For over a decade I’ve been watching International Drifting events such as D1NZ and Formula Drift, with the dream to compete one day. This dream finally became a reality in 2016 when I made the journey over to New Zealand with a select group of fellow Australian Drift competitors. This particular competition encompassed a 4 round Trans-Tasman series that saw us competing in two rounds in New Zealand and two rounds in Australia. This was unlike any competition I had ever been a part of. The crowds, the atmosphere, it was all so mind-blowing for me. From running in a field of around 24 - 32 pro cars here in Australia that were all moderately modified, to being surrounded by a field of 32 pro cars that had nothing less than a G-force or sequential dog box and 600-1000hp at the wheels not to mention a field of 40 pro-amateur cars, many of which had the same extensively built engines, gearboxes and suspension setups. I felt like I was in drifting paradise!
Standing on the front straight of what is labelled the fastest drift entry in the Southern Hemisphere, in front of a crowd of over 7,000 amazing fans at Pukekohe Raceway was an amazing experience. All day I had adrenaline pumping through my veins, I had shivers running down my spine and I just couldn’t stop smiling. At that exact moment, I knew that all the hard work, sleepless nights, stressing about my car, blown engines, blown gearboxes, and an endlessly empty bank account was all worth it. I knew that this is where I had to be, this is what I wanted to do with my life and I had to make it happen!
The transition into driving and competing at a professional level took time, and it definitely didn’t happen overnight. Prior to my first experience drifting in NZ, cars had always been a big part of my life. I had worked on cars since I was a kid with my father and godfather, so I decided to try and start my own drift car build at the age of 19. I then began drifting at the age of 21, which is a little later than some of my fellow competitors. My first proper drift car was a 180sx that was powered by a $900 SR20 that I bought on eBay. I built the car from scratch on jack stands and a roller board in my back shed. I had only the basic knowledge about suspension setups, turbos, wiring, pretty much just enough to get me through. I asked lots of questions and consulted numerous online forums to help me complete the build. I made lots of mistakes, broke things, blew up SR20’s time and time again, but it all brought me to where I am now.
Eventually, my first drift car was completed and I started driving in local competitions and practice days. The car was constantly in and out of the garage as I was studying at university and didn’t have the funds to fix it every time it broke. At one stage I was forced to leave the car in the garage for 6 months as I had just blown up my freshly built SR20 and I didn’t have the $4000 needed to repair it. It killed me as I had put everything I had into that car, I actually cried, true story. With the knowledge and resources I have now, I look back and wish I just chucked a stock motor in the car to get back out on the track, or even a 2JZ! Anything to get me driving! I ended up holding onto this car for almost 6 years, constantly changing things and improving it whilst learning more about drift setups and improving my driving skills. When the time was right, I parted ways with the 180sx in 2014. I then gathered all the cash I could and over the following 9 months, I built my dream car. I knew that I needed a competitive car, something that would take my drifting to the next level. The Nissan S15 with its Toyota Supra engine, Supra Gearbox and GTR running gear was going to do exactly that.
Unexpectedly, after finishing the new car build, I kicked my first goal in under 5 months of driving by standing on the podium in a major local competition. That night I battled some of the best drivers in Australia, finishing on the podium in second place with a nice shiny trophy. To top it all off I earned the opportunity to do a victory burnout, something I had practiced in my backyard since I was 12. This competition was a major turning point in my life. Previously, I had always questioned whether all this time and money that I had invested into the sport was worth it. Drifters ask themselves this question all the time. Drifting is almost like an addiction, the adrenaline rush you feel from throwing a car into a corner, which to most looks to be completely out of control is like no other feeling I’ve experienced. That night on the podium was what kept me going, it made me realise that I had potential and I was really going to give this a shot.
From 2015 onwards, I have stood on the podium many times. Most recently, I travelled to NZ and just finished my second full season of D1NZ. In the first round of this season, I left a big footprint in the New Zealand drift competition, after qualifying in first place and also winning the entire round! I became the first international driver to win an event in the 14 years D1NZ had been running. With consistency and steady results, I managed to stay in the top 3 right up until the final round. At completion of my New Zealand season, I was just overtaken by four time NZ champion Gaz Whiter at the last round leaving me in 4th overall for the season. To be honest I would have loved to have been on that podium in the final round. However, this is only my second year and I’m literally points away from three guys who have been doing this for 10 years or more. Overall I’m extremely pleased where I have finished this season. Sending the 4.Mance car over to make it just in time for Round 1 with only an hour’s worth of testing is just crazy. First time properly driving the car and I managed to qualify first and win! I can't wait to be back there next year to do it all over again. D1NZ has been a dream, and I can't wait to stand on that championship podium in the first place! Moving forward, there are many exciting things now in place following the 2018 D1NZ season with 4.Mance automotive. Watch out kiwis!
