Monday, July 20, 2009

Get the drift?

You’ve probably seen Tokyo Drift and ogled the parade of fast cars. Now you can do it for real with a group of drifting enthusiasts, says GRACE CHEN.

AT the empty parking lot at USJ 1 Industrial Park, the usual jokes about guys driving fast cars to pick up chicks made the rounds.

Except for Ee Yoong Cherng, a.k.a. Nismo, 28, who has a wife who is two month’s pregnant, the other four are all bachelors. Sean Khoo, 34, is veteran with 14 years of experience; Lim Zee King, 26, competed in the D1GP Malaysia 2006 Championship, Terence Lim, 29, is an executive, and Jeremie Curzon, 27, is an accountant.

These guys are “drifters”, and they have been together for three years. Terence is credited for bringing everyone together.

Drifters (from left) Sean Khoo, Ee Yoong Cherng, Ee’s wife Yam Siew Kin, Jeremie Curzon, Terence Lim and Lim Zee King posing with a kitted out Silvia S14. — Starpic by LAI VOON LOONG
“I was like a stalker. If I saw another driver with a Nissan Silvia on the highway, I would pull them over and introduce myself. Sometimes I would startle people by knocking on car windows at 2am,” laughs Terence.

Terence’s persistence has helped bring about, a web community of 4,742 members online and 19 active drifters in its profile.

“The objective is to take drifting out of the underground and to come out with proper facilities and arrangements, where we can develop the art of driving without endangering the public.

“We rent car parks and then conduct drifting clinics where we introduce the basic techniques to beginners. The classes are done one-on-one with a maximum intake of 10 cars. This is where the beginner will learn how to drift the right way rather than the hard way in an accident,” says Sean.

So what is drifting?

Zee King, or Zee for short, the competition drifter who drives a Nissan 180SX, says that the act of fish tailing one’s car and burning off at least two to three pairs of tires on a hot day can be likened to a style of artistic driving.

“It looks very ‘kamikaze,” he offers.

Just imagine going around the bends of a Genting Highlands-style circuit at full speed.

The car is skidding and the tires are screeching. The engine screams in protest as the driver jams the throttle and kicks the clutch. It looks like the car is going out of control as the rear end chases the front around. Just when you think the car is going to crash and turn turtle, the driver wrests control of his car and drives off nonchalantly.

According to Nismo, drifting takes a lot of commitment.

“It’s about judgement. In a circuit, you must know when to make the transition from right to left and keep the car in control. If you oversteer, the car may hit the outside wall,” he says

In a competition, the best of 16 cars will actually take turns in a two by two challenge in what is called door to door drifting. This daring show of skill and guts has all the thrilling elements of speed, flair and tire smoke.

The actual speed achieved is variable. A small doughnut (where the car spins in circles) starts from 40kph, though the speedometer will show a reading of 80kph because of the rapid wheel rotation. At a drift circuit, cars may take to the bends at 100kph-140kph.

“The idea is to angle the car as much as possible and slide as close as you can at the corner. If you make a mistake, you might hit the other driver,” says Nismo.

It’s like a turbo-charged merry-go-round being in a drifting car, and enthusiasts cannot get enough of it. Sean says driver and car become one and the only focus are the dial readings and the engine feel. “All your senses are tuned to the car. You can feel the speed in your back. If a tire is about to go, or if the clutch is burning, you’d smell it,” he says.

The dashboards of these drifting machines are like the control panels of airplane cockpits. Nismo says that they are necessary to protect the car.

“The dials show the engine conditions like water and oil temperature. Once the fever is up, you have to cool down,” he says.

Failure to do so will certainly burn a hole in one’s wallet. Curzon, who drives a Nissan Cefiro A31, recalls when he practically toasted his engine in 2005. His repair bill was a hefty RM15,000!

published in The Star on Saturday, July 8, 2006.

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