely focus, I think it helped because I played really well, and after some big hands I was the overall chip leader by a fucking ton! I was like omg, I am gonna win this thing! I now start to play into these dudes, calling some iffy hands, and trying to see who is getting desperate. Here’s where I throw it ALL away. It turns out, that you just need to be the chip leader at the end of the TIMED game. I only see this stuff on TV and I have the impression that I need to have ALL the chips to win this thing. A bed at this point sounds about as good as 4 grand, and I start pressing hard, not stupid, but taking a bit more risk.
I now lose all my chips in like 5 mins. I call some hands I should have won, and get cleaned out in 2 good hands. I got beat on the last card for like half my stack, and went all in on a Ace King, and got beat! Oh well, that is why it’s called gambling!…………….
Today was practice day for the pro class. I got 1.5 runs in the 8hrs. First run of the day, cruised into the course easy on the big turn, and tried to see the line. Second run, went in with some more heat, his a big bump in the middle of the course, and hear a loud band, tried to keep driving and then spun out. I know something is pretty wrong, it’s making a terrible noise when I try to pull it off the track. A loud, awful scraping and grinding sound from the rear of the car. Something like this happened once before. I pull off track and check the wheel, sure enough its folded in, really hard. Turns out that in that one moment I broke the connecting shanks of 2 rear arms, and then while on throttle bent the damn shock and the shaft BROKE IN HALF.
We spend ALL day fixing it, some local dude went out and machined us new shanks, which saved our whole event. THEN we noticed that the shock was broken, it’s really hard to see that on the car, and as we put those parts on, we realized that the shock was broken clean into 2 pieces. We now spend HOURS searching down a new/replacement shock! The JIC setup is pretty custom, and I can’t find a shock that will fit it, there are NO parts really stocked in this country. I am thinking I am in pretty bad shape. Julian from the UK drift team, low-brain drifters offered up the car he brought for James Deane (Deane is sick and didn’t make it), I see that as more of a last resort, and really try to make my car word (the uk car is a RHD S13, and I’m not nearly as comfortable like that). As we search around for stuff, we realize that there is another Rx8 competing, but who knows the suspension rates/setup, but it seems worth a shot! The dude is SUPER cool, and leaves us his car, and we strip the parts down, he’s got a Bilstein Ps9 coilover setup, which is a pretty street setup, with a progressive spring. Not exactly ideal but it will get us back onto the track. We waited for one last hopeful shock to try, a JIC that works with my mounts from a local Mini Cooper! It threads into the perches I need, but they are TOO short! I think that we will have to use the Bilstein parts, and when we get them off the car, they are pretty weathered looking, and pretty damn stiff to boot. We have no other options at this point and we just have to make the best of what we have! We put the parts on the car (after a thorough scrub) and realized that its about 2 inches too high! We pulled a ton of preload ouf of the rear springs, and it settle the car, and it is pretty soft! Progessive springs are wack, and not optimal, but they will do for now! I was only able to whip it up and down the pit lot tonight, but it seems ok, not as soft as it could be, but not too bad. Tomorrow is a bit of practice, then right into quals and top32. The competition is looking pretty good, and there are a good amount of talented dudes to watch out for….. Definitely have our work cut out for sure now. Have to hit the track hard, and get comfortable as quick as we can. And try to find a bunch of rear grip in those new stiffer springs/shocks. It’s 2:21 AM, and it was a long and really frustrating day, I am gonna pass out. Tomorrow is everything, will do my damndest to bring the heat!
Look at these dudes!
This is what broke, connects the rear arms to the hub, some dude went out and cut us new ones from scratch! These are the new, handmade pieces.
Wheel well looks like a tiger had a romp up in it.
SUNDAY NIGHT-FINAL ENTRY
Ok, so we last left off, we had just passed out, and we didn’t know what was going to be in store for us on Sunday, the main day. Sunday had a TON of stuff to get done, we had practice in the morning, top 32 qualifying, and then all of top 32 tandem before the sun went down. This is a really tall order for one day, FD does top 32 tandem only on the main day, and that still takes forever most times. So it is Sunday morning, I think Luch had gone ahead to get the car prepared and we arrived around 8 or so, practice was just getting started. We had all that rear suspension trouble the day before, and still didn’t know if those shanks would last, or how wildly different those street bilsteins would work……
Bilsteins on the left, JIC in the middle, and some Mini Cooper JIC shocks we tried to make work, but they were too short and we wound up on the Bilsteins.
