Conor Shanahan eyes Mondello prize as Russian plans abandoned for Drift Masters challenge

Conor Shanahan’s masterplan this year was to succeed his older brother Jack as the Russian Drift Series Grand Prix winner.

Cork teenager Shanahan was even due to drive for a Ukrainian team in the FIA Intercontinental Drifting Cup in Sochi in June.

Then Russia invaded Ukraine, and the 19-year-old had to push away his panic and scramble to save his season.

He did that and, having come second in last year’s 2022 Drift Masters European Championship, the Red Bull Athlete will be one of the top attractions for the 8-10,000 strong crowd at Mondello for the start of the new season on Sunday.

“Yeah, we were supposed to go down that road (to Russia) but things have changed massively,” said Shanahan, whose Toyota GT86 bears the slogan ‘We Stand With Ukraine’ on the side.

“To be honest, I don’t think as an athlete I’d drive there (because of the war).

“We’ve a lot of friends (in the region) and the team we were actually supposed to drive for was a Ukrainian team. I’m not going to mention the team, but that’s besides the point now.

“Obviously, financially it’s not a cheap sport and we’ve also got to make money because it’s our job now, so you’ve obviously got to work everything out in a short space of time.

“Luckily with the support of people that we’ve had over the last couple of seasons we can go back and decide that we’re going to do the full European championship.

“It doesn’t really change anything in terms of driving because both championships are as competitive as each other.

“We’re going to focus now on Drift Masters and put that behind us, and let’s see, hopefully next we can have the conversation about going to America.

“We’re glad that we have the opportunity to drive in Europe in a high level championship.”

The Shanahan brothers will both compete in cars built by Jack, 23, and both hope to take down last season’s Masters winner Piotr Wiecek.

Conor managed to do just that in the last race of last season, but by then Wiecek had the title in the bag.

Like many in the field, the Corkmen hope that using the same tyres as Wiecek this season will bridge the gap.

Conor’s Toyota has a very similar spec to a world Rally car and he admits that, in future,

With the tyre change – from Westlake to Felino – he believes it gives the siblings a “fighting chance” against Wiecek.

The problem is, the field will only get the new tyres today and the Shanahans have had very little time to test them.

“It’s the biggest worry for a lot of drivers who have changed to this tyre,” said Conor.

“It’s starting to become a problem where there’s almost too much grip, the car is becoming nearly undrivable and it’s starting to become a little bit messy.

“Even looking back at a lot of runs Piotr did last year, he’s an incredible driver and probably one of the strongest to win the championship, but you could he struggled because he had too much grip.

“Myself and my brother are both gunning for him but there’s a field of 40 drivers and 15 of them have a chance to win this Sunday.

“This is the best Drift event Ireland will ever have seen. It’s going to be pretty packed.

“It’s great for the Irish drivers to kick it off at home and start the season here, because we usually finish here.

“I haven’t won a Drift Masters event in front of a home crowd so it would be nice to start with a bang on Sunday.

“We have the local knowledge of the track – there’s a lot of pressure, though, because there are a lot of eyes watching you that you know.”

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