It all boiled down to this. After years of thought and months of planning, a dozen pro-spec drift machines rolled out of their makeshift pit bays and onto a closed-off section of downtown city road in Auckland, New Zealand. In front of a huge crowd gathered at the free-to-watch event, the Red Bull Drift Shifters had arrived.
The new event set out to achieve a few things. First and foremost it was about bringing drifting to the people with a custom-designed course in the middle of the city. It was about putting a fresh new spin on drifting rather than trying reinvent it. It was about removing the subjective nature of judging by using digital technology. And it was about packaging the action into a non-stop three hours with an easy to understand pinball theme complete with sound effects, flashing lights and a digital scoreboard to update running totals in real time.
As you might have read in my preview post last week, the brains behind the event was our own MadMike Whiddett. I think it’s safe to say that Mike would have been feeling the pressure as every vantage point around the urban arena began filling up on Saturday morning. But with a huge team behind the event and all the hard yards done, all he really had to do was watch as the Red Bull Drift Shifters dream took shape before his eyes.
One of the first things on the agenda before the event kicked off was for the drivers was to familiarize themselves with the course. Everyone had previewed the plan view of the layout the day prior, but until they got to see to see it in the flesh it was hard to gauge just how much room there was to play with. As it turned out, while the custom layout had tight and technical sections, there was more than enough room for cars to reach third and fourth gear speeds.
The walk-around allowed Mike to point out the best lines based on his testing and for drivers to really get their heads around the obstacles, and what they needed to do if they wanted to put big numbers on the scoreboard.
The most exciting element was the Achilles Radial ‘Undertaker': essentially a parked truck with a semi-trailer attached. All of the drivers knew it was there to be drifted under and that there was enough roof clearance on the right line, but there were a few nervous faces within the ranks when they saw just how little margin for error there actually was.
One of the coolest aspects of the event was having three international drivers in attendance. If I remember rightly, the last time a pro drifter competed in New Zealand was back in 2006, when the D1 Grand Prix ran a driver search and Youichi Imamura and Michihiro Takatori ran some demo laps. For Red Bull Drifters, Formula D USA and Asia champ Daigo Saigo was representing Japan, and back behind the wheel of his legendary flying 2JZ Toyota Chaser JZX100.
Matt Powers was ready to bring the drift party in one of his Chevy V8-powered Silvia S14s.
And Samuel Hübinette – driving his factory-backed Dodge Challenger – was geared to show Auckland why he’s regarded as one of the best stunt drivers in the business.
The course covered an area 200 meters long and over four lanes wide; and being pinball-inspired featured a faux plunger to get the ball – or in this case, car – rolling.
With just 50 seconds on the clock to rack up as many points as possible drivers didn’t muck around getting out onto the course.
A slight left-hander helped set up for the first sensors which measured drift angle as drivers flicked their cars sideways and crossed over to the right-hand side of the arena. The fastest guys were reputedly hitting speeds of up to 130kph (80mph), so the pace definitely wasn’t slow.
From there drivers were asked to switch back across in front of the parked big rig…
…which led them towards the ‘Wall Ride’ at the far end of the course. Multiple proximity sensors were positioned evenly along the sweeping 180-degree hairpin, so if drivers got close enough and managed to fire them all they were in for a good combo points haul.
From here on in it was totally up to each driver what they wanted to do for the remaining 40-odd seconds of game play.
Some clocked up points with one or two loops around the far-end bollard (one of a few peppered throughout the course)…
…while others made a beeline straight for the big-point obstacles.
When 15 seconds was left on the clock yellow flags were raised by race marshalls stationed around perimeter, alerting drivers to the fact that they needed to hot-foot-it back to the top end of the course…
…and pitch their machines sideways for the finale obstacle…
…the ‘Car Wash’, which basically required a 180-degree spin to stop. There were a lot of bonus points to be won here, especially if you got your car in straight and close to the barriers. In one of the biggest cars out there, Hübinette made it look easy.
