Red Bull pro drifter Mad Mike Whiddett is making a return to the prestigious Formula DRIFT Professional Drifting Championship Series, with a commitment to multiple events of the seven-round US-based 2015 season and the newly formed FD World Championship.
Whiddett had his first taste of Formula DRIFT USA back in 2010 when he drove in select rounds of that year’s championship. In the time since, the New Zealander has enjoyed plenty of success with multiple event wins and podiums in Formula DRIFT Asia and local competitions – but the focus has always been on getting back up to the USA and taking on the world’s best drivers in their own backyard.
“When we competed in 2010 we were essentially using a modified street car built with mostly off-the-shelf parts, and it was tough going against all the big-budget US teams, many of which had manufacturer backing,” says Whiddett. “After that we knew there was no point in returning until we could do it properly, and all the foundations were in place – the driver, the team, and the car. With Red Bull, Mazda, Mobil 1 and Nitto Tire really getting in behind my Formula DRIFT campaign, it feels like the right time.”
Integral to the campaign is Whiddett’s new pro-spec machine – a 2015 Mazda MX-5 better known as RADBUL. Over the past few months the convertible sports car has been the subject of a Red Bull video series titled The Making of RADBUL. The final episode showcasing the car during its first on track shakedown will be released at the end of April.
Despite being an unconventional base in the world of professional drifting, the NC-chassis MX-5 has been highly modified for the cause with factory support from the Japanese automaker. At its heart is a bespoke four-rotor, twin turbocharged Mazda rotary engine that develops in excess of 1,000 horsepower on its most conservative power setting.
While four-figure power output could almost be considered a requisite at the pinnacle of this motorsport, it’s only one piece in a much larger puzzle. “It’s going to be a huge learning curve for the whole team, but that’s what this year is all about,” says Whiddett. “The biggest disadvantage we have is a lack of data. There’s only limited testing before each round, so having a good setup for each circuit is really important when you’re chasing championship points.”
The critical data will come with seat time, but to ensure that the team is on the right track from the get-go, Scott Dodgion, one of Formula DRIFT’s most experienced crew chiefs, has come on board for the 2015 campaign. “To have someone like Scott on the team will be really invaluable,” says Whiddett. “On top of being a world-class race car engineer, he has so much knowledge when it comes to setups and knows exactly what it takes to run a championship-winning Formula DRIFT team, because he’s been there before.”
Joining Dodgion on the team is New Zealander Warren Overton, whose Wanganui-based company, Pulse Performance Race Engineering, built Whiddett’s MX-5 from scratch, and car builder/driver ‘Rad’ Dan Burkett from RAD Industries in Orange County, California. Burkett’s workshop premises will serve as the team’s HQ between rounds.
In just two weeks time on April 10-11, the Long Beach GP Street Course will play host to the 2015 Formula DRIFT season opener. The all-star driver line-up is as strong as it’s ever been and Whiddett is under no illusion how tough the competition will be right throughout the Pro Championship ranks. Defending champion Chris Forsberg (USA, Nissan 370Z), 2014 season runner-up Fredric Aasbø (Norway, Scion tC) and third place getter Vaughn Gittin Jr. (USA, Ford Mustang RTR) are all confirmed starters.
Unfortunately for Whiddett, making the first round is unachievable. “We were really hoping we’d be able to kick off our season in Long Beach, but with strikes still happening at the Port of Los Angeles there’s just not enough lead time to get RADBUL up there and properly test it before that event,” he laments. The car is all ready to go, so we’re aiming to debut it at the second round in Georgia [Road Atlanta – May 8-9], where I’m familiar with the track and its high-speed entry. It’s going to be a good place to get into it, and I can’t wait.”
The challenge is a large and there’s a lot of learning to be done, but according to Mad Mike Whiddett that doesn’t mean he’ll be driving at anything less than maximum attack. “It’s been the dream for a long time to get back to Formula DRIFT, and I’m going to be charging as hard as I can all season to get a round win.”