Cars going sideways? Intrigued, Matt Blackwell couldn’t resist the opportunity to go for a spin (literally) at the recent Red Bull Car Park Drift Oman
It’s fair to say that the concept drifting was entirely foreign to me. The closest I’d come to burning rubber was watching the smoke rise on screen in the numerous Fast and Furious films.
I’m still relatively new to Oman and over the course of two months living and working in Muscat, I’d heard several warnings from the Royal Oman Police reminding young drivers of the dangers of drifting.
Inquisitiveness got the better of me and I found myself talking my way into the car with motor sport champion and world record holder for the longest vehicle drift, Abdo Feghali, ahead of his appearance at the Red Bull Car Park Drift Oman competition. They say that “curiosity killed the cat”, I was just hoping that the old idiom would not be proved true.
“Drifting is not dangerous at all,” Abdo reassured me before we set off. “All you need is a helmet, a seatbelt and a safe environment. Like what the OAA [Oman Automobile Association] are doing here, they have a special track surrounded by cement barriers.”
Abdo, or “Dado” as he’s known to his friends, took to the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi in February of last year to drift 11,180 metres; a feat that lasted an astounding 14 minutes and 18 seconds and took in 43 laps of the track, doubling the previous world record in the process. The 37-year-old Lebanese driver has won 21 national and international championships in more than a decade and a half of competition and came up with the idea of the Car Park Drift event back in 2008. It seemed I was in safe hands.
Tyre marks were scorched into the tarmac from the countless cars that had drifted their way around the dedicated space at the Oman Automobile Association and expectant crowds filled the stands and lined the fences as I took my place as co-driver in Abdo’s specially modified Ford Mustang, moments before the search for Oman’s “King of Drift” commenced.
“Back in 2010 and 2011, Oman had the worst level of drifting in the whole of the Middle East; I can honestly say that. Three years later, when you look at the 10 best drifters in the region today, most of them are from Oman. It’s all practice and learning,” reveals Abdo.
A sea of orange cones and oil drums greeted me as I looked out across the course that Abdo had designed for the drifting hopefuls. The assortment looked almost random to the untrained eye, but Abdo soon demonstrated his expertise as he popped the car into first gear and hammered down on the accelerator. We were off.
Our first lap around the course was a relatively slow one. Abdo had been keeping the crowds entertained with a few showpiece laps before the event started in earnest and these had taken their toll on his Mustang. The car had overheated and was in need of a new set of tyres – a reminder that this sport pushes automobile engineering to its very limits. Consequently, our initial lap was used to get the alignment of his new tyres right. Once happy, Abdo pulled in and was handed his helmet; this time when his foot hit the accelerator the Red Bull athlete really let loose.
An almost deafening roar from the car’s engine was punctuated by pops from the exhaust and soon the air was thick with grey smoke and the smell of yet more burning rubber. We swerved between cones and around oil drums with a majestic grace and I’m not entirely sure whether we actually travelled in a straight line at any point during the whole experience. Despite the extensive measures taken to strap passengers in, I felt myself being hurled from side to side – all with a smile on my face – as the crowds outside shot past in a blur. The pièce de résistance came as Abdo drifted in a tight circle around an oil drum that was enclosed on three sides by metal barriers, creating a space that was barely larger than the car itself. Cheers erupted from onlookers as the “daddy of drift” executed this impressive manoeuvre with inch-perfect precision.
The feeling itself is a hard one to describe. For the drivers out there, it was vaguely reminiscent of that brief moment where you feel the back end of your car slide out when cornering too fast, causing the car to over steer. While this is often accompanied by a heart-stopping moment of panic, at no point did I feel any fear during my drift experience and I got the sense that Abdo Feghali is most in control when many others would say he looked out of it.
Ali al Balushi was crowned the Omani “King of Drift” and will go on to represent the Sultanate at the regional finals that will be held in Dubai on November 28.