The countdown is on to the 2018 Link ECU Irish Drift Championship (IDC) and with Round 1 just around the corner, Mondello Park is ready to once again play host to the opening round of what is being billed as the most daring championship year to date.
This season will see a potential total prize fund of a staggering €140,000, with the top 3 finishing drivers at each round taking home €1,000, €700 & €500 respectively. At Global Warfare, however, the prize for 1st place is a whopping €20,000. Add to that the impressive prize for a championship win, a performance bonus and the brand new driver ticket incentive scheme which essentially allows you, the fans, support your favourite driver on the grid, the action is certain to be upped a notch or two this year.
News also broke during the off-season that the IDC calendar would feature Drift on the Docks 2 as once again, Dún Laoghaire Harbour will open its gates to the world’s fastest growing and most adrenaline-fuelled motorsport. But the real news for Irish drift fans will be the return of Punchestown. This man-made track has provided some of the most spectacular stories in Irish drifting over the years and there is no doubt that this year will be no different.
So, with more on the line than ever and the world watching, who will step up to be crowned the 2018 Irish Drift Champion? Each of us will have our own opinion and some of the regular names will undoubtedly be offered as suitable contenders. Names like former 2-time champion Duane McKeever, defending champion Jack Shanahan, former Prodrift champion Brendan Stone and former British Drift Champion, Shane O’Sullivan will undoubtedly be uttered.
Let’s not forget consistent veterans like Paul McCarthy, Mike Fitzgerald, and Brian Egan. Others will favour the young guns Conor Shanahan and Alan Hynes, as the new era look to make their mark. It would also be foolish to look past in-form drivers such as Anthony Galvin and Mitch Larner. Oh, and remember when Chris Brady almost took down Jack Shanahan in Dun Laoghaire last year? Yeah, picking a winner isn’t exactly easy!
In an attempt to narrow it down, I turned to the history books. A lot has been made of the unbeaten streak that we Irish have here on home soil. At this point, we have lost count of the number of international guests who have arrived with dreams of being the one to stand atop an Irish podium. To date, despite some valiant efforts, all have failed. But how do our Irish guys, our homegrown heroes, stack up? The answer might surprise you. Since 2013, when Prodrift ceased and the Irish Drift Championship was born, there have been 25 events all across this small island. And while the history of this sport dates back considerably further, I feel as though it is the last 5 years that are most relevant to how we view the sport today.
Of those 25 events, there has been significant dominance by a few drivers. Unsurprisingly, James Deane tops the charts with 11 round wins. His closest rival, Duane McKeever has less than half that with 5. The 3rd winningest driver with 4 wins is Jack Shanahan and he didn’t get his first win until 2016. Paul McCarthy has mounted the top of the podium on two occasions in this time leaving 3 others who have managed the feat just once in Tomás Kiely, Paul Murphy, and Alan Lenihan. In total, 7 warriors have succeeded, where hundreds of others have tried and ultimately faltered along the way. So where does that leave us for 2018?
Fresh off the top step of the podium at Round 1 of the British Drift Championship, Duane McKeever looked in a class of his own en route to a second career victory in BDC. The two time IDC champion is unbeaten on British soil and will be looking to take up where he left off come April 22nd. Having watched Duane develop over the last number of years, I, like many, firmly believe that if he can avoid mechanical trouble, it will take something really special to beat him. Let’s face it, you could count on one hand the number of mistakes he’s made that have resulted in him suffering defeat.
Let’s talk about the ‘something really special’ then – Jack Shanahan. A quick look at his resume will tell a story on its own. Current IDC Champion, back-to-back BDC Champion and one of the few drivers who can brag about beating James Deane. Not bad for an 18-year-old, eh? Whether or not he is better than Duane will always divide opinion and unless we see a season where neither suffers ongoing mechanical issues, it’s a question that will always be difficult to answer. One thing is for sure, these two will line up against each on the IDC grid this year and regardless of who comes out on top, it will be explosive.
2nd place finisher in the 2017 Irish Drift Championship then was none other than Tomás Kiely. Kiely and Shanahan share a motorsport history together and when the two eventually met for the first time in an IDC Pro final, it was Kiely who came out on top. Since then though, it is Tomás who has taken the back seat and appears to have struggled to replicate the success, where Shanahan has flourished. Kiely possesses a rare racing ability that many on the grid can only dream of and often you get the impression that he can just turn it on, if and when he feels like it. 3 relatively average rounds (for a driver of his standard that is) last season left him in second position. One might wonder where he could have ended up had he qualified a little better. I for one, am waiting, impatiently, for the real Tomás Kiely to stand up. Just image the carnage if he does!
