South Africa’s Franschhoek Pass holds no fear for the Kiwi king of drifting. His mantra: focus, focus, focus
THE RED BULLETIN: When a “regular” driver loses grip, they panic and try to countersteer to get the car back on track, but for you it’s about purposefully letting the wheels go, right?
MIKE WHIDDETT: Drifting is a very unique form of driving—it’s beyond the limit of traction—so to the uninitiated it looks as if you’re out of control. But it’s quite the opposite, actually. It’s a whole new level—another dimension or sense of control, if you wish. Drifters learn how to control the car when it’s not in control.
How do you even begin to learn something like that?
When I first started, cars were more set up to be slippery. It was all about cool, noisy, powerful engines, and we would just take grip out of the cars so they would slide easily. Today it’s different. The Mazda RX-8 has a lot of power—over 800 hp at the tire—and that power is needed just to overcome the grip of the Nitto tires we run. We have grippy tires to make accurate, dynamic turns, and then very powerful engines to overcome that and initiate the drift.
Those tires can’t last too long…
They don’t! For Franschhoek Pass, we swapped from the Nitto NT05R, which is the tire that we race on, to the NT555R. It’s a harder compound, but also a high-performance street radial. Thanks to the compound, instead of only being able to do three or four corners, as we would in competition, we were able to drive about 10 per set.
There’s obviously a lot of preparation for something like the Franschhoek Pass project…
Oh yeah. Of course there’s the car and parts and stuff, but the mental prep is crucial, too. As much as I want to be wild, I have to be switched on and mentally focused. As soon as you’re thinking about that danger element and what could go wrong, that’s the moment when things usually do go wrong. When I was in freestyle motocross, I was young and I’d think about those sorts of things, and I crashed a lot, broke a lot of bones and had a lot of concussions…
So now you don’t get scared?
With sports psychology and all the things I’ve been doing to train my brain and get myself in focus, I’ve learned to wipe fear. I mean, I get scared, for sure. But when you’re behind the wheel, you cannot be scared—you have to be 100 percent confident and 100 percent focused, because with the smallest error it could easily be game over, and not just for my car. Another element of drifting is that while you’re in a corner and focused on what you’re doing right then, you’re already setting up the car for the next corner.
What’s next for you?
As a driver, you want to progress and just keeping going faster. Every time you hit a corner, you want to enter faster and with more angle. That’s what we’ll keep working on.
Watch Conquer The Cape, the short film on Mad Mike Whiddett’s Franschhoek Pass drift project, here.