Is This The Future Of Drifting? <br /> Red Bull Drift Shifters
Like Fast-Flowing Water

Imagine a piece of driftwood – and bear with me for a moment here – floating down a river. Now imagine that the river starts to pick up pace, the wood gains more and more pace until it eventually drops into a violent set of rapids thundering through a narrow canyon. It swings wildly from left to right, rushing forward until it’s pulled away by a new current, swirling around boulders and dipping off to towards the bank to be caught up in spinning eddies in the various alcoves along the wall before eventually escaping and continuing onwards. If you grew up anywhere near fast-flowing water, you’re probably pretty familiar with the image.

Having nearly drowned once or twice as a kid in environments like these, I’m all too familiar, and it’s obviously still somewhere in the back of my brain, because that’s all I could think about when standing trackside in the middle of Auckland City, New Zealand, watching some of the world’s biggest drift stars manhandle their screaming machines through the tight, custom course designed by our very own Mad Mike Whiddett.


V8s howled, rotaries screamed and straight sixes barked in pure agony as names like Saito, Tuerck, Forsberg, Nomura and Powers battled it out with a contingent of New Zealand’s best drivers. Their cars – a varied mix of machines – swung wildly from section to section, seemingly following an invisible current and flow as they attempted to put together the perfect run by racking up the highest number of points through various combinations and the multipliers they received as reward.


This is the 2014 Red Bull Drift Shifters – an event I’d been looking forward to for a very long time.


After the wild success of 2012’s amazing event, also held in downtown Auckland, albeit in a different location, anticipation was high for what I personally rate as one of the best and most exciting drift events in the world. Ten of New Zealand’s top drivers once again squared off against some of the globe’s biggest names in drifting on a scratch-built track right in the heart of our busiest city.


So what exactly is it that makes this event so special? It’s not the location, nor is it even the quality of drivers and cars – it’s the format. In truth, it’s because Drift Shifters the first near-perfectly-executed departure from a traditional judge-based tandem battle scoring system… So how does it work?


Conceived by Mad Mike himself, Drift Shifters simulates a huge pinball machine, and instead of battling against each other in set tandem runs the drivers have a total of 70 seconds in which to gain as many points as possible using a run that they have worked out themselves. In other words, there is no set line, you simply plan out a route – some might even call it a routine – and attack it 200 per cent. However, the course is laid out to favour those who utilize every section.


The scoring system is designed to simulate a pinball machine, in that it assigns certain points for certain features on the track, using various sensors to ascertain speed, angle and proximity as they’re attacked. Right from the entry chute (pictured above), the car’s speed is judged, and instantly the points begin spiralling upwards. The system also allows for combos if the driver perfectly nails different obstacles in succession, awarding good pre-planning and flow.


The score climbs extremely fast and in real time, displayed on the huge screen at the end of the course, so that the crowd can instantly see how the run is going as it happens. Throw in the uncertainty of multipliers, the fact that it was going to take the destruction of a car’s rear end to see a good score and the idea that mere millimeters separates huge amounts of points or no points at all, and you’ve got one seriously exciting competition.


As evidenced by the roar of the huge crowds – around 20,000 people all-told – that filled every available space, both horizontially and vertically.


Drift Shifters certainly requires 100 per cent commitment from the drivers, and no one was afraid to give it anything but that. If you saw a car come past at the start of the course you could almost guarantee that when it came back around 60 seconds later, it was going to be a little shorter and a little lighter.


Now that you know how it works, let’s take a look at how the competition went down.

Stiff Competition

Considering what was being asked of the cars, it surprised me that most of the vehicles made it through to qualifying without any major mechanical issues, although there were a couple of causalities early on – most notably Mad Mike’s own MADBUL quad rotor RX-7, which suffered steering failure after tangling with the wall, and fellow Kiwi Daynom Templeman, who’s 2JZ-powered RX-7 broke a rear subframe. Coincidentally, these drivers were the only two in the field who had back-up vehicles; Mike was able to continue in his 20B turbo RX-8, while Daynom switched to his other monster 1000hp+ 2JZ FD3S.