Whilst this season both in Australia and New Zealand has been my most successful and enjoyable season to date, it has not been without its fair share of ups and downs. The time, energy and personal sacrifice drivers alike must make to prepare a car, test it and compete in every round is something many people do not see. Whether it be catching up with your family or spending time with your partner, building cars in your spare time or just relaxing, your free time to do these things becomes very limited. Over the course of a D1NZ season, I spend at least 10 days a month in New Zealand, fixing or making adjustments to the car, ensuring the car is prepped according to the specifications of each different track, as well as testing when I can. This juggling act requires serious time management and co-ordination skills, as many drivers like myself, do all of this around full-time work hours and other daily responsibilities.
An unforgettable example of the difficult moments associated with competing in an international motorsport series came when I blew my engine before qualifying at Mike Pero Motorsport Park in Christchurch, just before round 1 of the Trans-Tasman series in 2016. In hindsight this incident was partly my fault, the engine was factory and It was pushing over 500kw at the wheels, but I was told these engines were invincible! Not with me though, I can break anything! If you're a drifter, you know that the majority of us put our heart and soul into these cars. Breaking major mechanical parts on your car definitely hits you hard, especially when you're so far from home with limited resources, tools and support. So I guess if you are reading this, and you are planning to race overseas, make sure your car is solid! From the engine to the diff, to the suspension and wiring. It is crucial that everything in and on your car is 110% right.
The list of major parts I have broken whilst competing overseas does not stop there. So far I have damaged; engines, clutches, gearboxes, lower control arms, diffs, the list goes on. This can really take a toll on you both physically and mentally. It can damage your confidence because you’re constantly worrying about the car making it through an event, rather than focusing on what you need to achieve in qualifying and battles. Don’t get me wrong, drifting definitely requires a lot of driver ability, but it also requires strong mental focus. Encountering so many mechanical issues has always hit me hard for some reason and it was something that I struggled with particularly during my first full season in NZ. Drifting is a mind game, and mental preparation before and during an event is very important. Winning a battle or a competition depends on your ability to drive a car under pressure and completely focus despite all the distractions around you. Unlike circuit racing, you make the smallest mistake whilst in a drift battle and that's your weekend over in a heartbeat.
Despite the idea that drifting really is a sport where you have to be completely self-reliant, having a supportive team and a community of drivers around you to help makes the process that much more achievable. As strange as it seems, I’m actually glad I blew my motor when I first came to New Zealand to compete in the Trans-Tasman series. I met some amazing people in the first round that went above and beyond to give me the resources that I needed to repair the car. Phil Sutherland, a local guy from the South Island gave me the keys to his local workshop to rip out the motor and diagnose the problem. Then came Team Jenkins Motorsport! These boys went above and beyond to help me get the car ready for the next round, and from then on they welcomed me into their team and family. At every round, I now prep my car using their shed, tools, house and it absolutely feels like a home away from home. Thanks to their support over the last two years, as well as the support from my amazing sponsors I have now been able to complete two consecutive D1NZ seasons. Reflecting back, I have now travelled all around the North and South islands of beautiful New Zealand with the best people. I have driven at the most amazing tracks and loved every second of it. I was even fortunate enough to drift on a purpose-built drift track in an indoor football stadium! Being involved with the TJM boys has really shown me how important it is to get to know your fellow competitors and support teams and offer your help to other drivers when you can, as it is always repaid tenfold.
Similarly, competing in an overseas season such as D1NZ has shown me how fundamental it is to travel with a supportive and reliable crew. My personal team now consists of an amazing mechanic, spotter, photographer and incredibly supportive sponsors, 4.Mance Automotive and Custom Cluster Development that are with me every step of the way. Having a relationship built on trust with your major sponsors and support team is invaluable and can be the difference between you making it onto the track after mechanical faults or not. Whether your support crew consists of your family members, best mates, fellow drifters, or supportive sponsors, developing a team that know the ins and outs of your car that you wholeheartedly trust is the best way to make sure you and your car are competitive at every round.
Despite the highs and lows that come with drifting, competing in New Zealand representing my sponsors 4.Mance Automotive and Custom Cluster Development has really changed my life. I'm not a big believer in fate, but everything that has happened in my life up until now, has brought me to this point in my career. Being part of a community like drifting means so much more than simply driving a fast car in front of a crowd of people. Drifting has allowed me to meet some of my closest friends and be a part of a wider community that works together and support each other. Drifting has allowed me to travel the world and pilot some amazing car builds. Sitting in the driver's seat of the 4.Mance Automotive S15, reminds me that every sacrifice, set back, challenging moment and a seed of doubt are nothing in comparison to the pure joy I get from pushing a car around the track and seeing others enjoy watching what I do. I sometimes feel like I need pinch myself and remember how fortunate I am to be able to follow my dream.
If I could encourage anybody who is considering giving the sport of drifting a go, DO IT! Enter that backyard competition, spend your spare time in the shed, ask for help from fellow drivers, learn about different car builds where you can and enjoy everything that comes with your involvement in the drifting community. I promise you, even if you don't end up competing overseas or anywhere for that matter, you will make countless friends, be exposed to some amazing cars and have the time of your life on track. For me, it's onwards and upwards from here.
Competing in Formula Drift Japan, was a dream come true for myself and my sponsors! Unfortunately, life has thrown a hurdle in my direction and due to a non-drifting related injury, we have had to postpone our participation in FD Japan until 2019. I will be back, and stronger than ever!