Formula Drift Driver James Deane: Life in the Fast Lane
In the electrifying sport of drifting, where the blend of precision and speed take center stage, one name stands out on the track – Formula Drift driver James Deane.
Hailing from Ireland, Deane's journey into motorsports was sparked by early memories of watching his father build rally cars and witnessing his brothers compete in races. Introduced at a young age, his passion for the thrill of drifting has allowed him to garner recognition and respect on both the national and international stages in Formula Drift. His commitment to success behind the wheel has propelled him to an unmatched level of competition in the sport. Pennzoil slid into the passenger seat to learn more about how James Deane got his start in motorsports, pivotal influences in his career, his first year with Team RTR, and how his relationship with the brand has impacted his success on the track.
James Deane’s First Drifting Competition in 2006
JAMES DEANE PICTURED NEXT TO DRIFTING VEHICLE
PENNZOIL: Growing up in Ireland, what inspired you to pursue a professional career in drifting?
DEANE: Growing up in a motorsports family in Ireland, my father owned a business where he built and competed in rally cars. Although I missed out on firsthand stories of my father's rallying adventures because I was born a decade later than my older siblings, I was eventually introduced to the world of motorsports. I was eight years old when I first saw my older brothers competing in rally car racing. When I turned 10, I tagged along to my brother’s first drift event, where I fell in love with the sport from the second I saw the cars going sideways. It reminded me of going to my father’s rally races, watching from the tight corners and hoping to see the cars turn sideways. From that point on, I started playing drifting on PlayStation games, trying to perfect my craft. As soon as I was old enough, I entered my first drifting competition, and it all took off from there.
PENNZOIL: Would you say that your father and brothers were your biggest influences when starting out in drifting?
DEANE: Yes. Their tremendous wealth of knowledge helped me as a younger racer. As a stubborn kid, you don’t always want to listen to your dad – however, he's always right. Once I became interested in drifting and began following it online, I quickly became obsessed with the Japanese D1 Action videos. I'd spend hours waiting for a 30-second clip to be posted, because my internet was so slow, and then just watch it over and over.
Another influence for me was Nobuteru Taniguchi, who used to drive for HKS in his S15. His smooth hand technique while drifting became a significant influence on my driving style as I became more involved in the sport.
PENNZOIL: You’ve traveled and competed all around the world in different drifting series. Do you have a favorite event that you’ve competed in?
DEANE: My favorite event is my first Formula Drift round back with Team RTR back in April of this year. After a three-year hiatus from the sport, I was excited to be in a new car and be a part of a new team. Luckily, we managed to qualify second behind Vaughn in the one-day event.
My second favorite event is Irwindale where we won our first championship, and it was the best dream year ever. To this day, I can still watch the videos from that championship win and feel quite a lot of emotion.
PENNZOIL: What is the biggest difference between competing in the United States versus competing in Europe?
DEANE: The biggest difference for me is the travel. I’m traveling a lot further and dealing with different time zones. So far this year, because I’ve also been competing in Europe, I’ve traveled on several flights. The temperature at the events in the United States is a lot higher than I’m used to, so you’re dealing with fatigue, needing to stay hydrated and rested, whereas in Europe the weather tends to be colder. Other than that, the competition is similar in both the United States and Europe. If you want to have a chance at making the podium, you must be at the top of your game.
Joining RTR this year as my first season on the team has been a rollercoaster, being able to drive in a car that I’ve never driven before and compete with the V8. I’m really proud of our 5th place finish this year as a team, as it’s been a very positive first season back!
James Deane in RTR Mustang at Irwindale Speedway 2023
James Deane in RTR Mustang at World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis 2023
James Deane in RTR Mustang at World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis 2023
James Deane with RTR Teammates Vaugh Gittin Jr. (Left) and Chelsea Denofa (middle) signing autographs at Irwindale Speedway 2023
PENNZOIL: What has been the biggest surprise about American culture for you?
DEANE: My first time going to America was in 2008, and I definitely had some culture shock, but now nothing really surprises me anymore. A few of my friends from Ireland came to support me at one of my races this year, and they had such a great time that they felt like they were in a movie. One thing they did say was that they were surprised by the big roads and many lanes of traffic here. Overall, there is something special about America. The fans and the interactions are great, and it’s always a blast to come back each year. I always say that while you may be a bit exhausted at the end of the season, as soon as you stop for a couple of weeks, you’re always excited to come back.
PENNZOIL: How do you feel your driving style and approach to Formula Drift has evolved this year?