The only driver actually forced to drop out before qualifying was local S15 Silvia pilot Nico Reid, who had injector seal issues with his Nissan S15’s RB25DET setup.


This was however good news for Kiwi Bruce Tannock, who, as the official back up entrant, was able to take the spot in his beautifully-presented (well, before the walls came knocking, that is) RB32DET-powered S13.


There was plenty of strong competition from the local field, but after the qualifying and LCW (last chance qualifying) rounds, only eight of the drivers were to go through, and half of those were tourists; Saito, Powers, Tuerck and Forsberg.


Unfortunately, that meant that some great drivers were done for the day, including Australian import Jake Jones.


And all three R34 Skyline pilots; Nomuken…


Current D1NZ points leader Darren Kelly and his 600hp RB30DET four-door…


And past D1NZ champion Curt Whittaker, who recently swapped his 2JZ platform for a monster Ford V8 set up.


Another surprise omission from the quarter finals was local wild man Cole Armstrong and his Dodge V8 powered Skyline G35 sedan. Unfortunately, it looked as though the screaming NASCAR motor, which makes all its power up top, just wasn’t suited to the extremely tight and low-speed course, which hurt Cole’s qualifying chances as he seemed to be constantly bogging down as soon as the revs dropped.


In the quarter finals, the eight drivers took their runs and once again Matt Powers had a massive top score – the best of the entire day. Local driver Andrew Redward was eyeing up the top spot and was well on his way before mounting the wall near the end of his run. Despite this, he still racked up the second highest score in the round, but couldn’t continue as the car hobbled its way back to the pits.


This allowed past D1NZ champion Fanga Dan Woolhouse and his muscular Holden Commodore into the semi-finals.


Unfortunately, that left out one of the fan favourites – four-time D1NZ champ Gaz Whiter in his subtly-styled LS7-powered zenki S14 Silvia.


Ryan Tuerck, driving his Retaks 2JZ-powered Scion FR-S, qualified well, and was having a blinding quarter-final run before knocking himself out by destroying a lower rear suspension arm as he clipped a wall just before heading into the Undertaker section of the course.


Daigo Saito, who seemed to have kept his 1,200hp 2JZ Lexus in the best condition of them all, had a good run, but it wasn’t enough to see him through to the final four.


Back in 2012, it was the ever-dapper Matt Powers who took out the competition, and this year he was invited back to defend his title. Powers, who has taken the last year off competition drifting, certainly seemed to have the most clinical approach to the course. He always looked like he knew where and how to rake in the big multipliers, though I can’t help but feel that adversely affected the visual impressiveness of his runs.


Matt went big early on, and was the top qualifier, but was knocked out in the semi-final top four, along with local Fanga Dan, who was able to push past Powers for the third spot on the podium. That left only two players in the final; Mad Mike and Chris Forsberg. It really couldn’t have been scripted any better.

Is This The Future Of Drifting?

Mad Mike, the creator of the event, and the ever-impressive Chris Forsberg, fresh off his Formula Drift championship victory were the only two drivers remaining. Forsberg had topped the semi-final leaderboard with with 3.5 million points, while Mad Mike had just squeeked past compatriot Fanga Dan Woolhouse for the final spot with 3.2 million, so it was going to be extremely close.


Mike took his run first, and it was epic. The crowd, normally fairly reserved in typical Kiwi fashion, erupted into a roar as he launched down the entry chute and into his final run. The energy, ebbing from 20,000 fans all willing the local hero towards victory, was intense.


The triple-rotor screamed as the water-filled walls lining the track took a beating from its rear tube work. The score soared higher and higher, and then a big multiplier was hit and it jumped all the way up past four million – the second highest score of the day.


If there was anyone who was going to beat it, it would be Forsberg. As he ripped into the first section on his final run, it initially looked as though it was going to be extremely close – but by the 50-second mark it was looking increasingly unlikely. It was a great run, but it wasn’t great enough, and by the 70-second mark, there was no beating Mike, who had just netted himself a win at his own event, and sending the crowd into an absolute frenzy.


