Drifting has been well and truly dead within the region over the past year so when the details for the Monster Energy Emirates Drift Championship were launched, we hoped for big things.
Round One was ran in conjunction with the 2018 LIWA Festival, it utilized the small skid pad in which the lawless freestyle drifting is usually held. The layout was a small figure of 8. A configuration which would benefit the low powered cars and aggressive drivers, meaning that the high horse power cars would not have the advantage.
Cirean and Alan Hines were flown in from Ireland to judge and the ever familiar face of Wade Uqba chipped in with his views. Grid numbers were strong, with around 35 cars showing up. Among them were two drivers who hadn’t been seen in local competition for over a year! Both Sultan Al Qassimi and Ahmed Alameri have been on military service which put a temporary stop to their drifting. Alameri was back in his usual trust-worthy 2JZ powered 86, but Sultan was in a less familiar yet very reliable, LS powered Lexus G300 after his newly built S15 was stuck in the port after its return from Europe. He was sporting two rather large bottles of NOS, to make up for the lack in power of his stock LS.
Nicholas Solomon was a completely fresh face to the us here in the UAE. His LS powered E30 had a supercharger bolted to it and overall it looked like a very well built BMW. Previous to this Nicholas had only competed in one tandem drift event and was looking to pick up some much needed seat time.
Most of the drivers took their time to settle in during practice, probably due to the surface not rubbering in. Ahmad Daham and Alameri seemed the most comfortable early on. And when they went head to head in the practice (suitably dubbed by Sultan as the El Classico) it was by far the best run of practice and both drivers were odds on for qualifying top.
By sunset though, the grip levels had changed. During qualifying it was the pair of Saudi drivers Abdull Hadi Al Qahtani and Muath Al Essa, who topped the scores. With Daham finishing in third. Nicholas Solomon surprised us all scoring 85 in his first run which saw him top of the scoring until late on. He ended up taking fourth (not bad for someone with limited experience in tandem drifting) but how would he get on in the battles?
In the top 16 there were a few surprises with the biggest battle between Lunatics by Nature drivers, Sultan and Dany Neville. Both drivers have spent time competing in Europe during the summer so this was the perfect opportunity to put what they had learnt to the test. This battle was ultimately won during Sultan’s chase run, aggression was the key, sticking to Dany’s door throughout the entire run. Dany showed good proximity during his chase run, but it wasn’t judged to be as close as Sultan’s, meaning that Sultan would move into the top 8.
There were surprise early exits for Muath Al Essa especially after his qualifying run, and Ahmad Daham who didn’t even make it to the start line due to a problematic clutch.
Khalid Al Faddin who was supporting a new look to his super clean R33 also made an early exit but he was suffering to a poorly running Rb26 which was misfiring.
Khalifa Al Nahyan was showing no fear with his entries. Already hitting the wall in practice he took things even further during the battles. During his chase runs he was consistently placing his front bumper just millimetres from the lead cars rear bumper. Ballsy but it paid off, seeing him progress to the top 8 with ease. Next up he met X Unit’s, Mohammed Al Mansoori. But due to a mistake in Khalifa’s lead run the pair had to go one more time. Khalifa’s second attempt mimicked the perfected qualifying line and then follow it up with a solid chase run which saw him progress into the top 4.
Mechanical problems haunted the Lunatic’s driver as soon after his battle with Al Mansoori, he dropped some engine oil. His team were able to patch the car up for his top 4 battle against Alameri but it wasn’t 100%. Complaining of power loss and comparing his LSX engine to a 2JZ, he crawled to the start line. Sitting side by side with Al Ameri who was showing his championship winning form of old. The odds were against Khalifa. That said, he was able to sit door to door with Alameri during the first two battles which caused the judges to call one more time.
In the second run Khalifa had the advantage due to Alameri cutting the track during his chase run. After he nailed yet another chase entry, it all went wrong for the Monster Energy driver as his engine shut down by the second clipping point. By default Alameri made it through to the Final which was more than deserved based on his previous battles.
Both Sultan and new comer Nicholas had made it through to the top 4 after some aggressive but consistent chase runs. We were expecting a big battle from these two and that it was. Sultan was the driver who came out on top, again being judged to show more proximity while chasing.
Nicholas and Khalifa would meet each other in playoff for third. Yet again the Lunatic’s crew were able to get Khalifa’s car back out of their pit in time for the battle. Down on power he had it all to do, and when Nicholas put together one of the best lead runs of the evening it was always going to be an up hill battle for Khalifa. Nicholas was judged to have taken third, but it could have been a different story if Khalifa wasn’t plagued with engine troubles.
We haven’t seen Sultan and Alameri go head to head competitively since that time in Oman when both drivers put it all on the line in a battle which saw both drivers retiring from the competition after a collision with the wall.
This time around both drivers looked to have done enough and we had to wait until the podium to find out that Sultan had been given the victory.
It was a fitting end though, a Final which featured two drivers that has spent a fair bit of time away from the track in the UAE. Sultan credited his win to the experience he picked up in Europe in the summer. And remember he was using his back up car, so he will be one to look out for at Round 2 in January.
Round 2 takes place at RAK Track on the 19th January. We know there will be more than a few drivers who will be eyeing up that top spot.