Some of the biggest names in professional drifting are headed to New Zealand to take part in a new event masterminded by world-renowned Auckland-based international "Mad Mike" Whiddett and energy drink maker Red Bull.
"Think of it as a giant pinball machine for drift cars," says Whiddett of Red Bull Drift Shifters, an event set to transform a section of Victoria St West in Auckland's CBD into an automotive action-sport take on an arcade classic.
"The initial concept for the event was to create something based on drifting, but at the same time is different, and most importantly, fun," Whiddett continues.
"Because drifting is a judged sport, at times it can be frustrating. What we're doing here is ruling out judges completely, and doing everything with computer-controlled sensors. "Originally we looked into running the event at a racetrack, but we really wanted to bring the sport to the people, and I'm really thankful that Red Bull has been able to make this happen right in the middle of Auckland city."
In much the same way that a stainless-steel ball shoots around a pinball board, drivers entering the Drift Shifters arena will rack up points based on their driving performances.
The three main principles of drifting - speed, angle and line - are the most important aspects of the game and will be measured by radar gun and 30 digital proximity sensors that will display running totals on a digital scoreboard.
A time element is also imposed. Following a set high-speed entry routine where Whiddett believes sideways speeds will top 120km/h, drivers will have 45 seconds to clock up as many points as possible while negotiating a variety of obstacles.
"We're not trying to revolutionise drifting or change it," he says. "But the goal is to create an event that can be packaged up and run under the Red Bull Drift Shifters banner in other cities around the world."
Nine Kiwi drifters including Whiddett, three-time D1NZ National Drifting Champion "Gaz" Whiter and reigning D1NZ champion Curt Whittaker are starters. They will be joined by a trio of high-ranked overseas drivers: Samuel Hubinette (Sweden) will drive a Mopar V8-powered Dodge Challenger, Matt Powers (USA) will pilot a Chevrolet LS7 V8-powered Nissan Silvia, and Daigo Saito (Japan) will come out to play in a turbocharged Toyota Chaser sedan reputedly outputting 750kw.
An on-form Saito will be the driver to watch. A previous winner of Japan's D1 Grand Prix professional drifting series, the 32-year-old arrives fresh from winning the 2012 Formula Drift USA and the 2012 Formula Drift Asia titles. He's regarded by many as the best in the business.
So what can spectators at the free-to-attend event expect? According to Whiddett, an action-packed afternoon.
Each competitor will get two practice runs of the technical course before embarking on a single qualifying pass, 1UP style, that sets the order for an eliminator-style competition. They'll then battle for places in the final face-off for the Red Bull Drift Shifters title.
What: Red Bull Drift Shifters
Where: Wellesley St West, Auckland CBD
When: Saturday, December 8, 12-3pm
Cost: FreeBy Brad Lord