Last Saturday was the fifth and final qualifying round of Gymkhana GRiD’s European Gauntlet series and we were trackside to hear, taste and smell the burning rubber at Silvertsone’s car park 49.
Gymkhana GRiD is the live-action competition spawned by the Gymkhana series of viral videos, which have racked up more than 140 million views worldwide since they burst on the scene in 2007.
The master of ceremonies is none other than Ken Block, but with an increasingly busy schedule, even he’s not guaranteed to make an appearance during the European Gauntlet rounds.
Its origins stem from the Gymkhana World Tour exhibitions where Block, Vaughn Gittin Jr and a few of their friends perform to legions of their fans, but with GRiD some of those very same fans get to compete in a series of qualifying rounds before they take on the main man himself (or Gittin Jr, if his hoonigan-ness is otherwise unavailable).
If you’ve ever watched Block perform his Gymkhana-dance live then you may be a little surprised at how rough-and-ready the GRiD series appears. But fear not, despite the car’s hand-made looks, some of them are seriously fast with as much as 600bhp powering either rear or all four wheels.
Of course, some could perhaps do with a little less power — Saudi drift hero Abdulhadi Al-Qahtani brought his ASD Motorsports built Ford Mustang RTR along, which spent most of the day turned perpendicular to the direction of travel as it wowed the crowds with an intensity of sound to match the smoke – a feat that few of his competitors could emulate.
Still, as someone who cut his motorsport teeth on the autocross circuits of East Anglia, I couldn’t help but notice the emphasis during the practice rounds on ‘show’ rather than ‘go’.
Autocross in the UK is going through a bad patch at the moment, with the 2013 MSA British Autocross Championship suspended due to insufficient numbers. In its place the UK drift scene brings noise, spectacle and scantily-clad grid girls, but perhaps loses some of the delicacy and skill that I remember – or perhaps that’s just how it seems through an especially rose-tinted pair of specs.
Whether that represents progress remains to be seen – an overture of burn-outs in a Silverstone car park lacks some of the mystique and glamour of a Japanese Touge Run (or even a British Drift Championship round), but then it’s more accessible, free to spectate, plus you get a lung full of smoke as the drivers lay waste to countless sets of tyres.
Competitors at Silverstone included Luke Fink in his 600bhp Low Brain Drifters V8 Nissan PS13 pitted against defending champ and Monster Army driver Luke Woodham, while Al-Qahtani in his Mustang RTR took on British Drift Championship drivers Mike Gaynor, James Fuller, Anthony Scott, Daniel Firmager, James Jando, Chris Smiffy, Dmitrij Sribnij, Richard Grindrod and Team Fast Japs drivers Jake Archer and Joe McGillicuddy..
Working their way towards the podium race, Jando edged out Al-Qahtani, while Grindrod beat Daniel Firmager in his V8 powered Volvo 340. The final saw Fink in his 600bhp Nissan PS13 pitted against the underpowered 280bhp Nissan S14 of Luke Woodham, who fought valiantly against his more powerful contender, narrowly losing out across the finish line.
“It’s a really interesting sport, and I`ve had a fun weekend. I’m so stoked to have won,” said Luke after climbing down from the podium.
“You really have to concentrate and think ahead with the course. Normally when I’m drifting, there’s a wall either side, and I just run in between. With Gymkhana you are hitting each turn, and instantly trying to think ahead to find which way to go.”
“It’s been a great weekend,” added Luke Woodham. “I qualified third and got second place. It’s topped my season. The car was still in drift setup (for the BDC) whereas last year I had it set up for Gymkhana and max grip, so maybe that would have made a little bit of a difference.”
The final will be held at the City of Rock, Arganda Del Ray in Madrid on 2nd November, and a little bird tells me that Block plans something special this year. You may have noticed the absence of a Gymkhana SIX video in 2013, so look out for something special in or around this final event.
SEE ALSO: ‘The Accidental Hero – An interview with Ken Block’ to find out more about the founder and Chief Brand Officer of DC Shoes.