Things couldn’t have gone better for Mike. The challenging, unique event had worked for a second time, everyone seemed stoked on the format and he’d managed to pull off a win to boot. The logistics that go into making this happen are pretty incredible, and aside from all the consents and red tape that goes with shutting down a major part of a city, just the fact that you need to set up, run the event with 20,000 people in attendance and then completely dismantle it all again within a 24-hour window is amazing.


Although we can’t expect this to become the norm for drift competitions, is there something important that this new format is teaching us?


Two years on from the first event, and I still find myself asking; with all its high-tech proximity sensors, speed radars, angle boxes and algorithms, are we seeing the future of drifting in Red Bull Drift Shifters?


Could this technology replace the role of judges in traditional drifting?


Perhaps chopping the human completely out of the equation is not the answer – there is, after all, a lot that the human eyes and brain can appreciate that no amount of sensors ever will. The ‘holy sh*t look at that!’ factor, or as I like to refer to it, the ‘radness scale’.


But maybe there is a way for these two critical eyes – one cold and calculating, and one entirely emotional – to come together. Imagine if the judges had real-time data being fed to them as the passes were going down? They would instantly be able to know each driver’s speed, angle, proximity to not just the clips, but the other car too.


It would be a case of cold hard numbers backing the judges up, and giving them a better view of each and every battle, not replacing the human element entirely. Besides that, having that sort of telemetry displayed for the crowd (and the viewers at home) to see? Magic!


I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below! And please stay tuned for more from Red Bull Drift Shifters coming soon.

Peter Kelly
Instagram: speedhunters_pedey

Cutting Room Floor


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I watched the live stream and I think that this is way more exciting than normal formulad. but I also wish that there was someone who actually new how to judge in the live stream.


Hmmm, maybe have three judges score the run and then show the stats to them, then have 50/50 judging priority, with the human judges judging technique, cleanliness and audience impact, then the other 50% being the aggregate points.

I want this format and this series to prosper, because 4 million points.


I love the idea and the execution of the driving, but it really seemed like some of the sensors may have been whacked with w wing or something, because by Forsbergs last run, a lot wasn't counting though he was dragging his bumper across the walls. Nitpicking, and merely something to smooth over. I would love to see telemetry on proximity, speed and angle in real-time, and I think sometimes could clean up some iffy calls. Don't think you can ever get rid of the judges though.


I can imagine installing the proxy sensors on the vehicles so when running tandem, you can accumulate points on how close you can get to the door without causing a spinout or wreck.


PhatRainbows lol it doesnt take much to be more exciting than formula d .


Redward's run and score were ridiculous...not in a good way. I do not believe I am saying this, but Formula D has more scrutiny than this venture. I understand that I am a bit retarded. Similarly, the logic and function of these sensors seems to be like me (...retarded).

Powers embarassed the whole field with a 400hp LS and Daigo was the only one that was actually drifting.

I am a huge fan of Mad Mike, but I do not share his enthusiasm. 

Please, come back to Formula D US with Matt Powers like the good old days, dude. Team NFS of 2009 was much more interesting than what we got to see during 2014.


The event was cool but it kinda takes the style factor out of drifting. The sensors are good in theory but being able to clip sensors and accumulate massive point doesn't always result is a great looking drift. Idk I like the Formula D format with real life judges but this is something new that can evolve and be made better.


I definitely think that this is the future. Even more, a imagine a new kind of drift course - elevated, part indoors, artificial obstacles and, in the end, I see platforms for drifting, not cars with bodies and chassis. It will be a world where judges cant take favour a driver or another and where sensors can be set to score exactly what humans will wanna see. It will be a world where Vaughn JR will have to change carrier with something more appropriate with him, like wrestling or meat butcher or even a professional bully for hire, but hey, it will be fun as hell to see drifting competition evolving into something bigger and more interesting to see than it already is!
Mad Mike is one awesome driver and a greater man for being the first to lunch Drift 2.0. Ha, what a great name...


Diggin the cars in this comp, especially that Holden. 
Wonder who'd run a G8 or SS drifting in the states, hell if I had the money I would. Awesome post and can definitely see this as the future of drifting. Keeps the drivers on their toes.