And here is the car we stole them from, dude drives it EVERY DAY.
We got the ride height close by eye, and we set the toe. Car was warmed up and we hit the track for the first session, and it seems that we will have a good amount of practice time, 4+ hrs! The plan is to get a feel for the car with the smaller than we usually run Bridgestone tires, try to find some real grip with these progressive springs and one way shocks. The practice setup was a weird one, groups of 7 on track at once, and everyone does 5 runs or so then pulls off. It is important that you understand what we were up against at this point. I haven’t driven in competition since 2008, and we weren’t feeling confident about the course, or the car, and just wanted to get in some solid runs before qualifying. This was NOT going to be easy. It seemed that as a well-known driver, and an FD driver, we had a target on our back from the first run. I could not get a single run by myself or one where I was following. The level of driving was WAY higher than I had expected, not just the dudes we knew about Djan, Fink, Chapman etc. The Russian and Finnish drivers were also seriously good, and it was looking like we might wind up looking pretty silly out there. I was trying to find a line that worked for my car, and gearing, I had been told that it was a REALLY fast on throttle course, so we would be in 4th for 3 turns, and then down into 3rd to finish up. Turns out the course was much different, turn one was mid third, and not really into the powerband, and turns 2 and 3 had us just at the very top of 3rd gear. I ran the first few, spun more than a few times while I tried to find the limit of the car.
I had to go do some auction giveaway with Djan, where they took our DA DVD’s and some of those event shirts that FX open made, with the proceeds going to a kids charity. Totally cool, we were still up against the wall, but it was cool to raise money for needy kids, and people REALLY went nuts for the stuff we were signing. Shirts were going for $200 dollars signed, and some DVD’s up to $270 dollars! I couldn’t believe it, i think we raised a few thousand dollars in like ten minutes! As we were introduced, I could see this one American flag waving feverishly, the girl was pointing and waving and super awesome. I was psyched for the support and we had precious little practice time left.
Luckily there was so much practice time, that many people had cleared off the track, and we were able to get on and off the track easily, make changes to the car and track how well they were working. I was also able to get a little more breathing room on the track, so I could push a bit harder and focus more on what the car was doing instead of trying not to hit people/ get hit if I spun out. We got the car working ok, and I made it through the course a few times, and when I pulled in, we realized we were going through tires pretty quickly, and didn’t realize that we had just a few left for the entire event. 6, we had 6 tires left. I had blown off the set we had set up for quals, and we made one more big tire pressure change to get the tires to last, and to hopefully find more speed down the straight, I had just enough runs to scrub them in, and then it was time to qualify. My last 2 practice runs were decent, not great, and I was still having trouble getting the car out to all the clips with the gearing and grip. Regardless, it was time to qualify, and I figured we would be ok to make top 32, and just keep trying to make changes from there.
Qualifying was pretty loosely setup, since lots of people were new drivers, there was no real order, and you just went out on track with 5 guys, and everyone did one run, three times. First run was practice and the second two were judged. I tried to go towards the middle of the pack, figured it would be ok to let the judges see the overall level of competitors and if we broke, we would still have some time to get the car fixed and back on track.
I haven’t been on track in competition in over a year, and I was a bit more nervous than usual, but I tried to get prepared mentally for it, and just see what happens. The car was working now, and I would just give it hell, and see what happened. Practice run was good, my best of the day probably, I got to all the clips, and didn’t make many corrections, and felt like I had an idea of how hard to push for the real runs. First score run was seriously the best run I think I could do with that car in that setup. I threw it in hard and fast, and I don’t think I could do a better run if you gave me 100 tries, everything just went to plan, was able to stay on throttle a ton, and hit all the clips pretty well. Came back fucking psyched!~ Mikey gave me some fist pumps and I figured we would be just fine for quals. Second run, I just figured I would see how early I could start, and try for a little more, wasn’t a bad run, but kind of corrected on the entry, and managed to turn in a decent score, but I was banking on the first run to get us in, and pretty high.
