Conor Shanahan Ambassador & Red Bull Athlete

Conor Shanahan is one of the brightest rising stars of global drifting, and the 16-year-old Irish racer and younger brother of double British Drift Champion Jack Shanahan will tackle the 2020 Drift Masters European Championship with a fresh new look and a renewed will to win as a fully-fledged Red Bull athlete.

Not that long ago, on the weekend of his 15th birthday in 2018, Conor made his debut in the Drift Masters European Championship beating compatriot and DMEC and Irish National champion James Deane in Poland. Fast forward less than two years, and the Cork-based racer will take on the best in the world with his stunning rebuilt 700bhp Nissan, complete with a fresh new look.  

“It’s been a crazy journey to here,” confirmed Conor. “I’ve never dealt with something as big as this, so trying to adapt to all of this has been awesome, but also challenging at times. The car is looking unbelievable and it’s been a dream come true to see the car finished. It is a real proud moment for myself and my whole family, to have the car looking like it does - it is a dream come true.” 

For Conor, the graduation to full-time Red Bull athlete comes after a trying 2019, and it seems that along with a closed season overhaul of the car set up and the extended involvement of Red Bull, the next chapter of his career will herald a step up towards the very top of the sport.

Conor adds: “sure we had some podiums, but we had a lot of bad luck with the car and trying new things, but a lot of this sport is trial and error, you are going to have bad years. Towards the middle of last season, we had a cool meeting which looked at me becoming a fully-branded Red Bull athlete, which was a definite highlight.
“At the end of last year we got to the stage where the car was working ok, we went home stripped it all down and now it is basically a brand new car. It has a brand new engine, new gearbox and an awesome livery with the Red Bull branding on there. Hopefully, we can challenge for wins this season and regularly be among the top three.”

Recently, with the Covid-19 pandemic causing pretty much all worldwide sports as well as day-to-day activities to grind to a halt, much of the Motorsport world from Formula One to IndyCar and MotoGP have been taking to the virtual realm to get their kicks. For Conor, this is nothing new, and he has combined real-world skills with pixilated drifting thrills for some time now, and feels both areas of competition are key to giving him the edge on race day.

I’ve been virtual drifting for something like six years," states Conor, "and even for my first event, I learned the track and based the car set up on what I learned from the sim, so it is a great background to have and I think if you can use a simulator you can drive the car - and sometimes the sim is harder to master than the actual car.
“For me, the sim is a massive part of my career and always has been and Fanatec and Digital Motorsport came on board to hook me up with a pro-level racing sim and I have been competing virtually before this year and the general rise in people racing on sims. We have the VDC, the virtual drift championship, and I finished second, so we were quite happy with that - there are a lot of good drivers competing.”

Back on the tarmac, the sport of drifting has sky-rocketed in popularity over the last decade. Once a fairly niche, underground subsection of Motorsports, the sport is now a truly global entity with a multitude of championships and events across the world. 

With several of the sport’s frontrunners hailing from Ireland, the country has emerged as an integral part of the drifting scene, and that is underlined by the traditional season-ending DMEC event at Mondello Park, the home of Irish motorsport and the spectacular Japfest event which brings together a celebration of Japanese cars alongside the drifting competition on track.
“In my opinion, drifting in Ireland, I don’t think there’s a country like it” underlines Conor. “I’ve competed in lots of different countries, but to come to a home event and compete in front of a home crowd - there’s no better feeling. Coming home for the last event after being away for the other five events and you see the fans up close is amazing.

“Japfest is a really cool event for us, because it makes us appreciate even more what we have just done for the whole year. Even if it has been a bad year, Japfest kind of makes it all worthwhile because you have people there that have supported you all year - there’s no other feeling like it. I think Ireland is a massive part of drifting at grassroots and at the top level, and it can only get bigger.” 

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