After yet another 5am start I’d find myself at Silverstone for one of the qualification rounds, strangely the weekend shared the circuit with the British Touring Car Championship. With a feint hum of turbo whistle and wastegates in the distance this high action sport slid quite literally into view.
I’ve been a keen follower of the Gymkhana Grid series since it’s inception, and it’s a sport that continues to grow in prominence. Stemming from origins in autocross, drifting and even elements of rallying Grid grabs your attention from the moment the timing beam is broken. After spending the past 6 months deep in the forests covering my first love rallying, an opportunity from Monster Energy to check out the Silverstone round was to good to pass up.
This is still a very grassroots sport, despite the high profile grid of rallycross for the American series. Accessibility is one of the key focuses of this series and it’s not just the drifters who are out to play. You can succeed in this sport with some skill, a firm grasp of the handbrake and a little luck. The winners getting the chance to tackle the final against the previous round winners.
It may look just like cones on a carpark but this course is tight, twisty and fearsomely technical. There’s a slew of penalties for hitting cones, loosing a drift or simply spinning out. All culminating in the final washing machine, an obstacle that provides a dizzying spin cycle within the confines of a square.
Learning the course is essential, the right left split with drivers swapping after each runs further confuses matters. From the moment the timing beam is broken it’s a flat out blast round the course, it’s easy to mess up a run. Just try and stop a drifter drifting though!
A quick stroll through the paddock and it’s clear that the popularity of the S-Chassis shows no signs of abating. These two monsters both take very different approaches to the same problem, going sideways.
Some of the competitors are already seasoned professionals in Gymkkhana. Monster Energy driver Luke Woodham is already well versed in the sport often to be found competing at the Fueltopia barrel sprint events.
One of the drivers who impressed the most in the mornings run was Michelle Westby, easily slotting the black Silvia round the barrells Michelle was one of the smoothest drivers of the day.
At the wheel of the infamous Rocket Bunny S13 Anthony “Scotty” Scott had a strong set of runs in the morning. Come afternoon it was an altogether different story though, transmission issues forced Scotty to start each run well back of the line due to clutch issues. Nursing the ailing Silvia round the course Scotty still managed to pull off some convincing runs.
Matt Dedman at the wheel of this very sideways 350z was laying down some crazy angles throughout qualifying, one or two ending in spins but he didn’t seem to mind!
The drift section provided ample opportunity to kick it sideways with penalties picked up for not hitting the drift. The four wheel drive cars don’t have to drift through this section, maybe a Scandinavian flick instead?
In the 4WD drive class it was Dmitry Sribnyj who would lead out the field the Subaru driver easily progressing through the qualification runs. Watching Dmitry in the spin dryer section gave echoes of the Colin McRae championship celebrations, the Subaru switching ends with ease!
It was a tight squeeze for some of the cars around the bottom hairpin, of course the drift drivers are used to hitting clipping points.
This overfendered Nissan Silvia was a particular favorite of mine, big smokey drifts were the method of choice!
The 4WD entries were a little thin on the ground by still provided some of the most entertaining runs. This Celica would be forced into retirement with mechanical issues but it was great to see the Toyota cock a leg whilst navigating the course.
Monster Energy drifter Baggsy didn’t let a blown tyre stop him having fun! Baggsy was one of the most entertaining drivers of the demo laying down a wall of smoke which I quickly and unintentionally inhaled. Not content with laying down smoke the Skyline quickly set the surface alight during a burnout!
The track marshals kept a keen eye on the course, and hitting any of the obstacles resulted in a quick penalty (and usually a quick sprint to rebuild the course!)
The little Volvo was a real crowd favorite, but as the car hit the top corner drift both rear tyres slipped off the rims. The Volvo continued down the course till it would go no further, clock ticking the Volvo was stuck.
No wheels? no problem! an army of volunteers were soon on hand to swap the wheels over on the Volvo. The clock still running of course, the pintsize terror would complete the run too!
At the bottom of the course the drivers were locking up the front wheels, the sharp left round the barrel catching a few out. This is where an element of rallying comes in, the handbrake turn. Pulling the handbrake at the right time was crucial to a clean run, this wouldn’t phase Luke though as he navigated the corner with ease.
The pintsize Suzuki Cappuccino looked a handful, loose the rear during a drift and the car quickly pirouetted a full 360. Put in the corners the car easily slewed round whatever obstacle presented itself.
There could only be one driver/car combo of the day for us. And it was this mad bad Nascar engined Nissan Silvia with a sound which in most cultures would signal the onset of the rapture. Little more than an engine and a rear axle the Nissan laid down a wall of smoke on every run, pitching wildly sideways didn’t quite look the fastest, but Luke Fink easily topped the timesheets in qualifying.
I was fortunate, some would say unfortunate to be on the receiving end of this tyre spitting monster. To me this sums up the madness of Gymkhana it’s all about having fun and pushing a car to the limits of it’s design.
This is a sport you can do on a budget, one which rewards skill over money and machinery. And who knows, one of these drivers may beat Ken Block or Vaughn Jnr at the finals in Madrid. There’s some serious skill in the field of entrants and this can only elevate the sport.
If you get a chance to watch or enter Gymkhana, DO IT!
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