The summer sun doesn’t quite set in Latvia. Not until you’re there, looking at your iPhone map to pinpoint your current location, do you realize you’re almost in Russia… And you then realize Russia is gigantic.
The country is vast, largely uninhabited and has a seasonal anomaly called white nights where the sky never actually becomes dark at night. Russia shares this phenomenon with Latvia, and both countries like to live on the wild side. Therefore the car scene was unlike anything we’d ever witnessed before.
For the trip, I’d be accompanying friend and professional Formula Drift driver, Ryan Tuerck, on his quest to compete in Round Three in the Eastern European Drift Championship (EEDC), which mayprobably the most insane BMWs in the world along with invited Ryan to drive one in the EEDC. If you want to be cool, and we found out that a BMW is the only car to get in Latvia. The E36 and E46 M3 is to the Latvian drift scene just what the Nissan 240SX is to Japan’s drifting roots.
However, Ryan wouldn’t be driving a normal M3. HGK’s owner, driver and master of speed, Kristaps Bluss, had given him a special car with a custom tube chassis that was built in-house.
A customer told us he wanted the craziest car ever built, laughed Kristaps. So we desired to do something really special.
The tube chassis wasn’t according to anything whatsoever. It was an experiment that worked out very well! he continued.
Despite its obvious drifting potential, the car wasn’t originally built for the sport, but eventually HGK realized it would be excellent for some sideways action.With the popularity of BMW platforms, they decided the project would look like an E46 M3, but that is the only real similarity between this and the BMW product, aside from its BMW Motorsport limited-slip differential.
The body panels were made out of fiberglass and can be removed in four pieces, including the doors. It was designed along the lines of the BMW Motorsport M3 GTR and molded at the HGK workshop in Riga.
The tuner then developed the front and rear suspension, using Sachs Racing shocks all around. For drifting, the steering angle can reach 67° in order to maintain lurid slides around tight turns.
The car sits with a 50/50 weight distribution and tips the scales at only 2160 lb. So, you can imagine how stupidly agile and quick it is by using a big ol’ LS3 Chevy V8 beneath the hood. It cranks out a healthy 516 and 505hp lb-ft with relatively few modifications made to it.
HGK motorsport kit car ryan kristaps and tuerckowner and car builder Kristaps Bluss
Although this might seem like overkill, the energy is needed to spin the wheels, maintain speed through the turns and put on a good show. Remarkably, HGK didn’t think it was actually fully as much as the task: It needs more power to spin 18 wheels, so we run 17s instead, Kristaps explained.
So with a new car under his control, Ryan had a steep learning curve to be competitive in Latvia, having to drive eleven-tenths if he wished to win.
Showing up to a local track, mixing with drivers who’ve known each other for a long time was undoubtedly nerve-wracking for Ryan. Yet the locals treated him just like a celebrity, so he was signing autographs, shaking hands and taking photos with both the fans and even other drivers. And even though he planned to enjoy the experience, it simply put more pressure on him to perform well and dominate the field.
After several practice runs, Ryan looked fast and smooth. It felt like alock and leaving a dense smokescreen behind him, thanks to his Maxxis tires, that have been in plentiful supply because of his sponsorship agreement using the company.
Returning to the pits for adjustments was a spectacle in itself. All of the HGK cars were equipped with air jacks – something normally restricted to touring cars or Le Mans racers. Once the air line was connected, the vehicle was raised unceremoniously on its jacks. Adding to the sight was the ease of access for the crew, who could actually strip your body panels in less than a minute gain access to the car’s main components.
Once the rear wing was removed, the rear body panel was effortlessly lifted off. Similarly, the one-piece front-end was set aside, even though the doors lifted off their hinges. Stripped naked, the HGK kit car was menacing, its innards exposed, and to view it drifting within its bare form was very specialthese folks fabricated such an epic machine in a small Latvian workshop was baffling, particularly if it performed flawlessly and drew attention like no other.
In a field of quite well-built cars, which wouldn’t look out of place from the larger, better financed American drifting scene, Ryan surely could battle his way to second place on the podium for that weekend after having a close finish.
I ran perfect for hours on end, Ryan noted. In the finals I was matched with Gvido Elksnis but his car broke, so he drove a friend’s car. The organizers allowed him a practice lap and he finished up narrowly beating me, nevertheless i really think they should have gone another time…
Despite the obstacles, second place is a testament to Ryan’s skill behind the wheel and, of course, to HGK Motorsport’s amazing tube chassis. Unfortunately, regulations mean a vehicle like this (or like many of the drift cars in Eastern Europe) would not be able to compete in the US, nevertheless it was fascinating to see how our European cousins approach the sport.