New Waikato circuit bringing Kiwis a slice of Japan
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Drifting is one of the newest to join the wide variety of New Zealand motor racing disciplines, which means dedicated facilities are few and far between.
However, Chinese drifter Sky Zhao is trying to grow the scene from the grassroots.
A former full-time competitive drifter, Zhao has dedicated the past five years of his spare time teaching people from China, Japan, and New Zealand how to drift.
Now he’s building New Zealand’s first dedicated drift track in the North Waikato near Meremere.
The aim with drifting, which originated in Japan, is to get through corners as fast as possible with as much angle and smoke.
There are more than 30 Japanese drifting circuits — many of them deep in the mountains.
“They are perfect, they are slow speed second-gear kinds of tracks,” Zhao said. “It’s helped me even progress as a professional driver in battles.
"I see a lot of people learning on those tracks shorten the learning period.”
New Zealand has a strong heritage in circuit racing, having produced some of the world’s best drivers and several iconic venues.
Although the bigger, purpose-built, circuits provide a platform for professionals, Zhao said there needs to be a playground for the up-and-coming drifters.
“Back in New Zealand we are lucky enough to have big racing tracks and people take advantage of that.
New Zealand drifting has always been at high speed, but it’s hard for the entry-level people to get into the sport.” Zhao’s philosophy is simple — take the drifters off the street and provide a means to grow the sport.
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“The goal is to provide an environment where people can have fun affordably, safely and take drifting off the road. We want more people getting into drifting and promote drifting to the mainstream fans.
“Drifting has progressed hugely since I started. It’s such a good sport, we just need to promote it in the right way.”
The build beside Meremere Dragway will be small, but comparable in size to circuits in Japan. Initially Zhao had more than 10 designs for the circuit, but combined the best elements from Japanese circuits to create the groundwork for his vision.
“It’s a small track in terms of the layout. We have taken some great straights and corners from Ebisu circuit, Meihan, all the really famous ones.
“We had to use the land in the most efficient way so the final design combines all the corners we want with two straights.” Zhao isn’t ruling out the possibility of holding grassroots-style competitions, like neighbouring Meremere Dragway’s Nightspeed Dragwars.
He hopes to make the circuit as accessible as possible with an emphasis on a cheap, affordable and enjoyable drifting.
Zhao wants the circuit completed by year’s end, he said, so drifting can continue to grow and foster the next generation of professionals.