September 2015. Tomás Kiely, aged 15 at the wheel of a 815Hp 2JZ Silvia S14 vs James Deane, the best drifter in the world and the stage is Mondello Park. The sun shone brightly and 15,000 people watched live and on-stream as a boy living his dream took Deane to the wire. It was epic. It was also the last time I properly enjoyed competitive drifting in Ireland.
Almost seven years later to the day and an event billed as a record breaker for Mondello is happening, I'm stood soaked to the skin on the circuit infield and Tomás Kiely launches his freshly built 2JZ 180SX with James Deane in his world beating Eurofighter E92 over the crest and into turn one.
Save for the inclement rain, it all seems oddly familiar. Grandstands packed, the best of the best on track and Dave Egans voice booming throughout Mondello Park. It's Saturday practice at the inauguarl LZ Festival and I'm beginning to think that love for drifting is about to return.
I've been travelling to Mondello Park for as long as I can remember and after too many days shivering with soaked feet, I've learned that the most vital Mondello attire are waterproofs. But no waterproof clothing on earth could sustain the sheer level of wetness that fell on track Saturday.
Despite the incredible weather, the show went on and what a show it was. The whos who of the YouTube drifting community doing battle in borrowed cars at a sold-out circuit. Adam LZ, Collete Davis, Jimmy Oakes, Luke Fink, James Deane...the list goes on. It's fairly bizarre that this event is taking place at a small, ageing circuit in county Kildare but that's all thanks to one man.
Dave Egan and the wider Drift Games team should be very proud of what they've achieved here as in a relatively short period of time they've grown a small, localised brand into something that is recognised all across the world. When Adam LZ is willing to travel to your event, something he doesn't do often, you know you're doing something right.
And huge respect must go to Adam too. It was no small matter for a driver with obvious insecurities behind the wheel to throw a borrowed, pro-spec S15, with zero practice, at full lock into one of the trickiest corners in full wet conditions and hold it perfectly, nailing the course to the delight of fans. This guy can seriously peddle a car, there is no doubt about it, taking on some of the best in the business in Sundays competition too. What's more, he could've hopped out afterwards and disappeared upstairs into the hospitality suites, but instead he stood and signed autographs and posed for pictures with the thousands, and I mean thousands, waiting in line.
I didn't plan on attending on the two days, but with the weather so poor on Saturday and FOMO hitting hard on Sunday morning, I made some time in the afternoon to get down for Top 32. I'm so glad I did as the show the guys put on was all sorts of epic.
When Dave asked the crowd to welcome the drivers to the grid, the roar that erupted around the circuit was up there with football stadium volume levels. The place was absolutely wedged, easily 20,000 fans packed into a relatively small viewing area, 6 deep in places. The sun was shining too, a nice change from the previous day and the action on track was just as hot.
The best part for me, though, was it felt like I'd gone back in time to that sunny afternoon in 2015 when I watched the best in Ireland do battle. It was good to be back.
Event: LZ Festival
Location: Mondello Park, Ireland