With no shortage of action and a quick-fire format, there was plenty of talk from the commentary box. As I’m sure anyone who witnessed the event live will agree, having ‘Voice of Formula Drift’ Jarod DeAnda in New Zealand and on the mic was a real bonus too.
Of course, along the way there was quite a bit of carnage. Early on in the piece, current D1NZ 2012/2013 championship points leader ‘Fanga’ Dan Woolhouse got a bit out of shape under the semi-trailer, resulting in his Holden Commodore’s roof and windscreen meeting with a low-hanging part of the rig’s chassis.
But because the glass was still held together by its laminate he was able to get straight back out there after a quick race-tape fix.
Daigo Saito was another driver who pushed a little too hard.
But luckily the damage to his beautifully presented JZX only extended to cosmetics.
Meanwhile, Matt Powers did this to one of the bollards. J-Rod said he must have mistaken it for a piñata.
Red Bull took over the multi-level car park building immediately adjacent to the course, which provided pretty cool viewing for those that managed to nab themselves a spot.
Because of the confined space, however, those below had little choice but to become one with the action.
At street level you didn’t just get to see the cars at close range – you felt their noise and became immersed in their power too. Talk about sensory overload.
Matt mentioned afterwards that it was unusual – but also pretty cool – to be able to see and hear spectators as he drifted by. On the flip-side it was also quite unusual to be able to see drivers’ faces as they slid past within arm’s reach.
It’s fair to say that each and every one of the competitors had a good time and would sign up again in a heartbeat given the chance. Daigo – seen here with Formula Drift teammate Robbie Nishida, who was acting as his translator – just missed out on a spot in the Top 4.
Mike on the other hand made it through, but that was as far as he’d go in the competition.
Fanga Dan bounced back from his earlier collision and laid down some solid runs through the eliminator rounds to end up with third place on the podium, and the honor of being first Kiwi.
After a pretty faultless drive throughout the event I thought ‘The Crazy Swede’ had it in the bag, but during the final Sam’s Challenger stalled mid-run, which didn’t help his chances. He told me afterwards that there had been a slight miscalculation with fuel and that the 410ci Mopar USAC sprint car engine had run out of gas! Bad luck aside, the big Dodge stole the show with its musclecar stance and angry V8 soundtrack. This thing sounded every bit as powerful as its advertised 865hp output, and Sam did things with it that I would have deemed impossible had I not seen them with my own eyes.
Powers absolutely deserved the win though, because apart from the bollard incident his driving was absolutely on-point. He spent much of the downtime between runs watching the other drivers out of the course, and that seemed to really help him in seeking out the high-scoring combinations. On one run even managed to crack the 2,000,000 point mark – the only driver to do so.
By the end of the event he was running an inch-perfect line beneath the ‘Undertaker’…
…and proceeded to drive his battle-scarred Silvia home to victory.
All that was then left to do was pop a few champagne corks and toast an event that didn’t just live up to the hype but exceeded it.
While Mike just missed out on a podium spot he still got to taste victory, both figuratively and literally. It was reported that 10,000 spectators were on hand to witness the action, and there’s absolutely no chance that anyone would have left feeling like they hadn’t been entertained! Based on its success it now seems likely – reading between the lines – that Red Bull will take Drift Shifters global. I just hope it happens again in Auckland…
Photo by Brad Lord
Photo by Brad Lord
Photo by Brad Lord
Photo by Brad Lord
Photo by Brad Lord
Photo by Brad Lord
Tags: Mad Mike Whiddett
Hats off to Mad Mike and Red Bull. Absolutely incredible event!!! I stood on the barriers as these guys blew past at 130kph and then tried to spin the car into the car wash... phenomenal stuff and incredible driving! Watching Matt take out the bollard and then end up in the back of the semi was priceless, I bet he was so glad his day didnt end there. Safety concerns? Sure, we were close. Sure, it was a bit of a worry having drivers trying to shake off bits of broken body work by spinning the cars... was I gonna give up my front row spot on the barrier because of that? HELL NO! The only way you could get a better experience than were I was, was to actually be driving a car!!! The sight of mind blowing driving in cars 3m away, smell of race fuel and rubber, and sound of those cars was pure heaven.