Gutted I couldn't make it this year, but the livestream coverage was awesome. Also, the presenter dropping the c-bomb in true kiwi fashion had me in stitches.


I've seen the future - it's garlic bread... no it's this. Excellent write up.


uninsuredhatchback V-Box from Racelogic was supposed to eliminate the human error when it comes to professional drifting. Guess what. It did not happen. I do not see this pinball scoring system prevailing in the near future.

Redward's run was a complete joke, but his score was off the charts.


This is the way drifting should be, or if not the Red Bull should take this on a global roadshow!


ummmmmmmmm NO scripted drift FTL Burn it! burn it now in a really big fire.... i do not like green eggs and ham etc....


I believe, just as Mr. Kelly put it, that sensor and the human factor can live harmoniously. I understand how most of the readers feel, that sensors cant take "style" into account. It would have to be a culmination sensors, computers and people as well, to truly take this sport from being purely interpretative, into something a little more concrete. 

An idea that comes to mind; why not try and have these proximity sensors on the corners of the car? Much like the parking sensors on a regular street car, the sensors can judge and compute the overall average proximity of a run, from lead to follow and clipping points as well. You'd still have the "Brian Eggert's" of the world, the "Andy Yen's" and the "Tsuchiya's," judging the overall run, but, it would aid in giving a more finite and unbiased interpretation of a solely subjective area of a run. 

Another great installment I saw, was the real-time monitors placed on the ends course. Because, at the end of the day, what is drifting? It's entertainment. There is no "real-world" impact of these events. They don't solve wars or end world hunger. It's purely a spectacle. Something to help us separate our every-day-life problems, put it all to the side and join us together, in enjoyment. A congregation of like-minded people. So putting in those real-time monitors, invigorates a basic human instinct, which is to help. Without a SET standard of criteria to go off of, we cheer, boo or clap as if it somehow may sway the judges' mind into choosing the driver who we feel did better. 'If I cheer hard enough, maybe the judge will see what I saw and choose who I WANT to win...' With those monitors, there will be no more doubt. There will be no more questioning the judges' decision. There will be no more "preferences." It will be laid in front of us, like a time set by a driver after each lap, indisputable, and we can go back to enjoying one of the sports we have come to love. Drifting.


Couldn't be angrier when I saw his score, the guy lost his drift and still managed to beat Chris who had a killer run


I think this form of drifting competition is more approachable carrying a solid "wow" factor, but it's so much less like a Motorsport it feels more like ballet being so artistic and creative.


@TROLLS ROYCE Yeah I raised my brows a little at some of the inevitable 'cheats' which some of the drivers found. Still, I love the idea and can't wait to see it progress as it matures a bit.


Major League Baseball and the National Football League employ instant replay for decision making but juried events don't employ electronic means for scoring. Simply by making something a contest requires some numerical analysis to rank one contestant better than another. In racing and time attack its easy; whoever comes in first wins. I would like to see some combination of data collection along with human judgement pick winners in drift competition or else drifting is subject solely to judges like gymnastics or figure skating competitions.


I thought the scoring system seemed flawed.  Watching this live it seemed like everyone was just trying to constantly drag the bumper across the walls, so much to the point that Chris Forsberg's last run he slowed down significantly just to make sure he hit the bumper on the wall.  Now i don't mean just doing light wall taps and seemed like drivers were basically just crashing into the walls and dragging the back end on it.

I saw runs that looked much better than others but were scored significantly less.

I think it should be how close can you get to the wall without touching it, or make the barriers compressible (like on a linear actuator/damper) and measure the deflection of the wall.  Whoever deflects the wall the least while still touching it should have the highest points.  Also it would be cool to see speed taken into account on the wall slides.

Really cool and exciting concept, but it definitely needs some refinement.  It is in the infant stage and is definitely a promising prospect for something epic in the future.


Won't those cheats constantly change with each new lay out of the track though? It's not like in a computer game where you can bang that cheat to the nth degree to move up the board. It's a new sport too so hopefully the tech will improve if the sport picks up.
I see it as more relatable in an odd way. The times I have witnessed IRL drifting they havnt been able to stop and hit the same corner 30x times in tandem, it's been people too scared to break their car but still wanting to slide running laps of back roads.


