Taking in the D1NZ experience at Pukekohe
I don't like wearing race-suits. They tend to make me resemble a sausage, exploded to human-sized proportions.
Yet, here I am; bursting at every seam after the mechanic who drew the shortest straw was forced to crane and strop me into this racing seat. Sorry bro.
On my right is Andrew Redward, and encasing us both is Andrew's car - a 1988 Mazda RX7 FC3S. We're at Pukekohe Park Raceway, where I'm about to be one of the first people to sample Pukekohe's newly resurfaced turn one at the wonderfully rounded figure of 200 kilometres per hour.
"Are you ready?" he asks.
"Yeah," I lie.
The looming fear of a hot-lap in a drift car at Pukekohe is something that my mind has been trying valiantly to down-play over the last week. But the reality is that in a few minutes time, Andrew will be hurling this 27 year old Mazda into the fastest drifting corner in the world at 200km/h, on a near untested racing surface, which is lined with unforgiving concrete walls. And I'm here on his shoulder, invested in the chaos should any of the thousands of potential what-ifs go wrong.
Seeing Redward's RX7 up close for the first time, on the surface, offers me no real comfort. When it was made, the Berlin Wall still stood, the late Nelson Mandela was still in jail, and I was still an idea on the life blueprints of my parents' collective mind.
And yet, hopping into it, a lot of those feelings are quickly arrested.
While the bodywork is coated in scrapes and dents, the interior is as clean and spartan as any top level race-car. The cassette player and acrylic carpets are long gone - replaced with a roll-cage, and custom everything including the dash panel which is coated in sponsorship and switches like you see in Top Gun. Function is form. It isn't a tatty, dime a dozen hoon-car at all - it's a thoroughbred.
That's the story of drifting recent rise in a nut-shell - the image is still there, but once you peel away the skin you find professionalism and impeccable skill.
The man at the end of pit-lane stops us, as we have to wait for a series staffer to bring me a neck-brace. Redward turns off the engine. For the moment, we take in the flow of cars passing us by. All travelling at a rapid rate of knots. 'That's going to be me soon.' A few seconds later, and my neck-brace has arrived. It is bright pink. Lovely.
Turn the key.
We're rolling, and almost immediately I can feel the wheel-spin as we exit pit-lane and the LS3 V8 under the bonnet roars into life. I had been determined to pay attention to Redward's input, but I was just too distracted - involuntarily electing to remain frozen like a deer in the headlights as we approached the turn one concrete. Moment of truth.
The whole process is over in a matter of seconds. Like getting a painful injection, the build-up far outlasts the climax. Dammit. Let's do that again. Faster please.
The next lap is a simple rinse and repeat of lap one, with the smarmy grin under my helmet distracting me too much from the process. But understand, it is extremely hard to look away when the world is moving past you so quickly.
Okay, this time.
We hurtle towards turn one, Redward still a little tentative and testy on a circuit where drivers are still getting their eye in. He fakes to the right, before jagging to the left and initiating the drift.
Hit the clutch.
The Mazda flicks sideways with incredible immediacy, like magic. It's then held in position, as Redward's right foot is pressed firmly to the floor. His hands are dancing all over the place in a motion comparable only to what you see from professional drummers - darting from the steering wheel to the hand-brake, to the gear-knob and back in fractions of a second. All of it reactionary to what the driver sees and feels.
The whole car pivots on a dime as the kerbs and the famous 'Castrol' approaches and its angle is reversed. While the motion feels exceptionally smooth, Redward's actions are anything but - with the steering wheel thrown from full left lock to full right. We hit the kerbs; the front left tyre kissing the first ripple-strip with precision - the right front following suit as we change direction once again.
The smoke in here is purple. It's taken me three runs, but I've only just noticed that the smoke is purple - mainly due to its thick presence obstructing Redward's wizardry during the final seconds of the run.
"Want another lap?" he yells, over his howling, beast of a race-car.
I've never given someone else a thumbs-up so quickly