‘Mad’ Mike Whiddett: THE ART OF losing controlThe Kiwi driver who tore around South Africa’s Franschhoek Pass at speeds approaching 155 mph, understands focus. Maintaining it while drifting at such insane speeds, requires you to see the car you’re driving as an extension of your body.
Drifting may look like a sport that requires the driver to lose control, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It is, in fact, a sport that requires an entirely new level of control. At 154 mph and 8,800 rpm, you need to have your wits about you. This is how world-renowned Kiwi drifter “Mad” Mike Whiddett attacked the corners of Franschhoek Pass, near Cape Town in South Africa, driving BADBUL—his quite insane triple-rotor Mazda SP3 RX-8—in September last year.
The “Mad Mike” moniker, given to him by a commentator during his previous career in freestyle motocross, is now something of an oxymoron: Behind the wheel, Whiddett appears ice-cool and ultra-focused. According to the 36-year-old, when he climbs into the driver’s seat he has to remove all fear from his mind. “You can’t think about the risks,” explains Whiddett. “Back when I used to do freestyle motocross, I’d think a lot about the what-ifs, and I had a lot of crashes.”
He’s made his name through managing his fear in challenging situations such as these. In the lead-up to last year’s attempt, he was in fine form, explaining the difference between drifting passes and drifting tracks: “You go to race tracks and you push beyond your boundaries, and if you slide off the track you have runoffs and sand traps, K-rails and tire walls. Here, if you slide off the road, it’s game over.
“Drifting is hard—you always need to be thinking about the next corner, because you set the car up for the turn on the previous one. All the while, though, you also have to be thinking about exactly what you are doing at that point in time. Now, it’s just like natural instinct—I consider the car an extension of my body.”
Whiddett also believes that maintaining focus has as much to do with the right preparation as it does with on-the-track concentration. “I used to listen to music and was always very hyped,” he explains, adding that he has a far calmer approach these days. “In terms of competition, I could visualize the win, but I wasn’t always visualizing the way there—you have to get to the finish line first.”
The Franschhoek Pass, located between Franschhoek and Villiersdorp, is arguably one of South Africa’s most spectacular passes. Originally known as “Olifant’s Pad” —a reference to the route that elephants would take to cross the mountains into the valley to calve—this path was followed by herdsmen and, later, by settlers on horseback. It was only in 1822 that Lord Charles Somerset ordered the pass to be built, making it South Africa’s first properly engineered road.
Today, the nine-mile route, with its famous tight hairpins and sweeping views, is a Saturday-morning favorite for bikers, cyclists and drivers alike. This relative peace was shattered by Whiddett revving some 800-plus horsepower. If you’re going to put your life on the line on Franschhoek Pass at close to 155 mph, you might as well look cool doing it, right?
Whiddett has won a string of titles in BADBUL, and completed numerous world-first drives, this attempt being the latest to add to the list.
“There is only so much you can do before you arrive,” he explains. “Google Earth, some photos, maps … you know, that sort of thing. With most of the stuff we’re doing, something like Franschhoek Pass, you only really get a feel for it once you’re on the ground.”
Whiddett traveled with a full backup crew and almost an entire vehicle in spare parts as backup for the project. “The drive itself was just crazy,” he says of the pass. “I can compare it a bit to Conquer the Crown—a very successful project we did back home that was a gamechanger for drifting because of the credibility the sport got for the precision driving. The scenery is very similar, but this road was far more raw, with like massive cliff drops and not much runoff. Not much space for error.”
The pass was, of course, closed for the project, which took place under very strict control. Whiddett drove some of the corners in both directions and at times was entering in sixth gear and at well above 125 mph.