King of the Ring is to Essex what the Colosseum was to Rome. For 6 nights per year, or 7 if you include the Christmas specials, people from across the south of the land come to witness 32 gladiators do battle in an ovular arena for the approval of the judges; who sit overlooking the track in their corrugated metal tower like Emperors and their consortium. With the power in their hands to spare a warrior or see him eliminated from competition.
Many have said that King of the Ring is not a good place for a young warrior to cut his competition teeth, that the wetting of the track makes it too easy and that there is no skill to driving an oval! Alas, I disagree. The majority of the track is made of smooth concrete which, when wetted, become icy in nature but the inside of the corners have recently been resurfaced in grippy tarmac which gives the drivers a challenging contrast of surfaces to drift on. The other tracks around the country do not provide such a difference in surfaces. Whilst the track is ‘only an oval’ it is very narrow and is surrounded by metal armco which is very solid and will not move when you hit it. I can scientifically prove this as I have hit it from multiple angles in multiple vehicles and it has not once moved! Many of the other tracks are much more forgiving. Although they have more corners they tend to have a larger ‘run off area’ for when things go a little awry whereas at Arena you make one small mistake and POW! you’re in the wall! That’s quite an intimidating place to drive sideways!
The wetting of the track also levels out the horsepower. When shooting a promotional video for King of the Ring I saw James Deane in a 318i sitting on the door of Shane Lynch in a 328i. Both are fantastic drivers, in similar chassis’ but with a big difference in power and that power did not separate them on the wetted track. This makes King of the Ring a much more financially viable option for drivers looking to make their competition début as a talented driver in a low horsepower (cheap) car can be competitive with someone in a much higher spec (expensive) car. Money does not buy success here.
Money is a point that I would like to focus on actually. With this Motorsport For Mental Health blog I want to focus more on cheap motorsports as I know that accumulating money can be a little bit of a daunting task when you are struggling with a mental health issue. A car for Arena will cost you very little. My Mercedes W202 cost me £400 and my E36 compact cost £350 prepped and ready to go(with a lot of help from Rayleigh Tyres)! A day at King of the Ring will cost you £100 for at least 7 hours of drifting. Ok they sound like big sums but if we break that down it comes to £14 per hour. Not crazy expensive in comparison to other track days!
The people at Arena are like a family as well. If a car goes into the wall everyone chips in with tools and time to get it back out on the race track and the people there look after each other off of the track as well. It’s a wonderful atmosphere and community to be a part of.
Anyway, that’s enough of my waffling. The event consisted of four separate elements; the drifting on the main track, some RC drifting hosted by Rayleigh RC in the lower bar, a park and pose with prizes supplied by Autoglym and a sound off competition presented by Proper Droppers. Today we shall be focusing on the drifting on the main track which was judged by European and Irish champion James Deane, who was making a special guest appearance at the event and been working hard all day giving passenger rides and tips to the local fans and drivers and commentated by Mark Lappage; a BDC driver who has done a lot with Steve Biagioni for the drift scene at Arena and James Gilbert who came straight to Arena from Fueltopia Barrel Sprint with guest appearances from others such as Dan Firmager who started his drift career at Arena.
Qualifying had sadly started by the time I arrived at the track. Michael Herrington was the first driver I got to see put in his runs. Debuting a new E36 he put in a great first run. I was seated near the exit of the first corner and I could clearly see the disruption the change in surface caused to caused to some of the cars. Particularly Michael’s, which must have rock solid suspension! Sadly his second run wasn’t so great as he understeered out of the first corner and tapped the wall (I know the feeling!). the first run was enough though, and saw Mr Herrington through to the top 32.
Corey Howard in a BMW E46 was up next. Sadly he spun in his first run and straightened on the second. It’s pressure being out there with all eyes on you!
Rob Cropley in the #777 E46 with red eyes spun twice.