DEANE: I’ve had to make some changes to my driving style this year because the V8 power is different than what I’ve been used to before. Before, I was working with Inline 62JZ turbo-charged S chassis, a setup that I had been using for more than 15 years. Now, switching to the Mustang with V8 power has been a learning experience for me, as I’m not used to peddling the car and playing with power to get the exact grip. But the Mustang is set up to be full throttle for as much of the track as possible and give you the best grip. I’m always impressed with these cars because they’re so loud, and you feel like you’re giving them a really hard time when they’re built to take it. Considering the amount of abuse we’re giving the engines in Formula Drift, it’s very cool to experience that once you’re inside the car.
PENNZOIL: What was it like joining Team RTR this year?
DEANE: When I stopped competing in Formula Drift in 2019, I was asked in an interview what kind of car I wanted drive, to which I responded an RTR Mustang. It always looked so wild and dynamic from the outside that I always wondered what it would be like to drive from the inside.
A few years later when I decided to return to Formula Drift, everything happened quickly as I started to have conversations with the team. Nearly 12 months later, I was invited out to drive one of their cars. Next thing I knew we were at Long Beach, meeting my team for the first time, sitting in the car.
JAMES DEANE WITH RTR MOTORSPORTS TEAMMATES VAUGHN GITTIN JR. (LEFT) AND CHELSEA DENOFA (RIGHT)
PENNZOIL: If you had to pick one of your RTR teammates to be your co-pilot on a cross-country road trip, who would it be, and why?
DEANE: For a long journey, I would pick my spotter, Clay Stevens. I think it would be a great way to get to know him even more, as he’s had a lot of experiences in life that we both relate to, and I really enjoy our conversations. He’s not too crazy to the point that we’d get into trouble on the way, and we’d get across the country in one piece. I think it would only be better for spotting in the future!
PENNZOIL: You compete under extreme conditions in Formula Drift, especially with the weather. How does having Pennzoil in your engine impact your confidence during a race?
DEANE: Having Pennzoil in our engines is unbelievable. When I first started driving the Mustang, I was surprised by how much the team was asking me to go as hard as I could with the car because it wouldn’t break. I’m also especially thrilled to be using Pennzoil Platinum this year. It’s super reliable and strong, and I’m constantly impressed with the quality of the product!
PENNZOIL: When you think about Pennzoil's new campaign, "Long May We Drive," how does it personally connect with your experience as a driver?
DEANE: It’s not just a product, there’s a vibe and a following to it. I love the content Pennzoil is producing. I’m proud to be involved and ‘long may we drive’ into the future. I can’t wait to see what next year brings, and it’s a pleasure to be part of the family!
PENNZOIL: What advice do you have for aspiring drifters who are looking to follow in your footsteps?
DEANE: The game has changed quite a bit from when I was growing up in the sport. Nowadays, it’s very simulated and more accessible, and people are finding it easier to learn with a simulator that mimics the type of driving we do out on the track. It’s even cheaper than driving on a track and trying to learn all the basics. However, it’s not an easy journey, and there’s no easy way to do this. My advice would be if you’re passionate about it, you’ll find a way to make it happen. For me, putting in the work on and off the track was the key, and it was only a matter of time before I started getting noticed. I was lucky enough to have a lot of good results along the way, but it’s been a journey. For people who are looking to become drivers, practice as much as you can, go to grassroots events, ask questions, and work hard because one day you’ll make it!
PENNZOIL: Your teammate Chelsea Denofa recently secured the title of Formula Drift champion. How did you celebrate the win with your team?
DEANE: It was an exciting win for the whole team! Personally, getting to know Chelsea as a new addition to the team has been a fantastic experience. Watching him navigate the highs and lows of this season has been truly inspiring, as I’ve gotten to learn what drifting means to him. This year’s win was a testament to all of Chelsea’s hard work throughout the season, as it looked like a weight was lifted off his shoulders when he secured that win. To celebrate the win, we went to the Formula Drift banquet and then spent the next night at a karaoke bar!
PENNZOIL: Looking ahead to next season, do you have any specific career goals you hope to achieve?
DEANE: I am looking to win the Formula Drift championship in a Mustang RTR. Coming into this season, I had a lot to learn, getting to know my team, learning the tracks, and how my car would perform at that track. Next year, we’re going to be as sharp as possible before Long Beach, making the right decisions and keeping up with fitness. For now, I’m going to enjoy the offseason and then get back to work after Christmas to prepare for the 2024 season!