Drifting has been good to Sky Zhao. He left his home in China 16 years ago to finish high school in New Zealand. A degree in computer science at Auckland University followed but while he excelled in his studies, he also found time to pursue his passion for motorsport.
Like many New Zealand drivers Zhao got his start in go-karts before graduating to drifting. On February 18, Zhao will be one of 16 drivers taking part in Mad Mike's Summer Bash at Hampton Downs.
"Drifting is my passion and I'm really excited to see what the format for the Summer Bash will be," says Zhao. "Mad Mike (Whiddett) has been involved in drifting since I started and he's always pushed the limits. He's probably the best known face in drifting in the world right now."
Zhao has competed professionally in New Zealand, Japan and China and the 32-year-old also runs his own drift academy.
"I help shorten the learning period," he says. "I remember when I first got into drifting I thought to myself, 'driving sideways, that should be easy'. I used to slide a lot when I was racing karts but drifting was completely different. You have to slide the car sideways at speed and keep moving forward at the same time. You need so much car control. That challenge and the level of difficulty was really interesting to me. I realised that I knew how to drive a car but I didn't know how to drift and I wanted to learn."
Zhao was a fast learner and competed in D1NZ, the national drifting championship, between 2009 and 2015, scoring multiple top ten finishes. In 2013 he got the opportunity to race professionally in China where the sport of drifting has exploded in popularity in recent years.
"I don't think there is more talent in China than in New Zealand but there is a lot more money in the sport and it is much more professional," he says.
Zhao was part of the CDF team that won the Chinese championship but he missed the DIY nature of New Zealand drifting.
"Overseas the sport is dominated by teams," says Zhao. "When I was competing in China I didn't have much input into the car or the setup. I like being my own boss and New Zealand drifting is unique in that every driver looks after their own car. I prefer to do things the New Zealand way. I can prepare the car the way I want. I can put some of my personality in my cars. Over the years I've become known as the V8 guy."
At the Summer Bash, Zhao will be driving his 700Z, a modified Nissan 370Z with a 7-litre V8 engine.
"We want to be on top at the Summer Bash but that is not the biggest goal for me. I want to enjoy the event. We've got a great team and supporters and I want to put on a good show for the fans."
Fans of drifting have helped make Zhao's Drift Academy a viable business.
"We've run 15 events in 18 months in New Zealand, Japan and China and we've had over 300 graduates from the academy. Some of them are drift fans, some of them are corporates and some of them are tradespeople who are into cars. We've got nine drift cars and three instructors so we can teach people how to drive and how to build their own drift car."
"You don't have to be a crazy person in a car to do well at drifting but you have to be dedicated to it. You have to put so much time into the preparation. Preparation is over 90 per cent of drifting. After all you only get 30 seconds per run in the car. You need to make sure you have a reliable car and you're ready when it's your turn to battle."
'Mad Mike' Whiddett, the host of the Summer Bash is looking forward to seeing Zhao in action in New Zealand again.
"Sky never disappoints and always brings something to the table," says Whiddett. "I can't wait to watch him put on a show for the crowd. He's taken his passion and turned it into a lifestyle and I have a lot of respect for that. I know that's not an easy thing to do in this sport."