Ok, so Qualifying is over, and it is time to do driver introductions and make a little noise for the crowd. I’m not exactly sure how well we are gonna be received at this point. I think we put on a pretty good show during qualifying, and quite a large number of spectators have gathered. It’s hard to really tell how many people have arrived but I would guess around 4500 to 5k people lined the fence. I have been playing the Rocky IV soundtrack seriously all weekend, in the car, and in headphones, because I am trying to get pumped, and it’s pretty funny at the same time. So I roll out there, in the middle of a pack of European drivers
As you can see, the cars competing actually look pretty sweet, with some of the Russian cars having rad vinyl work and wheels. I have some Rocky IV song cranked, and I pull up into my spot, and turn off the car and the music and head out to wave to the fans, and through the loudspeaker they are blasting “Hearts on Fire”! I think that they totally get the sentiment and the fun idea of the whole thing, a lone American coming to the former Soviet Union to compete. Pretty awesome. The crowd is insane! Like really just super into it, going crazy for autographs and pictures, I think we were a pretty big hit.
I found the USA flag girl, she ran up to the fence for an autograph, I thanked her for her support, and she gave a “go USA!”.
Here is the thing about this event, the schedule was pretty fluid, and it was on an ACTIVE airport, meaning several times during the day all drifting activity would stop so that some seriously dated propeller aircraft could take off or land. It was actually pretty cool to be so close to an active runway, the planes would take off about 100 yds away from the drifting paddock, it was pretty wild.
The problem with this scheduling and these fun, but common plane interruptions was that we had basically 1.5-2 hrs to run an entire top32 tandem competition. We were now off to the tandem drivers meeting, there were some murmurs that we would skip directly to top 16, there were 26 scores out of the 30 or so drivers, and top 16 seemed to make a lot of sense to me. I was pretty sure that we’d be well up into the top 16 and I didn’t think it was possible to get all those runs done in such a short amount of time. As they announced the top qualifiers, we waited, they started at the top, and I heard 2 names I was not familiar with, I believe it was a Russian driver and a Finnish driver taking the top 2 spots. Next we heard Walton Smith, an Irish driver, who was killing it all weekend in his RB25 powered GC8, and seemed to be a real nice dude to boot. And the next name they read off was pretty familiar, because it was MINE! We had qualified 4th (suck it Tengku Djan!) and had secured a bye into top 16!
Drivers meeting-Dig the fresh team jackets that FX open had made for us-
Walton Smith’s Subaru, total badass.
So we had a little bit of time to watch the top 32 match-ups and get a feel for our part of the ladder. We hadn’t qualified like we wanted, I was hoping to be on the opposite side of the ladder as Djan, but he’d had a bit of trouble in qualifying and wound up 8th. This meant that we’d see each other in top 8, a bit earlier than we had hoped. The UK team was also looking REALLY strong, and they also wound up matched with each other at top 8 or before. Djan won his top 32 match easily, and was back to looking strong, the tandem battles even in top 32 were exciting, and the crowd was really going nuts! As we got ready for top 16, I waiting to see who my opponent would be, either a pretty fast S14, or this sweet Blue/Green Altezza that looked like a solid driver, just lacking a bit of speed.
Well, turns out that the Altezza driver wins, and I didn’t get to see the whole match, but he seems like a solid opponent. A Russian pro driver, named Пустошный Владимир. I got a chance to talk to him, and he told me he has alot of trouble getting up to speed before the first turn, and his car isn’t making a ton of hp. I am slated to lead on the first run, so to make sure we get to the first turn together, I told him that I’d let him go first, get a car or two lengths ahead, and then pass him so we can enter together. We lined up, and got the nod from the starter, he took off, and I gave him about a length and a half, and tried to get ahead of him just after the pace cone. Hadn’t been on track for awhile, and wasn’t sure of the grip chance from the temp change, so I ran a lil conservatively. It all worked out, got the car on a decent line, and was able to lay down some good distance on the lead run. Felt good about it, and lined up to chase feeling pretty confident, again, I let him get almost into second gear before I even got onto the gas, I’m not used to running with cars that are that slow down the straight. In FD, my car was mid-pack at best at getting straightaway speed, but fast in the turns, this was something new to me, but it was fun to adjust to the slow car. We fired down the straight, it was a pretty fast entry, I was just getting into 4th gear behind the Altezza at the entry, threw the car into drift, and tried to follow his car as best I could, saw that his line would be smaller than I thought, but that put me into a good speed for my gearing, down into third and I could stick right onto him through the main turn, and was able to stay close to the finish.
