TORN BETWEEN COMPETING IN THE US OR WOWING CROWDS AT GOODWOOD, KIWI DRIFT STAR ‘MAD MIKE’ WHIDDETT RETURNED TO THE BRITISH COUNTRYSIDE. COLIN SMITH EXPLAINS WHY
It could have been a weekend in New Jersey building on the promise his new Radbul Mazda MX5 has shown in early rounds of the Formula Drift Series.
But ‘Mad Mike’ Whiddett was back at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England to put drifting in the spotlight again at the world’s pre-eminent celebration of motorsport.
Whiddett debuted at the 2014 Festival of Speed with an award-winning performance. He was part of a Red Bull team that sent Sebastien Loeb to fight for shoot-out honours in the Pikes Peak-winning Peugeot. Whiddett’s Mazda RX7 was on tyre-shredding duties and Patrick Friesacher drove a Nascar.
“Red Bull is known for being the first to do some pretty extreme stuff and they wanted to be the first to bring drifting to the Goodwood Festival of Speed,” said Whiddett.
“It was the first time anyone here had actually seen drifting. Before we’d been out in the first session the public had been asking me ‘Where are you going to do your donuts?’
“I’m like, ‘Trust me, if you can see the track then you’re in a good location. You’ll soon see drifting is a lot more than just doing donuts. We’re going over 200km/h on some of these tracks around the world’.”
After the 2014 festival, Whiddett received an award from Lord March for the most exciting driver.
The 2015 festival saw drifting gain a bigger profile in its own “Catch My Drift” category, with top British, Irish and European drifters competing.
“It’s cool that it’s opened up different avenues for other drivers to showcase the sport. I hope they do as good a job as we have in trying to show it’s a professional sport. It’s not just a bunch of boy racers. That’s the hardest thing in New Zealand — it’s still perceived as a bunch of boy racers.”
For his personal highlight of the 2015 festival, Whiddett found himself torn between two choices.
“This year it’s surreal. The car that was a massive inspiration to me is the Mazda 787B Le Mans winning car.
“Since I was 13 that was the dream — to one day have a four-rotor. So we built this [RX7] and worked it all out with Pulse Performance Race Engineering and now we have four of these motors.”
The other car on Whiddett’s favourite list is the 1970 Plymouth Superbird Nascar racer of “King” Richard Petty. The big blue car is the favourite of Whiddett’s 7-year-old son Lincoln because of its role as the Dinoco car in the animated movie Cars.
“Last year at the festival Richard Petty had the model before the Superbird, which doesn’t have the big wing on the back.
“We were in the drivers’ lounge and Lincoln goes up to Richard Petty and asks, ‘Excuse me Mr The King, why did you take the big wing off Dinoco?’ So he’s like, ‘That’s the Superbird. I will bring that just for you next year.’
NASCAR legend Richard Petty drives his 1970 Plymouth Superbird at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
“Then three months ago, Richard Petty releases that he’s going to bring the 1970 Plymouth Superbird that has been in storage since its last victory.
“So it’s a tough one, choosing between my favourite car and my son’s favourite car.”
With the horsepower and engineering of the Mazda RX7 and the driving skill that could make him a shoot-out contender at Goodwood, has Whiddett ever been tempted to drive straight and run against the clock?
“Last year they said we were at the pointy end of the field even drifting. Every time I’m like, ‘Yeah, let’s do a timed lap’ and as soon as it goes green I can’t help myself and it’s maximum attack fully sideways. But it goes to show how fast drifting is.”
With the festival completed, the next target is more Formula Drift competition in the US. Whiddett says the new four-rotor MX5 has already exceeded his team’s expectations with top-10 performances there.
“The support from Mazda has made it possible to build our dream MX5 which we believe is the most crazy, the most wild and competitive drift car on the planet to take on the world’s best — which is the Formula Drift Championship,” said Whiddett.
“That for us is the Formula 1. It doesn’t get any higher than that. It’s the biggest sponsors and the toughest competition.
“So for us to miss round four of the world drifting championship, which was yesterday in New Jersey, was a very tough decision.
“But it’s not a hard pill to swallow to come here. This is an amazing event.”