Billy Taylor who has to drive with hand controls was next. I’ve seen a few cars with hand controls pop up in the drift scene over the years. It’s great to see! With a little ingenuity nothing can stand between yourself and progress! Sadly Billy spun on his first run and a tap against the inner curb of the first corner on his second run caused him to straighten.
Darrel Smith, a regular at Rayleigh RC, apparently does do more than talk a good skid! He put in a near perfect first run in his little 1.4 engined Volvo and then ran the walls for the crowd in the second run.
Ben Higgs put out a clean first run but straightened slightly during the transition on his second run.
Dave Keenan in a little blue Mk1 MX5 spun twice in his first run but then got it together and put in a much better second run.
James Wilkins in a E46 with “BURNS” on the number plate (do I want to know?) put in two clean runs.
James Stanton in a diesel Vauxhall Omega estate which had been converted into some sort of truck was out next. He put in two good runs! The diesel engine sounded amazing to be honest and covered the crowd in black smoke! Even if he didn’t get top qualifying score he certainly had the most entertaining car.
Sam ‘Bungle’ Booker gave a solid performance in qualifying in his black E36 compact.
Simon Conoscenti who drives a little yellow E36 compact with purple wheels but in two exceptional runs. A quick Facebook stalk reveals that he has used that car in Drift Cup and that it once had a wing which looked amazing! I’m getting idea for my little Quasimodo from this guy!
Another awesome little compact was driven by Martin Cheeseman. This example was white with orange wheels and featured some sort of flashing light thing in the front wheel which looked really cool as it was going round. He put in two good runs with the car.
Chris Topher was driving another little Volvo 340 but this one featured the 2.3 turbo lump from the bigger 940 platform. A big engine in a small car is always a winning combination and it’s always nice to see something that’s a bit different. He displayed the potential in this little car by putting out two very fast and aggressive runs.
Aiden Clarence, the youngest driver in the field, took out the S13 that he has been putting together over the past couple of years. I’m super jealous of this guy. When he built that car he just jumped in it and was sitting on the walls of Arena and the doors of the other cars… I put a Merc into a wall and had an airbag go off in my face… As expected, he put in two great runs *grumble grumble grumble*
Danny Grundy.. I think he has won the most King of the Ring events over the time it has been running. An awesome driver who has just earned his BDC licence. He wasn’t driving his personal E36 today, he was driving a E46 with a big wing and overfenders made out of aluminium kick-plate. It didn’t seem to bother him, he ran round on point as he always does.
Tony Morgan brought his 300zx out to play. Tony is another regular at King of the Ring. His 300zx has a rev limiter on it which makes it sound like a Browning .50cal machine gun. Unbeknown to him, his qualifying runs scared off two ISIS operatives planning to blow up Lakeside shopping centre. They were tight runs too and earned him a good spot in the top 32.
Simon Cane in another Omega estate was another limiter bashing driver, this time without the explosions. his first run was a little shallow but his second run was amazing!
Robbie Yates put in two good safe runs. Robbie is deaf and I find it really impressive that he manages to drift as well as he does. I can’t stand road cars that are too quite for me to hear never mind a race car! Props to him for doing an amazing job!
Finally we have Andy Arnott from L2D in one of his brightly liveried school cars. Andy turned up and went straight into qualifying having had no practise. He spun in his first run and then gave a safe second run which is fair enough as that R33 Skyline is probably worth a few quid. The runs got him into top 32.
Now you may have noticed that we’re missing Jodie Rasburn of Rayleigh Tyres, the Queen of the Ring! She is recovering from injuries sustained during an accident in her chauffeur driven, open top parade car.
That is the end of qualifying! I ran back to the RC track to warm up as it was ruddy freezing out there! As I walked some chap called Alan proposed to his girlfriend who said yes. Top job Alan!
The top 32 started with top place qualifier Ali Sutton in a BMW E36 saloon battling Andy Arnott in the L2D Skyline. Ali lead the first run and simply left the Skyline behind before sitting right on his door through the second run. What was I saying about not needing money and power to do well at Arena?