Please, let's keep this (an offshoot of gymkhana) and drifting separate.  This sport doesn't need judges but drifting does.  Having the results decided by purely subjective criterion is what should be driving the sport of drifting.  What's wrong is that the little bit of data being used is causing drifting to get ever closer to "racing", and nobody wants that except people with sponsors.

Drifting should be about impressing better drivers than yourself with skill and style, not money.


Haha @Peter_Kelly I think you've accidentally left a wild water mark on Cole Armstrong's door in chapter 2!


Having attended both Drift Shifters events and numerous drift events around NZ's racetracks I believe this format is only good for the further promotion of the sport to new audiences. Take it around the world and grow the sport, drivers will do it to promote their sponsors and because its fun, but they know the scoring system doesn't reward a lot of the aspects of a run we all like/look for so therefore it would be a frustrating format to compete seriously in!
Drift Shifters is too slow and confined to impress a seasoned drift fan, its only one car at a time so its more static with less variables. (I'm surprised that Mike actually came up with the format because his cars power delivery is unsuited to this!) 
The first event was cooler because it was a lot faster and had a big entry but I'm assuming post event that was deemed too dangerous (and I actually thought it was at the time) and they slowed the cars right down for Quay St.
I hope this format doesn't take over from traditional judged drifting at racetracks and lets hope Pukekohe lets D1NZ back in for a true spectacle again of 200kph tandom entries!!


absolutely not, imo. Drifting needs a racetrack, or even better, a natural flowing road. In Europe most hillclimb events come with a few drift demo runs nowadays, those excite me. That stuff above is basically the same wannabes do on an empty mall parking lot, and as interesting


i see people saying that the flaw of this system is that it doesn't take in to account style (or fluidity). 
but, can't the system be tweeked? can't there be a deduction for velocity fluctuation and pitch changes (those being attributes you see in a run that would normally be judged poorly)?
seems like a cool idea overall, but probably needs someone who knows drifting and programming to modify the judging algorithm 
or just have judges.
drifting has always been a judged sport like ice skating.


Cotnyjoe Lol! Suddenly a wild watermark appears… good spotting there haha


Why does it have to be the future or a dead end? Some version of this can be to drifting what rallycross is to rallying and they exist alongside each other with overlap but enough of a difference both can exist on their own footing. 

Maybe they will attract a different audience similar to the GRC and the WRC, I know I prefer this format to classic drifting,with neither being specifically better than the other.


Taryn Croucher Cotnyjoe Haha nice spot, I didn't even notice, thanks for that!


ClaytonPayton This is essentially what I'm saying. I don't think technology will ever replace the human eye, but it can potentially be a very valuable tool for the judges, making sure they are making the right decision every time.


KevinSzymanski Interesting point in regards to possibly measuring how hard someone is hitting the walls. I completely agree that there is more development to be done, and I'm fairly sure it will happen!


H8RADE This whole response pretty much nails every point. Well said sir!


@TROLLS ROYCE I'm essentially asking not if the Drift Shifters format itself is the way forward, but perhaps a combination of traditional judged drifting being backed up by real time hard data, keeping the judges better informed and more able to make solid decisions.


D1RGE Agreed on all of the above.


phisie Interesting point - I hadn't considered two seperate series but I like the comparison with GRC/WRC. I think though that there is room to merge the two concepts in terms of how traditional tandem drifting is judged. Still three humans making the call, but backed up by hard data that is also put out to the audience real time.


Oooooo - how about if a corner keeps getting hammered for points it devalues the corner, forcing people to pick different routes each and every run and also solving the "slow go max points remove rear of car" issue? Or would that be complicating things further?


TarmacTerrorist Interesting, similar to games like Tony Hawk etc where you get less points each time you do the same combo?


Hey Pedey, Cheers for the write up!  My vision wasn't to merge the two or reinvent drifting as we know it. I love competing in tandem in typical format drifting. I wanted to create a fun event for the entire family (not just for a seasoned pro drift fan) and take it to the people (CBD) that's simple to understand with no subjectivity involved like typical style of judging, as soon as you add the human element back in - for me that is not Red Bull Drift Shifters.  For its second event, we're stoked on the sensors and the data being picked up, there's still a ways to go though which we will work on for next time and also things to develop in terms of course.  We're also stoked with the numbers who came out for it and thankful that Red Bull busted their asses to make it happen and happen at no cost to the spectators both live at the event and online.


