Driver Blog Dopeness >>> Mike Fitz at Japfest

Hey fellow drifters! I hope you’re all well! My apologies for my lateness, the final event of the year was pretty short for me, so I was waiting for the proposed Prodrift night time exhibition/prize giving round to squeeze them both into one supreme blog-o-rama. But the exhibition was cancelled, so instead let’s just have a better look at the traditionally-awesome Prodrift final, which was held at the Japfest festival at our national (and usually cold) race track, Mondello Park.

Like most people, drifting relaxes me. I’m never more chilled out than when I’m just sliding at a track day or whatever. But competition winds me up like a coilover. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like it, in fact I love it, just in a different way. It’s just nerves, and I only get nervous because it means a lot to me. I mean when I look out of the windows of the RX-7 on the grid, I look at my competitor’s cars around me which contain drivers whom I looked at like untouchable heroes five or six years ago, and I’m proud to be there, part of that group. The funny thing is, here in Ireland were all really good buddies, but when the line man drops his hand to signal us to go, well, now I just want to beat them! Plus on every run, you run the risk of destroying the piece of machinery you worked yourself to the bone to build, but that just adds to the thrill. The nerves are just your body getting ready to dispense all that lovely adrenaline. :-)

Anyway, back to Mondello, and there was a lot at stake for me this weekend. I’m just an ordinary dude who loves drifting, and being an ordinary dude, I don’t have an endless testing budget, and that has been a problem for us this year. It’s led to us having to work out the last of the teething problems at the actual events, much to our mechanic Holly’s endless delight, and I’m sure it’s given him some sleepless nights! It’s resulted in me missing two out of five rounds of the super-competitive championship, when I needed all I had in order to regain my pro license. In Prodrift, you lose your pro license in one season if you finish outside the top 20 in the championship. I don’t think it’s a fair rule, but it’s the only qualm I have with an otherwise excellent championship. So coming into the final round, I was sitting around 19th in the Pro championship after qualifying in round 1, and with Freddie Aasbo, Dai Yoshihara, my good sponsor D-Mac, James Deane, along with Team Japspeed from England AND all our other drivers fighting for a place in the top 16, it was always going to be a crazy weekend on track.

Hankook Tyre turned up in force, supporting both myself and my team mate and fellow OMGDrift blogger Alan Lenihan with the V12 EVOs for the weekend. It’s been an absolute pleasure working with the Hankook crew this year, and I’m delighted to announce for the first time here that we will be continuing our partnership into the 2013 season, so the Hankook Tyre MCNSport FC will be reppin’ the black, white an orange again throughout next year!

So the mission brief was simple: Progress to the top 4 of the semi pro competition which would get me through to the pro competition on the following day, then qualify for the top 16 in that and Hey Presto, I’ve got my pro license back. Easy! Aaaam, except it didn’t EXACTLY go like that…

Our experience with the FC so far in this spec has taught us that it’s a ‘fast’ drift car. It accelerates on the drift faster than the equivalent power Nissans. So bringing this knowledge into the semi pro competition with me, I set the car up so as not to be very grippy, as Mondello has an 85mph entry and I didn’t want to be too fast behind the slower cars which could force me into a mistake. Practice and qualifying went ok, as I expected I was quicker than some cars, but I got an unusually low 16th in qualifying for a spot in the top 32. Another thing I noticed was a distinct lack of sideways grip during deceleration, which hadn’t showed up at the other tracks.

Mondello has a fast entry followed by a long slowing-down section into Ford hairpin, and my lack of bite was due to the way which I had set up the suspension and the narrower tyre size I had chosen. Even though the 13B rotary was now seemingly bulletproof (thanks Darren, Happy, Holly, Karl, Mark and John), my lack of serious testing time was coming back to haunt me. The car was just ‘washing out’ into the hairpin, but I chose to stick with the lower grip set up rather than make a change at the last minute. I wasn’t worried though, I was expecting a mid field driver in a Nissan, but then in the Top 32 briefing, I heard the draw: I had got Brian Egan, driver of Eric O’Sullivan’s 2007 Prodrift championship winning AE86, a car which was developed in Mondello, and I have great respect for Brian as an up and coming driver who has a shed load of talent. When we caught each other’s eye, we exchanged ‘oh b****x’ looks and just laughed!

Still nervous because of all that was at stake, but having a blast, I went out to battle Brian. He was faster than me through the first corner but when it came to acceleration time I would catch him. To cut a long story short, we battled hard and it went to a one more time, but Brian deservedly beat me on the second run. I returned to the pits pretty upset with myself but that’s the beauty of competition: If it was easy, it would be no fun. We just soaked it the glory of the rest of the competition and had a blast of a weekend! Dai and Freddy seemed to be enjoy themselves too, and between Freddie’s 86X, Darren’s D-Mac 86 and Dai’s hair, there was plenty of eye candy for the spectators in the pits! Congrats to Brendan Stone for winning the championship in style and to Dai for driving hard to a 2nd place.

So now were looking at next year and how to improve. I absolutely have to put in more testing time and eliminate the gremlins before competition day. Time to hustle! We need to develop some new hubs at MCNSport and test a few new suspension and tyre combinations. But looking forward on a deeper level, drifting to me is about three core things:
1. Having an awesome time with some of the best people you could ever hope to meet. Just having the ‘craic’, as we say over here. Ripping it up at a track day and chilling out. It’s the soul of the sport.
2. Awesome cars doing amazing things. I’ll never forget my first time seeing pro drifting in the flesh about eight years ago: Damien Mulvey, Mike Deane and Eric O’Sullivan rubbing walls in Rosegreen in what I thought were the coolest cars in the world.
3. A slightly more recent development which has come with the rise of the wall: A certain gladiatorial element, much like freestyle motocross, but instead of putting one’s body on the line, it’s the machinery is at risk. In terms of risk, a car is of course less important than your body, but for many people, myself included, in the current climate it’s all they can do financially just to make it to the line at the event. They may not have the resources to repair or replace their pride and joy if the love tap becomes a little more than a tap… The crowd knows this and it adds to the entertainment factor. At the end of the day competition drifting is a motorsport with an element of show business, and we’re the characters in the drama.
So we currently have lots of 1 and 2 but I’m going for a little more of number 3 next year.

I’d like to thank all the readers of this blog from the bottom of my heart. I’ve been getting lots of love from the states as well as parts of the rest of the world on places like Facebook and Instagram since I started writing on OMGDrift, which actually astounds me (maybe it’s just the car??? ) and I guess that even though the blog can be made up mainly of random ranting, the language of drifting transcends cultures and borders. If you’re on Instagram please look me up under ‘mikeyfitzdrift’, and anyone who’s got some stickers of their site of blog or whatever, please send me a mail on mikefitzdrifting@gmail.com for my address as I’m going to sticker bomb my doors with stickers from around the world. I also hope to get over to a round of Formula D next year to see how you guys do it!

I’d also like to thank everyone who helped all year (and there were lots!), especially Niall, Cormac and Karl at Hankook Tyre, Darren and all the crew at MCNSport and team mechanic Holly, as well as all our sponsors and supporters. Without all the great help we genuinely couldn’t do it at this level.

Oh, and did I mention that because of my result in Round 1 this year, I scored enough points to REGAIN MY PRO LICENSE?
The FC and myself will be back at 110% next year and I hope to see you all then!

I’d also like to sincerely thank OMGDrift for this great opportunity this year and for giving me the platform to reach a worldwide drift audience. I’m no different to any other driver out there and it’s great to be able to tell my story, and I’ve no doubt with the crew involved that this site is going to go from strength to strength.

Keep it sideways,
Mike.

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