Jamie Cheeseman battled against an E34 5 Series. The battle went to One More Time after both drivers made mistakes. Sadly Jamie spun and the 5 Series went through.
Chris Topher took an E36 out of the competition in text book style. More speed + more angle = more points = Chris goes through.
Darrel Smith in the little Volvo would battle Bungle in the little E36 compact. The little Volvo, aided by Darrel cutting the floor out so he could run along the ground to build momentum, pulled away from the 36 in the first run and then was glued to Bungles car in the second run before Bungle put the final nail in his own coffin by spinning out.
Martin Cheeseman would battle Blanchard. I don’t know Blanchard, but I’ve seen his car at Santa Pod and it has a sticker that says “You’ve been Blanch’d” on the boot lid which I really like. Martin drives a compact though, which instantly makes him cool, so I really didn’t know who I was cheering for. Blanch took the chase position first and spun giving Martin the immediate advantage. Martin then brought it home by sitting on Blanch’s door all the way around the track.
Another little 1.4 Volvo saloon was in the competition. I don’t know who the driver was but he clearly didn’t have testicles as large as Darrel Smith’s as he wasn’t able to carry any where near as much speed! James Wilkins was able to pull away from him in the first run and then sat on the little Volvo’s door (or should that be doors as it’s a saloon?) until it spun and the two cars went nose to nose. Wilkins went through!
Jamie Stanton was taken out of competition by an E36 after he spun and Aiden Clarence took an E36 out with S13.
The controversial battle of the day would go to Danny Grundy and Harry Crawford who was driving an orange E36 estate. Danny led into the first corner but his hydraulic handbrake someone got stuck on which forced him to spin. Crawford narrowly misses him but makes his way around the track fine. Danny put as much pressure onto the E36 as he could but didn’t allow him to transition causing a bit of contact and taking Danny out of proceedings.
Michael Herrington spun in his battle against a blue E36 which sadly took him out of competition.
The next battle between a red E36 and a NB (2nd gen) MX5 was interesting. Whilst the MX5 was much much faster he couldn’t bring the car slow enough to twin with the E36. The judges called a one more time which was basically a repeat of the first battle. The second set of omt battles saw the E36 literally ram the MX5 and send it spinning across the track. The judges put the MX5 obviously, as that contact was clearly the E36’s fault.
Simon Conoscenti put on a fantastic display against an E36 estate. He used the compacts power to get away from the estate in his lead run and on his chase left the estate a nice lot of room and focused on mirroring his actions. Whilst getting good proximity is cool the cars do look amazing when the chase can perfectly mirror the lead.
Simon Cane would go up against another E36 saloon in his Omega estate. I do like the Omegas but they are big old cars to be throwing around there. The E36 had the advantage both runs.
Paul Parnell in his E46 coupe defeated an E36 diesel in a battle that I wouldn’t like to judge. I would have put it to OMT but the judges must have seen something I didn’t.
Finally Tony Morgan would battle Dave Keenan. The 300ZX of Morgan was obviusly much faster than the little MX5 but appeared to have a more aggressive run. The judges seemed to agree and gave him the advantage which carried him through the second run comfortably and into the top 16.
Now, I must confess, between the top 32 and top 16 I just decided it was way to cold for this and to go back in to the RC bit to keep warm. Top qualifier Ali Sutton took the win in the end which from what I saw of his driving was very well deserved. Tony Morgan finished 2nd. Mark Chapman finished 3rd and Martin Cheeseman finished 4th.
Top night all in all! Sorry for the anti-climatic end to this report but, if you wanted to know what happened in the top 16, top 8 and semi final you should really have been out supporting your local drifting community! Don’t you blame me for getting cold!
Massive thanks to Baggsy, Adam and the rest of the King of the Ring team for their continued hard work, to Lappage for the great commentating that really helped with this report, to all the drivers for putting on a great show, to the Arena Essex staff for having us and to you for reading this!
Speak to you all next week!