TarmacTerrorist  you can only hit certain obstacles once or twice depending on difficulty otherwise the program knows and you don't get scored for it.  To get combo scoring you had to trigger sensors in the combo within a certain time frame.


MadMike Whiddett Thanks Mike, yes I think you achieved everything you set out to do perfectly. My main question is really; is there a place for Drift Shifter-type sensors in traditional drifting as an aid for both judges and spectators? You've clearly shown it works with the technology we currently have available to us. Would you welcome the extra clarity as a driver?


Peter_Kelly D1GP have previously introduced GPS / DOSS which wasn't well received by the drivers, all of a sudden some of the old favorites weren't qualifying? In FD you see the proximity light sensors in use to aid judging. So I'd say this "type" of visual indicators and data collection / scoring is already in effect alongside the judges.


Peter_Kelly  Red Bull Drift Shifters technology on the track will aid - but to what extent?
I don't know because there is a subjective element there regardless of the data. I'll leave this debate to the readers.


I am definitely not plugged into the drift scene, so my jig question is whether this is a solution in search of a problem? Would this essentially be a fix to an unbroken system?
Of course human judging will never be perfect, it is by its very nature certain to be flawed, however is there call for improvement? For example, in boxing, its really common for the judging to have massive bias - King fights judged as draws to guarantee another huge money rematch seemed commonplace and even just two years ago in the Olympics it was suggested there was corruption in how a couple of those amateur bouts were scored. Does drifting have this problem or is it fairly well respected by the fans?


I'll start by saying I am a huge fan of MadMike's & I liked this idea of taking the subjectivity out of judging through infrared sensors, but this event just didn't quite deliver. Some of the highest scoring runs were attained by drivers dragging their cars along barriers in bids to get closest to these sensors, resulting in choppy runs with inconsistent angle & varying speed. Conversely, I think Daigo Saito's last run was one of the better examples of a clean, precise run with no hope of winning because he avoided touching any obstacles intentionally.
This event was more gymkana meets demolition derby than drift event, and there's nothing wrong with that, but I think it'd be a lot better if it was judged the same way except you lose your combo if the car touches a barrier at each judging zone.
However I do fully support the notion of informing human judged drifting with real time telemetry data displayed for fans as well. And cheers to MadMike for the well-deserved win, his final run was truly an impressive feat that gave me a window into how good this event really could be!


returnity Minor tweaks required: but a g-sensor on the proximity sensors would fix it pretty quickly. Set a threshold of say 5g and if the threshold is exceeded within 0.05s before or after triggering the proximity sensor cancel theprox trigger.


Peter_Kelly TarmacTerrorist exactly, staggered points maybe some insanely difficult enter/exit "hot spots" that garner bigger points and encourage drivers to take bigger risks. It looks like a great idea and I for one would love to see it progress to a bigger crowd and international stages.


MadMike Whiddett TarmacTerrorist aha! thank you for the clarification, I'm sure the article mentioned that and clearly I shouldn't post before my first cup of coffee.


Is that chris forsberg's 2013 fd car ?


This is exactly the kind of idea I was mulling over to improve this event. Scores were much lower in 2012 because no one really used this kind of approach that time, and I liked the event more as a result.


it takes a moment for me to read all comments about the scoring system. yes, sensors has flaw. but it's there to solve "subjective" problem in judging system. what I'm going to say is, why don't we combine it? 60 judge+40 sensor or 50 judge+50 sensor?
just sayin'


nothing with the word "redbull" in it shall be the future 
that company can't care less about anything but the money and image they'll make
sure they don't care about all the BS they can produce.

oh, i almost forgot:
no tsuiso? can't call it drifting


I just couldn't help but notice that the sensors weren't going off when the bumpers were ripped off vs bumpers being on.

maybe something that wasn't noted during testing?