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Drift Masters European Championship – Round 2: France

Every dark cloud has a silver lining, as Smokey proves in France

The Circuit de Croix-en-Ternois hosts the second round of DMEC 2019 and Team Japspeed’s Paul Smith makes the most of the tricky conditions

Images: Jordan Butters & Drift Masters

Last month, Paul Smith’s debut in the Drift Masters European Championship saw him qualify for the Top 32 battles – a good achievement given the calibre of the opposition in Austria. Team Japspeed were hoping to go one better next time round in France – and Smokey did just that.

Round 2 of DMEC 2019 took place on June 14-16 at the Circuit de Croix-en-Ternois, located just 60 miles south of Calais, its close proximity to the UK a welcome change to the 2,000-mile adventure that Round 1 demanded.

Unlike in Austria, organisers compressed Qualifying and driver battles into Sunday alone, leaving Friday and Saturday as Practice days for the top DMEC drivers. Supporting DMEC was the Championnat de France de Drift (CFD) series, which had its moment in the spotlight on the Saturday using the same course.

Ah yes, the circuit. Relatively sedate looking from the air, DMEC drivers quickly realized it was anything but once clipping points and transition zones were thrown into the equation, these demanding maximum attack and liberal use of the throttle pedal just to get anywhere near them. Witnessing drivers transition on full throttle, approaching 100mph, towards the end of the course was just breath-taking.

And then there was the hairpin, approached from well over a ton. Sometimes people wonder why drift machines pack such impressive braking systems, but the Circuit de Croix-en-Ternois served as good reason. Drivers simply couldn’t hit the 180-degree turn’s clipping point and achieve the magic 100-point score without beefed-up stopping power.

Team Japspeed got off to a solid start on Friday. However, some clutch slip felt during second Practice meant dropping the gearbox for investigation. It was discovered that the master cylinder wasn’t fully releasing, causing pressure to increase in the system. The solution was a new master cylinder and clutch adjustment.

Come Saturday and the Toyota GT86 was on song. “The car felt great after we replaced the master cylinder,” Smokey said. “I was starting to get a good flow around the track, attacking the first corner in fourth gear and staying flat throughout the track to the final hairpin. After a couple of runs, I felt I had dialled into the qualifying line and was confident enough to get up close on some chase runs with some of the European drivers.”

The scene was set for Sunday Qualifying, but Mother Nature threw a massive curveball. “Unfortunately, we woke up to extremely wet conditions, and after two days of hot and dry weather it was as though the reset button had been hit,” Paul said. “As the track started to dry, it became very patchy with wet and dry sections, which made it very difficult to predict.

“My first Qualifying run was safe and I managed to stay on the line, but couldn’t quite get deep into clips 3 and 5, and ended up with a score of 52 points. That was OK, but I knew I would need to step it up for the second run.”

Paul Smith is well known for his tidy and precise driving style, and that approach paid dividends on his second run. “The track was virtually dry for my second run and that gave me the confidence to push right to the edge of the track on full throttle. The run felt so much better and I knew that I had got much deeper into the clipping zones.” Following a short but tense wait, judges awarded Paul a score of 78, which put him 11th at the time. By the end of Qualifying, Smokey remained deep in the Top 32, qualifying in 21st position out of 45 drivers., much to his and the team’s satisfaction.

The weather was not done yet, though. Another massive downpour before the battles commenced forced Team Japspeed to drop the tyre pressures as low as they dared, in a bid to enhance grip. Would the Maxxis rubber perform?

“Max Heidrich was my opponent and we both made big mistakes in our first run, caused by the track conditions being so bad,” Paul said. “I was leading in the second run and had more idea what to expect grip-wise. I managed to put in a decent run and ended up taking the win, meaning I was heading into my first Top 16 battle in the Drift Masters Championship.”

Paul Smith faced Pawel Korpulinski in a 900bhp BMW 1M. “I knew this was going to be a tough challenge,” he said. “From the start line, I kept alongside him and initiated aggressively into the first corner, but he came up a little shallow on outside clip 3 causing me to adjust my line and fall back slightly, before regaining ground around clip 4.

“Onto my lead run and it felt awesome up to the transition between clips 4 and 5, where the track had dried and my car just gripped and straightened out, causing me to re-initiate around the final hairpin. Waiting on the line for the result, I knew I had made a major mistake and expected a quick result, however the judges took some time deliberating it before handing the decision to my opponent.”

Making it into the Top 16, Team Japspeed managed to improve on its result in Round 1, which was a hugely satisfying outcome given the very tricky conditions. Round 3 of Drift Masters European Championship takes place in Plock, Poland on June 28-29.

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