Since I was a kid I’ve loved my football - soccer to my American buddies. I was born in my mom’s hometown of Swidnik, Poland and as a young kid football was all anyone would talk about. Also, as my dad is Turkish, I went and lived in Istanbul, and there I became a fan of a club called Besiktas. They’re a pretty big deal in Turkey having won a bunch of championships and unlike some of their rivals, are followed mainly by the working class people of the city with club values of modesty, hard work, sacrifice and solidarity. Despite their status within Turkey, whenever they compete in Europe against some of the richer teams like Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona or Manchester City, they find it tough.
So, what has all this football talk got to do with drifting?
Unlike most American sports, but just like in Formula Drift, European football has no salary cap. Sometimes I feel like plucky little blue-collar Besiktas, up against the might of the rich super-clubs of Formula Drift. This past weekend at one of my favourite tracks, Road Atlanta, was another reminder of that. Our Wreckless Racing team has done a monumental job to get the E92 to where it is in these first three rounds. As Jarod DeAnda said just before my qualifying run “it seems that he’s getting that car worked out better and better, each round” and he’s right except it’s not just on me, it’s because of the entire team. If you saw me start my run you’ll know Jarod’s words were almost prophetic, because despite our best efforts the suspension issues that began in Orlando came back to bite us.
Our race weekend began on Thursday with super early morning flights from Oakland. Everyone in our team has full-time jobs that don’t involve drifting (including me) so we have to be smart about how we spend our time. We made the second practice session of the day, and needed to check that the car was working fine after an almost complete rewire to fix the electrical issue that had stopped us reaching the Top 32 start line in Orlando, so I only managed two runs. Hoping to spend more time tweaking the set-up whilst running tandems during pre-qualifying practice on Friday, I made a run behind the only other drifting E92 in Formula D, all-around legend and eventual Round 3 winner, Kristaps Bluss. The aim was to run well behind his car to test out my qualifying line, checking the car at close to peak speeds to measure how it responded. You will have seen Kristaps leaves a hell of a smoke trail, and by leaving some distance I was well in it, which led to my misjudging a portion of the track so the rear end hit the dirt. I wasn’t the only one to do this over the weekend, so didn’t think much about it at the time, plus we inspected the suspension and all seemed normal. It then became clear we had a power steering issue which we fixed super-fast as there was little time left in the session, so I could dash over to the start line to check all was working again pre-qualifying. Although I missed a full run, the Formula Drift track side crew let me into the burnout box and all seemed great.
Until it wasn’t.
As soon as I initiated in my qualifying run I knew something was up in the rear of the car. The mind of a driver in moments like these is all about balancing risks. I thought to myself ‘maybe an arm is just loose and I can finish the lap to put points on the board’. Then I felt the car jump heading into Outside Zone 2. I immediately came to a stop on course so as not to do any further damage and waited to be towed off. I was taken out on a truck, but was still pushing to get back out there for the 2nd run. We run a prototype Wisefab suspension that is still in development, and two arms on the left side had broken, ripping the axle boot. Eugene Feygelman and the CAMS Speedshop crew did a hell of a job to change the two arms and repair the axle just in time for the second run. We then put the car on the ground… and realized we’d also broken the stub axle inside the differential, and we wouldn’t be able to fix it in time. We didn’t post a score, which I’ve never failed to do in any round of FD I’ve competed in. The team had gotten as close as possible with a myriad of problems that probably would have killed lesser teams and whilst we’d done all we could, suddenly our weekend was over.
The camaraderie and assistance that we continue to share with other teams is a big part of why I love this sport and a great example is the winner from this round, Kristaps Bluss. I’ve known him since my years in European drifting and was actually his spotter the first time he raced at Road Atlanta in 2015. Not only is he an amazing driver and an awesome guy, he’s killing it with HGK, his business out of Latvia. I couldn’t be more stoked for him but there is also an upside for our team in his victory: we’re on the same journey as the only two teams developing the E92 as a viable drift platform. That means mechanically and structurally we’re all learning. Kristaps’ team has a newer version of the prototype rear suspension that we are running, where the difference is not in kinematics but in strength and you can see how it paid off. Big shout-out to Wisefab for continuing to support us by providing these awesome suspension arms which make the car not only driveable but extremely fast for the amount of power we put down. The issues that we face, the problems that we solve and what we learn along the way will be more applicable to the vast majority of street level and amateur competitors who take up this sport and choose to run an E92. Unlike most of them, we get to consult directly with a championship winning engineering house like Wisefab, and a champion driver like Kristaps, and at every opportunity since the Eurofighter debuted in Irwindale we’ve been sharing info and looking into each others set-up. I couldn’t be more grateful for the time he and his team have taken and the advice they’ve provided and we at Wreckless Racing were all elated he got the win on Saturday... I just think E92’s look better in blue!
Drifting isn’t always about who’s the best on the day, it can often be about how you measure up against yourself and so while I was just as gutted this weekend as I was in Orlando, the messages from friends, fans and family all over the world gave me a huge lift and I know we’ll be back to put in some big performances before the season is out.
Just like plucky Besiktas who through modesty, hard work, sacrifice and solidarity have had their best season in European football this year. They’ve beaten teams backed by oligarchs and energy drinks companies... and we’re aiming to do something similar!