I am a careful driver. Normally. You know, the Driving Miss Daisy type who mutters “slow and steady wins the race” under her breath when she gets cut up on the motorway. The type to bemoan the recklessness of others, and curse her ever-increasing insurance rate. The one in the slow lane. Today, though, Miss Daisy is out. And Vin Diesel is in.
“When you think of drift driving you may think of those cool Tokyo drift races and, yes, you can do that,” says our instructor, Rami Azzam from Drift In Dubai. “But that’s when you get to the top level. At this stage we’re just going to get you into it.” I sheepishly tuck my white vest and black leather jacket back in my bag.
Our venue is Motor City’s Autodrome, a vast loop of tarmac and tyre burns. The car is a stock automatic Volkswagen Golf GTI, a regular boy-racer with no customisation other than the addition of a brake on the driver’s side for emergencies (he must have known I was coming) and plastic drift rings attached to the outside of the back wheels to cause them to lose grip. “Imagine taking a regular GTI,” says Azzam, “and then putting two McDonald’s trays under the two back wheels.”
Surprisingly – and, if I’m honest, a little disappointingly – there’s no need for a helmet, or special jumpsuit, or anything. I just clip in my seat belt and we’re good to go.
Before letting me loose behind the wheel, Azzam, an experienced racing driver with motorsports in his family, gives me a taster of how it should be done. We pelt down the tracks, him expertly swinging the car into a set of figure-of-eight turns, screeching into corners and then whipping back out of them so fast I’m left gripping onto the side of the car and screaming like an eight-year-old at Wild Wadi. It is, frankly, terrifying. But then it gets exhilarating. And then, finally, I feel it… Steadying myself in my seat and sensing the road below me, I begin to feel the opposing forces at work, the push and pull that lets the car slide and zig-zag across the track. I feel like Yoda. And then it’s my turn.
Azzam sets out an easy course for me to attempt. Which is probably wise as the last time I went anywhere near top speed I had to have a bit of a lie-down afterwards. All I have to do is get to a speed of between 48-50kph and when he says “in” I’m to turn the wheel into the cones, and then, “when you feel the car about to go” to over-steer in the opposite direction. Simple.
Excitedly, I get into the driver’s seat and start driving the circle, only to reach the required speed, turn the wheel too far in and spin the car out, executing an out-of-control 360° with all the finesse of a Bobby Davro on Dancing on Ice.
Drift driving requires you to unlearn anything you were ever taught about driving. So it’s out with the traditional nine-and-three-o’clock hands on the steering wheel and in with something more like ten and one. The brakes? Forget ’em (unless you’re going backwards). Oh, and that rule about always having both hands on the wheel when turning – yeah, throw that out too.
I spend most of my hour-long session driving in very wonky circles, making everyone, but especially our photographer, monumentally nauseous as I try to get the drift right. There are countless times where I’m left banging my fists on the dashboard and cursing my inability. But every now and then, when it feels like my frustration is about to boil over into rage, it comes together – I get the right feel of the car, the right speed, the right turn, the right direction, and I nail it.
The sensation when that happens is distinct: exhilarating and rewarding – a controlled lack of control that, when you embrace it, becomes seriously addictive.
The perfect mix of your command of a vehicle and the terror that it might just slip out from under you. It’s a thrill, admittedly. But Vin can sleep sound. For now.
Dhs1,100 per one-hour session. Wed 9am-noon, Fri and Sat 9am-4pm. Drift In Dubai, Dubai Autodrome, Motor City, www.driftindubai.com (056 972 8824).
Four more Adrenaline-fuelled motorsports
You don’t need a driving license for this one at Emirates Kart Zone. Just bring your ID and step on it. The crew will get you kitted out with helmets and jumpsuits to race against the clock.
Dhs180 (30 minutes). Al Wasl Sports Club, Oud Metha, www.emirateskartzone.net (050 426 3424).
Make like Jenson Button in a hot McLaren v8 at Dubai Autodrome. Before they let you lose on the track with a 625 brake horsepower speed machine, you learn the racing lines in an Audi TT 2.0 turbo, and then you get to go full throttle.
Dhs1,950. Motor City, www.dubaiautodrome.com (04 367 8745).
Single seater F1 Experience
Take on the turns and hairpins of Dubai Autodrome in a lightweight single seater race car. Learn how to handle the wings and slick tyres of these machines and feel at one with the circuit, at high speed, of course.
Dhs875. Motor City, www.dubaiautodrome.com (04 367 8745).
This one’s for you if you prefer your motorsports on two wheels rather than four. Tear up a dirt track or ride across the desert on a motorbike. Lessons are given by professional motocross riders.
From Dhs1,990 (including bike, equipment and coaching), www.mx-academy.ae (+41 44 586 4641).