Conor Shanahan is the youngest of the current crop of drivers hailing from Ireland that have been wowing crowds across Europe and the world and he is looking to be a regular podium finisher in 2020.
Conor made his debut in the Drift Masters European Championship in 2018, sensationally beating fellow Irishman, and double DMEC and Irish National champion James Deane at the Polish round of the championship. And he did this on the weekend of his 15th birthday.
Since then, Conor has been competing all over the world, was recently announced as a Red Bull athlete, and is targeting a top three championship finish in 2020.
Between May and September, the 2019 Drift Masters European Championship was dominated by Irish drivers, who won five of the six rounds that make up the championship, as the series made its way from Austria, visiting France, Poland, Latvia and Germany, before coming to a close at Mondello Park in Ireland.
In torrential rain, Deane retained his DMEC title on home soil at Mondello Park, finishing atop the standings, followed by Conor’s older brother Jack, who finished second to Deane overall in the standings, with Conor ending the season ninth.
With the 2019 season over, we caught up with Conor to get an insight into the highs and lows of 2019, look ahead to a big season next year and discuss balancing growing drifting fame with schoolwork.
Looking back at the 2019 season – what have been the highlights and the not-so-high-lights?
“The 2019 season for me was a very difficult season and throughout it we were building a new car and we ran into a lot of problems with it. I suppose the highlight of my 2019 season was definitely signing as a Red Bull athlete! The not-so-highlight was round three of Drift Masters in Płock, in my top-16 battle when the exhaust fell down and I couldn’t do the battle. That was definitely the worst.”
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It’s almost go time for the biggest event of the year I’m really excited, the last round of the @driftgames.life extreme championship and then the last round of @driftmasters.gp it’s going to be an incredible weekend and to make it better it’s on home soil and in front of a home crowd, we need your support you will be able to get your jerseys at the last event, it was so cool to see all the ones what were sold at punchestown, we need to have @theshanahans army strong in @mondellopark! 📸@jordanbutters #CS79 / @link_ecu / @westlaketyres / @_wisefab_ / @bigcountrylabs
You’ve done a fair bit of travelling in the last couple of years. Do you get to enjoy much away from the track?
“Yes, I am quite lucky that I get to travel a lot around Europe. We have been to some incredible places, but if I was to pick one, it would probably be Riga because it’s a really cool place, there are some really interesting things to do there, and you can do a lot of stuff with your team, but other countries are also really enjoyable to visit.”
Which is the toughest circuit you compete at and why?
“An event at Mondello Park is always one of the more challenging events as the weather can be really difficult and you have to make big decisions every time you go on the track, but coming home to Mondello for the last round is always quite special. I didn’t have the best season so I was pushing really hard at this year’s event and the atmosphere created by all the home fans there was incredible.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the result that I was hoping for – qualifying first on both days and then the car breaking down didn’t give me the opportunity to try to go on and win the event. That aside, that event is always a highlight because of the people there, it’s such a good feeling to drive in front of a home crowd.”
What will you be up to in the closed season? How do you keep sharp?
“Now the season is over, maybe some events during the winter, but other than that not much. We are planning on a big season next year, which is going to take a lot of work which has already started. For me I always want to drive as much as I can but that’s not possible all the time so I’m just playing the sim as much as I can to keep everything fresh and I’ll play some sport to keep fit – but for me I am always busy because I’m still in school!”
Plans and targets for next year?
“The plan for next season is to make sure that the car is going to be reliable. I’m going to be pushing really hard I would love a top-three finish in the championship. I’m going to try my hardest to make it my best season yet. I will be sticking with the same car next year, but it’s going to get a lot of upgrades to make sure that everything is right for next season, and yeah maybe a new livery on the car, so it might look quite different!”
What other motorsports and non-motorsports inspire you?
“For me sport was a massive part of my life before I got into drifting I still quite play a lot of it, but not during the season in case I get injured. I love soccer, football and hurling, and motorsports circuit racing is a massive interest for me. Rallying would be one of my favourites and something I definitely want to do in the future.”
Images from Paddy McGrath/Red Bull