It was awesome to have the pits so close to the crowds as well, you could get right up close and talk to the drivers and crews. Another cool thing was the crowd, everyone there to enjoy the event and no eggheads trying to spoil it for the majority.
Go Kiwi's!! Awesome event, I'll be there for the next one!!!!!!!!!!!!
Little bit of raw footage, I'm not sure if every one can access it but Kiwis can!
I went to this event and it was awesome!! Frankly I think it caught everyone by surprise how quick the cars got up to 80mph. AaronVenable you have a valid point. The public was very close to the action. Too close will always be debatable. If your up the front and something does go wrong you wont be able to step back cause the crowd was 4 deep. As much as these guys have unbelievable skill and control there is always a case for the "what ifs". Look at the bollard that the winner took out in practice, sometimes we ALL cock up and no driver would want that to cost anyone any harm. I think the organizers did a great job but I think they weren't quite expecting the quantity of people they got!! Easy fix though, put up bleachers. You'd get a better view, and could be a little further back, and having to watch out for a little kid or an idiot trying to jump on course would be much easier to police. Grumble over.
It was a great day and a ground breaking event. I think that this is more like what Ken Block envisaged for gymkhana and I hope that we could end up with a 4 wheel drive drift show run along side the rear wheel drive cars. Separate classes of course. The proximity sensors and points system were excellent ideas and getting rid of the judges works for everyone. Digital don't lie. This is definitely a step in the right direction for drifting as far as I am concerned.
The drivers have more fun by showing their skills.
There is no stress about judged results.
The crowd can relate easily to who is doing better and why.
It looks and SOUNDS , (Sams' Dodge), awe inspiring.
Well done Mike Whiddett, for not letting the nay sayers win, persevering and getting it done!!
Now let's see it go global.....
What an awesome event that must've been to see! I hope they do something like that in the U.S. eventually! Big ups to MadMike and all the drivers, and Redbull for putting this together!!!
The event needs more Undertakers and explosions.... and a ramp... and a grind rail..... and a few cars to grind the grind rail.
Everyone, especially skateboarders, will love it.
Wow, what an awesome event! I'm liking this new take on "competitive" drifting, seems like a lot of fun from the driver's point of view - particularly in terms of being able to create your own line at the end. I would love to see this adapted on a large scale ala full-circuit gatebil style.
Was such an awesome event, got Powers, Sam's and Daigos signatures which was awesome to have them sign my speedhunters book after 58hrs on 3hrs sleep and travelling across the country :D
Loved it. Worth every bit
This needs to be a global event. It would be like the Red Bull Air Race...but with cars! Freakin' awesome!
Nice write up, but Matt Powers past 2mil points twice. I believe he got 2.8mil in the semi-final and 2.2mil in the final.
Maybe it's my "new dad" kicking in, but I gotta say....
I've been guilty of way more endangering things in the past, but that's too close to spectators. period
Not trying to be a downer, but event insurance can't work miracles. I completely identify with the concept of the event, and I think it's great, but I've been there before and have learned from mistakes made. In the traveling circus business, it's only a matter of time before things break down. There was plenty of room to push the crowd back and a great vantage point from the car park, no excuses.
side note: there's a playground about 15ft from a 4 lane road, WTF Auckland?
Brilliant! I think Red Bull and Mike have done a good thing here in building a scaleable format for drift demonstration/competition. It's the perfect thing for taking global, for me it would be great to see this teamed up with a regular car show or Time Attack series. How/If it'll translate well in to something like FD or D1GP I'm not sure, maybe a combined scoring system with both judges and electronic data being used to build a final score would keep style and technique points intact, but give judges and fan real irrefutable data to go with it.
Hopefully they do more like that. To be that close to the cars and almost popping eardrums when they hit the limiter in front of you is something all drift fans should experience at least once.