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The Art Of Losing Control: ‘Mad’ Mike Whiddett

The Art Of Losing Control: ‘Mad’ Mike Whiddett

May 2017

Words Jazz Kuschke, pics Craig Kolesky & Tyrone Bradley/Red Bull Content Pool

‘Mad’ Mike Whiddett, the Kiwi risk-taker who tore around the Franschhoek Pass at speeds approaching 250kph, understands focus. To maintain it while drifting at such insane speeds, he says, you need see the car you’re driving as an extension of your body. 

Drifting is hard – you always need to be thinking about the next corner, because you set the car up for the turn on the previous one

Drifting may look like a sport that requires the driver to lose control, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It is, in fact, a sport that requires an entirely new level of control. At 248kph and 8,800rpm, you need to have your wits about you. This is how world-renowned Kiwi drifter ‘Mad’ Mike Whiddett attacked the corners of Franschhoek Pass, near Cape Town, driving BADBUL – his quite insane triple-rotor Mazda SP3 RX-8 – in September last year. 

Welcome to Cape Town: BADBUL was shipped directly into SA from Whiddett’s appearance at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK.

The ‘Mad Mike’ moniker, given to him by a commentator during his previous career in freestyle motocross, is now something of an oxymoron: behind the wheel, Whiddett appears ice-cool and ultra-focused. According to the 36-year-old, when he climbs into the driving seat he has to remove all fears from his mind.

“You can’t think about the risks,” explains Whiddett. “Back when I used to do freestyle motocross, I’d think a lot about the what-ifs, and I had a lot of crashes.”

If you slide off the race track you have run-offs and sand traps. Here, if you slide off the road, it’s game over

The excitable Kiwi has made his name through managing his fear in challenging situations such as these. In the lead-up to last year’s attempt, he was in fine form, explaining the differences between drifting passes and drifting tracks: 

“You go to race tracks and you push beyond your boundaries, and if you slide off the track you have run-offs and sand traps, K-rail and tyre walls. Here, if you slide off the road, it’s game over. All the while, though, you also have to be thinking about exactly what you are doing at that point in time. Now, it’s just like natural instinct – I consider the car an extension of my body.”

The belly of the beast: inside the cockpit of Whiddett’s Mazda SP3 RX-8 drift machine.

Whiddett also believes that maintaining focus has as much to do with the right preparation as it does with on-the-track concentration. “I used to listen to music and was always very hyped,” he explains, adding that he has a far calmer approach these days. “In terms of competition, I could visualise the win, but I wasn’t always visualising the way there – you have to get to the finish line first.”

It’s just like natural instinct – I consider the car an extension of my body.

The Franschhoek Pass, located on the R45 between Franschhoek and Villiersdorp, is arguably one of the Cape’s most spectacular passes. Originally known as ‘Olifant’s Pad’ – a reference to the route that elephants would take to cross the mountains into the valley to calve – the path over the neck was followed by herdsmen and, later, by settlers on horseback. It was only in 1822 that Lord Charles Somerset ordered the pass to be built, making it South Africa’s first properly engineered road.

Watch Conquer The Cape, the short film on Mad Mike Whiddett’s Franschhoek Pass drift project. ©Youtube // Red Bull

Today, this 14.9km route, with its famous tight hairpins and sweeping views, is a Saturday morning favourite for bikers, cyclists and drivers alike. This relative peace was shattered by Whiddett revving some 800-plus horsepower. If you’re going to put your life on the line on Franschhoek Pass at close to 250kph, you might as well look cool doing it, right?

And it’s hard to imagine anyone looking cooler than Mad Mike in his Mazda SP3 RX-8 drift machine. Whiddett has won a string of titles in BADBUL, and completed numerous world-first drives, this attempt in the Western Cape being the latest to add to the list.

“There is only so much you can do before you arrive,” he explains. “Google Earth, some photos, maps… you know, that sort of thing. With most of the stuff we’re doing, something like Franschhoek Pass, you only really get a feel for it once you’re on the ground.”

The short film of Whiddett’s drift project, Conquer The Cape, required meticulous preparation.

The drive itself was just crazy, with massive cliff-drops and not much run-off. Not much space for error

Whiddett travelled with a full back-up crew and almost an entire vehicle in spare parts as back-up for the project. “The drive itself was just crazy,” he says of the pass. “I can compare it a bit to Conquer The Crown – a very successful project we did back home that was a game-changer for drifting because of the credibility the sport got for the precision driving. The scenery is very similar, but this road was far more raw, with like massive cliff-drops and not much run-off. Not much space for error.”

The pass was, of course, closed for the project, which took place under very strict control. 

Whiddett drove some of the corners in both directions and at times was entering in sixth gear and at well above 200kph. 

See what went into the making of Conquer The Cape.

Source: The Red Bulletin

The Red Bulletin