“Go for a passenger ride today”. That’s the WhatsApp message that pings up from Paddy as I’m sat in the media room at Gatebil Rudskogen.
For some reason I agree and, having already spoken to Norwegian drifter Joachim Waagaard about such an experience, I know just the guy to approach.
Joachim’s self-built BMW M4 is the first drift car of its kind, and has been fabricated from a brand new bare shell into one of the most meticulous drift machines in Europe. Joachim used to be Fredric Aasbø’s mechanic back before he took on his own driving program, so it’s fair to say he knows his way around a drift car.
Powered by a Mast Motorsport LS3 motor with a 2.9-litre Whipple supercharger, and putting out a plentiful 850hp and 990Nm torque, I dare say it’s the most powerful car I’ve been in. It’s certainly the most powerful and advanced drift car I’ve been in. Although this isn’t my first rodeo, truth be told.
Way back in 2008 I used to compete in the early days of the British Drift Championship in a Nissan Silvia PS13. Still, drift cars have progressed at such a pace that modern professional drift machines are night-and-day different to the last time I stepped foot in a competition car.
You could call my borrowed suit ‘fitted’. In fact, it’s a good job I’m going to be sat down as I can’t really stand up.
Joachim’s mechanic, Allan, fires up the big V8 and engages the gearbox, starting the rear wheels spinning to warm up the engine, gearbox and diff fluid.
Joachim does a quick check of the car before suiting up, fitting his HANS device and helmet and strapping himself into the car. It’s an intense moment as he checks the car’s vitals over on the dash display and makes sure he’s comfortable.
He looks calm, I think. For some reason I don’t feel calm.
I know for a fact that Rudskogen can bite. There have been some serious accidents here in the past few years, mostly a combination of fast track speeds, lingering tyre smoke, and a large variety in the speed of the cars and skill of the drivers on track together.
I post myself past the rollcage and into the passenger seat, which feels like I’m sat on the floor. Joachim’s team quickly get intimate, pulling harness belts through places that aren’t usually accessible to strangers. Pretty quickly I’m pinned into the seat.
We set off for the line. Moving through the crowd is akin to Moses parting the Dead Sea, if you’re into all that. People stop and raise their camera phones, obscuring their faces. Joachim gets the occasional thumbs-up or fist-bump through the tiny plexiglass window. I check my harness again. Still tight.
I then realise that I have to try and take some photos to illustrate the forthcoming carnage. I can’t put the camera to my eye because of the helmet, and I can’t move my head or shoulders enough to change my angle. Shooting blind it is!
Out onto the track entrance and Joachim gradually accelerates. Around the first corner and we’re on Rudskogen’s long back straight, a fast downhill that cuts between a rocky outcrop and piney forest. Joachim accelerates, aggressively banging the HGT Precision sequential shifter to pick up the next gear. The car is visceral and harsh; the heat, the sounds, the smells. Every moving part feels solid and industrial, built to take as much abuse as can be thrown at it.
A few sudden twists of the wheel to warm the front tyres sufficiently and we’re building up pace. I get the feeling that Joachim is easing me into it, for which I’m grateful.
We approach an uphill corner. Suddenly, and without warning, he’s smashed through another shift, the ‘box riotously clunking as he pulls the lever back. The throttle is pinned down and we’ve broken traction before my brain has registered what’s happened. The motion of the BMW breaking sideways is smooth and floaty, almost peaceful, but the noise is in juxtaposition to my internal gyrometer. The LS3 motor screams and the whine of the supercharger pierces through the deeper rumble as the rear tyres ignite and tyre smoke slowly fills the cabin. OK, this is fun.
Into the next bend and Joachim flings the car in the opposite direction. I’m looking at our intended direction of travel out of the corner of my eye, backwards – the nose hasn’t even reached the apex yet and Joachim alternates between jabs of the hydraulic vertical handbrake and easing the throttle towards the floor. Honestly, I don’t think we’re going to make the corner – the angle we are at is insane – but we do, and the throttle is still wide open.
Approaching the wide, sweeping final bend at Rudskogen there’s a steady traffic flow in front of us, for what I can see through the smoke. Joachim pitches the car into the sweeper and accelerates through a gear. I tense up as I can’t see far past the noise of the car through the tyre smoke from the cars in front. I have no idea how Joachim is navigating our route.
This rollercoaster of elation and fear goes on for several more laps, the fear subsiding with each but the elation not dying down. The heat in the cabin is intense; I can feel the exhaust’s presence through the walls of the transmission tunnel, and the layer of Nomex and helmet I’m wearing is keeping me toasty. Correction, I am all of the melting.
Joachim hunts for someone to tandem with, but at this point we’re into the ‘Drift Line’ session where the calibre of the drivers on track isn’t quite the same as the drivers Joachim knows in the ‘Drift Show’ session we’ve been out in.
He locks onto the back of a retro Mercedes-Benz wagon kicking out black diesel fumes with each acceleration. Joachim shouts that he knows him and has drifted with him before, so it should be OK. There’s a huge amount of trust between drivers, even at this casual level, and finding someone whose skill level you’re familiar with is the key to both of you walking away from the circuit with body and vehicle intact at the end of the day.
Before I can comprehend, both the Mercedes and M4 are side-by-side. Joachim clearly has the power and grip advantage, and so moderates the BMW ever closer as we slide around Rudskogen’s curves. It’s a dance between acceleration, left-foot braking, steering and handbrake, with Joachim’s hands and feet working in unison to edge us door-to-door with this unlikely partner.
Coming out of the final bend and it’s uncomfortably close as both cars transition from drift. From the low passenger seat, and being unfamiliar with the BMW’s dimensions, it looks to me like we’re about three-feet into the Mercedes’ boot compartment, but Joachim seems calm so I give him a thumbs up and a forced grin.
“I think we hit him a little bit,” Joachim yells as we pull into the pits for a tyre change. He hops out to check, but I’m not sure what the conclusion is. Neither Joachim nor the guy in front seem to really care.
Sadly, in the queue for our next outing we see a black BMW fail to initiate into the first turn after Rudskogen’s long – and fast – start/finish straight, grip-up and plough nose-first into the barrier. The rescue crew, ambulance and all, are on the scene quickly and the track is red flagged.
Our time is up but, even with the disruption, it’s been incredible. The feeling of being inside a modern, high-level competition car is a world away from being in my old, and comparatively basic, Silvia. It’s also very different to how you think the experience will be when you see it from the outside. While the chaos and noise is exactly as you’d imagine, the sensation is controlled and smooth rather than hectic and sudden.
Peeling the race suit off, and apologising as I hand it back to Joachim’s team, I head over to see how the black BMW driver is doing. He’s fine, but the car is a mess. Scenes like this are a bit humbling, but, if anything, a testament to how well these cars are built from a safety perspective.
This is one experience that I won’t forget in a long time – a huge thanks to Joachim and his team for their hospitality. Enjoy the above video from Joachim casually tandeming with Julian Smith’s Blitz ER34 later on in the day.