He may not have the same championship credentials as older brother Jack, but Conor Shanahan is a genuine contender for the 2018 Irish Drift Championship too. Winner of the final round of the 2017 BDC calendar, with an overall 3rd place in the championship, not to mention a feature in none other than The Grand Tour. It’s safe to say that at just 14 years old, Conor Shanahan has the world at his feet. Can he overcome older brother Jack and former champion, McKeever? You’d be brave to bet against it.
Japspeed driver Shane O’Sullivan has never won an IDC event. Wait … what? That’s right, a former BDC Champion, with countless years experience and more than 20 podiums, has never set foot on the top of an IDC podium. If that doesn’t prove how difficult an IDC win is to come by, then nothing does. A tied 3rd place championship finish in 2017 marked another season at the top of the sport for “Sully”, who is arguably the most consistent driver in Ireland right now but before you can win a championship, you must first win a round. Could a maiden win at round 1 be the catalyst that leads O’Sullivan on a road to championship glory in 2018?
Brian Egan was, at one point in his career, the next big thing in Irish drifting. His aggressive driving style, double clutch kick entries, and qualifying prowess earned him respect on track, while his passion for creating a unique livery mixed with the perfect blend of deep dish wheels and a low ride height captured the imagination of drift fans off track. Like so many before him, the step up in competition from Pro-am to Pro has proved a difficult road for the Team Dealtwidth driver, who has struggled to replicate the success enjoyed in his earlier years. That said, some moments of over-aggression along with mechanical issues have put a halt to proceedings for Egan in the past, leaving all of us wondering what if? This off-season has seen a total revamp of the R32JZ, which means Brian can focus solely on his driving. He will certainly believe he has what it takes to be a contender this season. The question is, do you?
News from Australia broke recently that Mitch Larner would, for the second time, commit to a full season of IDC. It’s not exactly the easiest of commutes from Western Australia, which only highlights what it must mean for Larner to be a part of this championship. It’s a level of commitment unrivaled. Last season we saw moments of brilliance from the ‘Thunder from down under’ leaving many with the feeling that it was only a matter of time before Larner took home some silverware. Can he be the first international driver to take it all the way to the top step of the podium? In 2018 he will have 5 opportunities to do just that.
Anthony Galvin narrowly missed out on a win at Round 1 last year, narrowly losing to eventual championship winner Jack Shanahan. A poor showing at Round 3 and missing Round 4 saw the CAC Motorsport driver slip down the championship order to eventually finish 7th, 91 points adrift of Shanahan. Many were shocked by the sudden rise of Galvin, having had such a poor season the year previous, largely due to mechanical trouble mind you. In 2018 he will be back on the grid, looking to get off to an equally strong start. In 2017 it wasn’t to be for Galvin, but is that all about to change?
Unlikely hero, Peden Nielsen has been busy this off-season. If you follow him on social media you will no doubt be aware of his new build for 2018. What started out life as a bare shell has been beautifully transformed by Stone Motorsport into what will undoubtedly be the show stopper in Mondello Park on April 22nd. Seethrough doors should make for interesting viewing and if you thought for one second that there would be anything other than an SR20 under the bonnet, you’d be a fool. Slightly more power for ‘Mr. Keep Drifting Serious’ but the same attitude that has made him a true fan favourite. Having proved the doubters wrong on so many occasions, can Nielsen overcome the odds once again in 2018? Whatever happens, we know there will be plenty of fun along the way.
You can’t mention drifting in Ireland without mentioning Mike Fitzgerald. The Drift Games driver has been at the heart of the sport in Ireland since its inception and is easily one of, if not the most popular driver on the IDC grid. Always smiling, Fitzgerald is a man who, at every opportunity, looks to put the community first. His passion for the sport is so great that he regularly makes the trip from Cork to Mondello to pass on his wisdom to those looking to learn the basics of drifting at the Drift Games Experience. During the off-season, he gets behind the mic at IADC and he can always spare a moment for a chat or a photo with the fans. No one else lives and breaths drifting quite like Mike Fitzgerald. Unfortunately, Fitzgerald has not yet achieved the success he so dearly desires and despite moments of true magic, an IDC Pro win has remained just out of reach for the Cork native. I expect that it’s only a matter of time for Mike and that someday the dream will become a reality, but with such a stacked grid in 2018 can Mike better the results of 2017 which saw him finish the season in 9th place?
10 drivers, all with a legitimate chance at taking home some silverware and for some more than others, the possibility of being crowned 2018 Irish Drift Champion. With the depth of talent in Ireland and the now usual influx of international guests, don’t be surprised to see others stepping up to the plate this year. For 2018, picking a winner isn’t easy, and that’s exactly what makes it so interesting.