Boom! We are awarded the win, and we are feeling good, now waiting to see if we will face Djan or his Russian opponent in top 8.
Djan is a seriously talented driver, one of the best I have ever seen in drifting. I am both excited to run him, because I know I can bring it as hard as I can, and not worry about him slowing down, or playing dirty, but I also wouldn’t mind someone else knocking him out, and giving me an easier run towards the podium. Djan is in Forsbergs SR car, and that is also quite a machine, and together they easily knock through top 16 and we are slated to meet in top 8.
There is still a very real push to save time, and the sun is getting low in the sky, and the track isn’t set up for night racing. To help save time, whenever a pair is ready to run, they can pull up and just get in line. Djan and I don’t waste much time getting back out for our top 8 battle. We line up, and I have run with Forsberg in that car before, and it also seemed to leave me behind coming out of slower turns. I figured that I would just blitz through the course as fast as possible, and try to leave Djan in the dust! I hit the first turn with a ton of speed, and instead of running max angle, really just focus on a fast line, and keeping speed high, I toss the car into the last turn, a 180 degree 2nd gear left and notice that I have probably a car and a half distance on Djan. We lined back up, and again, I’m just trying to wring as much speed out of the car as I can, I’m still on that stiffer rear suspension that we borrowed, and the car isn’t digging as well as it should. Djan is slower to the first turn than I expect, and I’m already on him in the big sweeper, keeping on it, I ride 4th longer than usual, and make the downshift to 3rd so i can keep the wheelspeed up. I finish the course right on top of Djan, and I am damn pleased with the runs we could put together. I think it’s probably going OMT or maybe I have the win?!
We pulled up to the starter, because they are announcing in Russian, and generally you don’t need to know the language because the say on competitor’s name REALLY LOUD. This wasn’t happening, I heard both our names on the PA, and we pulled up to the start guy………Djan gets the nod! This is the end of our day on the track, which is kind of frustrating, because we were just starting to get the track down, and the competition was heating up! Later the judges would tell us it was super close, but Djan had more angle while leading (totally true) and it wound up putting him ahead!
The event was fun to watch from here, and cheer on my DA bro Djan, and hopefully he would wind up winning the whole thing. Djan made short work of his top 4 opponent, and went to the finals. There he would meet with Juha Rintanen, a Finnish champ, and a hell of a driver. He was very impressive all weekend, and his team definitely meant business. Djan had been having trouble getting his car into gear towards the end of the day, and chasing on the first run, Djan got left on the straight while wrestling the car into 3rd gear, and he could not close that gap during the run. Second run, Djan was down for sure, and put down a serious run, Juha was right on top of him, and there was not going to be a one more time!~
We all went for the podium as the last bit of light left the sky. We had somehow managed to get a full top32 tandem event done in about 90 minutes, the event ended in just the nick of time, and as the sun set the fireworks display capped everything off.
I’m not one to miss a good podium, and I was there cheering along with everyone else, there was a 4th place trophy, and that went to the driver that Djan knocked out in top 4, and then there was a bunch more Russian I couldn’t understand and then……..Tony Angelo. That part I understood, turns out that there was a special prize for the fastest qualifier, and at 131km/h that was me! I got a sweet Lenovo netbook, and a chance to hop on stage and mug for the cameras. All in all it was a really really fun event. Considering the setbacks we had to deal with, and the time I’ve been away from the driver’s seat, I am really happy with our result. Huge thanks to FX Open for putting the event on, and bringing my team out to Belarus. I definitely hope we get to make it back out there, and maybe get up on the podium this time! Also, special thanks to my one man race team/bro/dancing machine Carluch, dude was handling everything all week.