Driver Blog Dopeness >>> Mike Fitz at Punchestown
Hey OMGDrift fans! My apologies for the lateness of this blog! Prodrift Round 2 at the custom made track at Punchestown Racecourse was a whole three weeks ago now, but life in general has been pretty crazy with the last six weeks, find out why after the jump!
Ok, well the major news was of course that of my new sponsors, Hankook Tyre. I’ve been a fan of Hankook’s involvement in both the Irish and worldwide drift scene with years now, so when I got confirmation of the deal a few weeks before round two, I was literally jumping for joy! Hankook just do things properly, they have a great presence at events and their cars always look the business. Conrad Grunewald’s Camaro is one of my favourite drift cars right now, and I’m also delighted to join my friend, experienced drifter, and OMG blogger Alan Lenihan as team mates in Team Hankook Ireland.
Even though I’m completely for keeping drifting fun (I must have watched the Keep Drifting Fun documentary five times now!), I guess I’m at a point in my drift career where I want to put everything into it and get some results. My last car, an RPS13 Sileighty, was great and really easy to drive, I won the Prodrift Semi Pro championship with it and when I graduated to pro I always qualified with it, but when it was time to do battle with some of the bigger cars on the grid, it just wasn’t competitive enough. After I wrecked that, we built the FC at MCNSport under Darren McNamara’s supervision with one goal from the outset: to win.
Now I still have as much fun as ever, the only difference is that my car is highly competitive, so I think that the partnership with Hankook has come at a great time for both of us. The guys have been so great since I joined the team, it’s made the transition into a new team really easy. I’d also like to thank Karl from Hankook, all the guys at Guerin’s Auto Body Repairs and Seamus from Moose design for their parts in making this car look as good as it does. If you told me five years ago that I would be drifting this car, I wouldn’t have believed you! I’m humbled.
As the car performed faultlessly at round 1, thankfully we didn’t have any repairs to do, just some improvements, including some roll bar and spring rate changes and also dropping the gearing to 4.3:1 so that I could stay in third gear all the way around the fast Punchestown track. It was lucky that was all we had to do, because we had the small business of painting the car, designing the livery, getting wheels polished (thanks Ronan!), getting vinyl’s on and getting to a photo shoot with the man himself, Martin Cunningham!
Prodrift staged a practice day the Friday before the event, so this was the perfect opportunity to test the changes we made without running the cheese-grater metal barrier which bordered no less than three clipping zones around the track. I guess one of the reasons we Irish can go to any country in Europe and challenge for podiums is the nature of our track design, which is masterminded by Prodrift head judge, Kieran Hynes. It’s a kind of a ‘Go big or go home’ philosophy, or as D-Mac so elegantly put it last year when he and I guest-judged at this same event with Kieran: ‘No walls, no balls!’.
We were making the three hour trek up with fellow Prodrift competitor Kieran Stack, who was towing the RX7 along with his own 180SX, so spirits were high, but somewhere along the way Kieran’s truck got a blown out tyre. Never fear though, as our trusty team mechanic Holly was straight in on the action as seen here in this iPhone pic, and we were on the road again in no time!
While this was going on, Steerin’ Kieran kept an eye out for pirates, in case they tried to plunder our stricken vessel for booty…
Aam, speaking of booty, Kieran…
The delay did mean, however, that we missed the morning session, and an oil spillage in the evening session meant that I only got four laps in on the Friday. Who said something about staying away from the wall???
And so Saturday morning came…
And with it came the job of getting a top 4 finish out of the 70 or so entrants for Saturday’s competition, so that I could go on to qualify for Sunday’s pro event, and regain my pro license.
Even though I had one eye on the Bavaria City Racing event in Dublin the following week (more on that later), I wasn’t going to hold back, that’s for sure!
The RX7 felt great in practice, much better than in round 1, really loose with the snappiness that had been there on transitions now gone. The weather was great and everyone was full of the joys of drifting! I was still struggling a bit with lines in the morning but once I learned to go out to the wall early and stay out there, it was all good. In case you’re wondering, the track went like this: Initiation over a blind crest into a right hander, transition with a wall rub into a tight left, transition back right again into huge corner with a total of three outside clipping points, then your line tightens into the infield again and over the finish line. It was amazing!
Check out this in car video.
We had a problem with a blocked fuel filter which ruled us out of a couple more laps of practice, but I was confident enough. Underestimating the mechanical grip of the FC and the grip of my new Hankook V12 Evo tires, I asked for 265/35/18 tyres for the event. I had been running on some 245s I had of the same compound, but they were spent now so I would have to go to the 265s for qualifying. On my first run (remember, we run the same system as Formula D, two laps, grid in championship order), the extra grip of the 265s caught me out, the suspension loaded up on transition, and I spun. Every drifter’s worst nightmare. So new sponsor, new tyres and new suspension set up, no pressure! We have a saying over here that says pressure is only for blow up dolls, so I try to think of that in these situations!
