New Zealand became the first international destination for a new and exciting drifting-derived motorsport event when Red Bull Drift Shifters arrived in Auckland City's CBD in sideways style over the weekend.
From every available vantage point around the 200-metre long closed-off section of Victoria St West outside Victoria Park Markets, a reputed audience of 10,000 watched as professional drift racer Matt Powers (US) took home first-place honours.
The pinball-inspired event pitched nine local, and three overseas competitors including Powers, Swedish-born Hollywood stunt driver Samuel Hubinette (US), and current multinational drifting champion Daigo Saito (Japan) against each other in a battle of precision driving.
After three hours of unadulterated high-speed, sideways and tyre-smoking action - and more than a few fender benders - it all boiled down to a battle of the mighty V8: Hubinette's crowd-favourite 645kW Mopar-powered 2010 Dodge Challenger meeting Powers' Chevy-powered 1994 Nissan Silvia.
"I love the whole fast-paced concept of the event," said Powers after his win.
"There aren't many drifting events where you can actually see and hear the crowd cheering while you're out there but I really felt it here. I hope I get to do it again because it's very cool."
Hubinette, who's driving talents have landed him stunt roles in numerous television commercials and movies, including The Fast and the Furious franchise and Knight and Day, was equally impressed. "Before the event I think everyone had question marks about the small size of the course and how it was going to be scored, but everything ran flawlessly. Because my car is so big and heavy and it [the course] was quite tight and technically it probably wasn't the best suited for it, but I had a lot of fun."
As previously reported in Driven the original concept behind Red Bull Drift Shifters belongs to Auckland-based drifting international "Mad Mike" Whiddett. Unlike traditional drifting events whereby two competitors battle over a set course while being individually scored by a group of judges on criteria of angle, speed, line and style, Drift Shifters takes a more freestyle approach.
Another important aspect for the Red Bull sponsored 30-year-old was the scoring system, which does away with any subjectivity by removing judges from the equation altogether. In their place was a custom-designed, computer-controlled system that relied on more than 30 sensors in and around the arena.
Although similar digital sensors are used by North America's Formula Drift professional drifting series to ensure drivers hit predetermined corner apexes called clipping points, the Red Bull Drift Shifters event is the first time they've ever been used anywhere in the world to actually score competitors.
It's technology that has been developed in New Zealand by Auckland's Automation Associates.
Each of the 12 competitors had less than one minute to clock-up as many points as possible over the course by using their car like a pinball.
Instead of hitting the obstacles - which included water-filled barriers, bollards and even a parked truck trailer which drivers were encouraged to slide their cars beneath - having close range was the name of the game. Extra points were on offer for those who managed to search out bonus combinations and string a fast, clean run together.
Just like a real pinball machine, points clocked-up in the real-time digital scoreboard at the top end of the Drift Shifters playing field to the sounds of buzzes and dings, and flashing lights.
Whiddett, who also competed and placed fourth overall, was ecstatic.
"It was absolutely mind-blowing - better than I ever expected it would be," he said. "With all the sound and lighting effects, and live scoring, the concept was very straightforward. That meant that anyone who knew absolutely nothing about drifting could easily understand what was going on, which was important.
"I think the event proved that it has massive potential, and I'd really like to thank Auckland City for getting behind it and letting us put it on. Above all, now we know the Red Bull Drift Shifters concept works and that it can be easily set up in a small area, we can take it places. We're thinking global."By Brad Lord