Just over a year ago, Conor Shanahan was facing into an uncertain year as the Covid-19 pandemic began to impact the sporting calendar.

Ultimately, 2020 was a write-off on the competition front but this summer, the Cork teenager has surged into second place in the Drift Masters European Championship standings after the first two rounds of action in Austria, while Ireland as a country are also just behind Poland in second spot in the Nations Cup rankings for 2021.

Ahead of the third and fourth rounds of action which get underway this weekend in Riga, the Red Bull driver is not giving up hope of catching overall leader Piotr Wiecek of Poland before the end of the five-round championship, although as he admits to RTÉ Sport it will be difficult to overhaul the 71-point deficit.

"Piotr turned up with the best package, car and tyre and straight up we're not sure if we're going to be able to catch him in this championship," says Shanahan, who has been competing in the sport which requires peerless car control - including in head-to-head battles like his second-place finish in the opening round final against Wiecek - since the age of nine and competes in the European Championship alongside his brother Jack.

"We'll probably be able to give him a bit of a run for his money but the tyre that he's on is absolutely ridiculous and, for us, too expensive to buy and very hard to get also.

"So he sort of has a massive one-up there and the speed of his car is ridiculous. We're just going to try and do what we can and see if we can challenge him."

All we can do is if I can stay in the fight in second until the last round

The Latvian capital offers a greater chance of making a dent in the championship according to the Mallow native.

"I think we'll have a better chance of challenging him in Riga because it's a very momentum track and I think if we have the same speed, definitely I think Jack will challenge him and I will probably give him a go as well.

"So if we can get a little bit faster in Riga with our suspension set-up then, we probably might have a better chance but in the whole championship I'm not sure how much we'll able to catch him.

"All we can do is if I can stay in the fight in second until the last round (in Tbilisi, Georgia in September), maybe challenge him at the last one, I'll be pretty happy with that. I'm not sure if we're going to beat him but I'll give it my all."

For the 18-year-old though, championship ambitions aside, just getting back on track is the big win for this year after the pandemic-related hiatus.

"It was a little bit difficult because there's not a whole pile I can do in my sport even stuff like creating content is difficult for me if I'm not driving the car," says Shanahan who is behind the wheel of a Toyota GT86 this year.

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Shanahan claimed his second ever podium finish in Round 1

"I was lucky to work with some good friends and partners that I have, including in go-karts, and they kept me on the kart a little bit which kept my mind a little bit fit and I also raced my bike quite a lot.

"I was quite lucky to have that or else I probably would have went insane but I just tried to stay as fit as I could mentally and try to stay focused and stay in the zone, and obviously it worked a little bit.

"But I honestly thought that it would affect me a little bit harder than it did but once I got back in the car, I was back in the rhythm straight away."

The looming Leaving Cert next summer is also a consideration for him which he has been able to balance with his on-track activities.

I kind of have chased this dream since I've been 12 or 13, so I can't really give up on it now

"I'm currently still in school and I'm about to go in and do my Leaving Cert year now. I'm going to try and finish it if I can," he says, adding that areas like marketing, media or business management would be possible third-level options after that.

"Obviously that's get difficult because drifting is pretty much taking up all of my time - I'm pretty much all the ways in - but I try and find a balance if I can.

"I probably should be in school a little bit more but I kind of have chased this dream since I've been 12 or 13, so I can't really give up on it now. But I try to balance school as much as I can and I'm lucky that I have support from the school that I'm in and they're quite understanding."

The road crew he travels with around Europe to keep the car in working order for the championship is seven to eight-strong, including close friends and his father.

And they have to deal with the challenges of testing and restrictions unlike in previous seasons.

"You're trying to get Covid tests on the way in, Covid tests on the way out and it does make travelling very expensive for your team," Shanahan says of the new logistical challenges.

"By the time you even have Covid tests paid for everybody, it's almost €1,000, so it adds on a pretty hefty expense but once you have the Covid tests and everything done, it's pretty straightforward."

Unlike some previous years, an Irish round at Mondello Park is not on the European Championship calendar this year. But Shanahan is taking that absence in his stride due to the prevailing global circumstances.

"It would make it a lot worse if we're fighting for the championship in front of a home crowd," he says of not having the opportunity to drive on home soil.

"It's always nice to come home and fight for the championship in front of a home crowd but there's a lot of stuff that we have to take this year because everything is so difficult and all of the drivers agreed that even the first and the second rounds in Austria, we were just so happy to get back on track. It was super good for me even personally after 10 months out of the car. So whatever the championship decides to do (in regards to the calendar), we just have to be supportive."

And with involvement in the 2021 championship battle, Shanahan is keeping focus solely on the immediate road ahead.

"It's been a while since I've been in the championship hunt. The podium in Austria meant a lot to me personally and mentally, so it's given me a good confidence boost and I'm just going to try and stay as focused as I can for the rest of the season."