I put in a safe banker for my 2nd run and qualified 8th. This meant I drew my buddy and room mate Kieran Stack for the top 32, so the craic and mind games started pretty much right away!
Even though I was telling him pretty much the exact opposite at the time, I knew Kieran was a good driver and had come back after almost a full year’s break from competition with an improved car. I also knew though that with the combination of my tyres and chassis meant that I had a lot of forward bite, and if I could use that intelligently it should be an advantage. So basically I just put down the hammer as hard as I could and let the screaming rotary do the rest! Darren Mac had also given me some setup advice this stage, and after setting the suspension differently on all four corners, on the warm up lap the car was now beautiful to drive. I gotta say the Hankook tyres are great, and this ain’t some sponsorship waffle, but they gave tons of grip and feedback at all temperature and wear levels, and I’m really looking forward to running on them in the future.
While I drove the car around near the start line at low revs to keep the rotary’s water temperature low before my following run, I got the signal from my spotter ‘Cousin Tom’ (so called because he is Kieran’s first cousin! There’s no family loyalty in drifting lol!) that I had pulled a big gap on the first run. My master plan of going fast had worked! Just before I lined up for the 2nd run, the engine gave a splutter, then stalled. I thought it was the fuel filter problem again, but the fuel pressure was correct. After every effort to find the problem within the allocated five minutes, we couldn’t find anything obvious, and we were out in the very first battle. We later traced the problem to a faulty Power FC ecu. So that was it, the pro license would have to wait until another day, and we settled back and watched the ever entertaining championship that is Prodrift Semi Pro.
With no competitive driving to do Sunday, our crew took part in the great Irish drifting tradition of going out on the Saturday night big style, but the less said about that now the better!
The level of attention which the car got was a credit to all involved in it’s build. It was a great days action made even better by the weather, and congratulations to a back on form Damien Mulvey on the win, Shane O’Sullivan for 2nd and Paul McCarthy on his second podium in as many events with a 3rd place.
At one point OMGDrift photographer Martin made his best sexy face at me so I decided to show him my secret weapon! He looks pretty impressed!
And so after all that, the very next day preparations for Bavaria City Racing began. I’m not going to go too much into this as it wasn’t a competitive event, but basically it was a multi-discipline motorsports display, with former Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button and the 2011 Mclaren F1 car being the main attraction. There were also Group B rally cars, supercars, Aprilia World Super Bike rider Eugene Laverty on board his steed and of course, the Prodrift display team! Our role was to do a top secret opening for the show and then do two demos in the afternoon. As there was going to be a crowd in excess of 100,000 people, it was still a big day in terms of spreading the good word of drifting!
We spent the next few days working on the car, sorting the ecu problem, changing gearing, rigging pyrotechnics etc, and on the Friday evening before Sunday’s event, it was time to head to our local dyno, just to check that the Hayward Rotary map had transferred to the loan ecu properly. You could easily write a whole blog on what happened next, but here goes: Due to a freak electrical fault, (fuel pump relay) we blew an engine on the dyno. It was still running but it was down on compression, a corner seal had broken. Time was already scarce as we were to be back up in Mondello Park the following day at noon for rehearsal for the show. Instead of giving up, we made the decision to try and get running again, and made a trip to Cork City for a standard 13B, pulled an all nighter, and got it running. We went back to the dyno, dropped boost, and remapped to very safely, even though we were having fuel pressure issues. We got to Mondello at 8.30p.m. when everyone else was heading to the paddock, and found the new engine had dumped all its oil due to a homemade baffled sump not sealing properly. Holly took off the sump, sealed it, and we got to the paddock around midnight, pretty wet and tired! After four hours sleep, it was time to head to the paddock again, and basically, we got to line out and open the show, making the green, white and orange of the Irish flag with smoke!
After seeing us, some guy called Jenson tried his hand at drifting in his fancy car, and you know, he wasn’t too bad for a beginner!
So until next time, when we head to Prodrift Round 3 in Fermoy in search of the pro license. We just have an engine to rebuild in the mean time! See you all then!
Special thanks to my girlfriend Catriona for not firing me, to Martin Cunningham for all the great photos, and to our great crew for putting in some serious work lately! It’s all been worth it!
Massive thanks to all my sponsors for all their help in the last six weeks:
Hankook Tyre (http://www.hankook.ie/) MCNSPORT, Chambers Performance, Hayward Rotary, Japspeed, Drive-N-Style, Guerin Auto Body Repairs (https://www.facebook.com/johnguerin.crashrepairs) Mr. Sodablast (http://mrsodablast.ie/) Japanese Performance, Mazdatrix, Moose Design.