Tours Speedway would play host to the opening round of the 2017 Series – the French Drift GP. This half mile oval, famous for its Nascar Whelan Series events since 2012, would really test the drivers with a demanding layout and treacherous walls to keep all the top drivers in check.
With temperatures rising to 35C during the day it would be a true physical test of both man and machine. With a huge turnout of drivers being showcased, this would be the biggest international French event to date. Could the French drivers defend against the International invasion?
In qualifying the top 10 drivers would be separated by a just few points, showing how much work everyone had put in to raise their performance in the off season. Jerome Vassia would lead through most of Q1 before the International drivers would make their mark in the Q2. Two-time British Drift Champion Jack Shanahan would send out early signs he was not there to make up numbers and took P3.
The top two spots where duked out between Triace Tyre teammates – Nigel Colfer and Fredrik Oksnevad. In Q2 the Norwegian driver Fredrik Oksnevad would push that little bit harder, with a savagely precise run, stealing P1 in qualifying and in doing so became the first person to show he has his sights set on the 2017 championship.
Once into the battles the upset would come thick and fast, Nigel Colfer got caught out by local hero Axel Francois who was putting on the drive of his life. Fredrik Oksnevad would also push too hard against Juha Poytalaakso after charging hard into turn1, making heavy contact with the wall and handing the win to Juha.
With a mix of British, Irish, Finnish, Lithuanian and French champion’s in the Great 8 it was a true International mix.
Steve Biagioni and Juha Poytalaakso would both be charging hard and after a one more time battle Baggsey would push that extra little bit, closing in on the Finnish Champions door and cementing victory.
Top ranked UK driver Martin Richards would push hard in his battle against Lithuanian Andrius Vasilauskas but a mechanical failure ended his day early in their one more time battle, handing the win to the Lithuanian.
French drivers Axel Francois and reigning French Champion Nicolas Dufour would have another super close battle but Axel’s aggressive chase driving and super fast lead run would see him progress to the Final 4.
Two time British Champion Jack Shanahan was charging super hard and was improving more and more as the night went on with some incredible chase driving on display. However, after a one more time battle with Benjamin Boulbes, during which a very controversial move by the Frenchman resulted in contact, Jack was knocked out and we saw the French driver advance to the final 4.
The Final 4 would see some of the most chaotic events of the night unfold.
An all French Semi final would see long-time rivals Benjanmin Boulbes and Axel Francois face off. Again contact in this battle would be seen. Axel knew his car was at a disadvantage and charged in hard in the chase run. He made contact with Benjamin but an unfortunate decision by Axel to carry on pushing and making further contact with Benjamin caused him to be disqualified from the battle for dangerous driving and that allowed Boulbes to move on to the Final.
The other semi final would see two giants meet. Vasiliauskas, currently ranked 3rd in Europe, against a two time winner in 2016, Steven ‘Baggsey’ Biagioni. Baggsey would chase super close, but Vasiliakukas Turbo Systems BMW car proved again it was the fastest car on the grid and pulled a gap.
In the return battle Andrius chased Baggsey pretty close again but as the cars entered turn 2 the cars made contact, with Baggsey’s front left wheel breaking a steering rod, sending him off track. The contact was determined to be the fault of Vasiliauskas and so gave ‘Baggsey’ a huge advantage on that run, handing him the win and allowing him to progress into the final.
A face-off between the top ranked drivers of the UK and France would see them fight it out under the lights of the Tours Speedway circuit. After a night of very tense, close battles the final runs would not disappoint. After the eventful semi-finals, both finalists’ cars required repairs before starting on their final runs which only added to the tension.
Baggsey would lead first on Run 1 and laid down a perfect lead line, showing how badly he wanted to take the event win, but in the second battle it all went off, Benjamin ran a shallow line on the banking forcing Baggsey to straighten up and then big contact on corner 4 would give ‘Baggsey’ a heavy disadvantage and hand the first win of the 2017 season to French driver, Benjamin Boulbes.