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Mad Mike: 'Drifting's common for washed up motocrossers'

As Mad Mike Whiddett showed his disdain for tyres at Goodwood, we buckled in for a ride

Mad Mike Whiddett is someone we’re familiar with here at Top Gear; a drifting, well, madman who’s made his name as a Red Bull athlete with utter disdain for the potential longevity of tyres. Before chatting to us at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, he took us for a passenger ride around the historic Goodwood Circuit, and the whole thing felt like one enormous accident. In a good way. But does such a loopy sport belong at such a historic venue?

“I’m humbled to get the opportunity to come here. We received a special award for the most outstanding showmanship, which was really cool because in the guard of honour was Lewis Hamilton, Sebastien Loeb, Sir Jackie Stewart and Stirling Moss. All these amazing icons of motorsport.

“It felt like drifting was being taken seriously. Even in New Zealand, drifting is perceived as a bit of a boy racer sport. But that’s only because drifting is so accessible for youngsters to get into. I’ve been to lots of really cool events where I’ve been able to showcase drifting. In the morning, you might get the odd person frowning upon it; ‘oh it’s one of those boy racing guys’. But then you do the demonstration, and in the afternoon you’re flooded with fans. That’s what it was like at Goodwood. Now, every year, we come back. The fan base gets even bigger.”

It’s not Mike’s only visit to the UK this summer; next month he brings his Drift Shifters event to Liverpool, the first time it’s left his native New Zealand. It’s a version of the sport that’s come from Red Bull’s annual athlete summit, where its dozens of stars gather together and dream up what bonkers stuff they can do next.

“It’s all about thinking outside the box, and what’s the next, craziest thing I can do with my discipline of driving. For me, it was to be able to create this event which is fully automated so there was no judges. So no bias or human error.”

Radar guns and proximity and GPS sensors calculate how wild the competitors’ drifts are, the results of which are communicated via computer game-like graphics and sound effects to get every spectator on board. “Every one of the drivers was, hands down, ‘that was the coolest drift event we’ve done’. Because if you didn’t win, it was your own fault. You didn’t hit the sensors.”

Mike started out on two wheels, competing in motocross until frequent injuries coined his ‘Mad’ prefix, but called a halt on it. “In 2002, I got told I was paralysed for life from a T7 vertebrae, then I discovered these Japanese guys doing drifting and I’m like, ‘this looks really freakin’ cool’. Drifting is quite a common sport for washed up motocrossers. They have broken a lot of bones, then they discover a roll cage. For me I say ‘with age, comes a cage’. So I feel really, really safe in my car.”

Is he ever tempted by a return to two wheels? “I still love the adrenaline of two wheels but I just don’t know how to ride 80 per cent. Every time I hop on a bike I end up hurting myself and in the A&E pretty quickly. So I just leave it.

“I’d like to do more motorsport. I’ve had some really strong results in the Australian GT3 Championship in a McLaren 650S. It’s a totally different mindset from drifting, where it’s like after three or four corners you’re judged one little mistake and you’re back in the trailer.

“In GT racing, you have a hundred laps. A small mistake, you can kind of make up for it. Very different. The cars are amazing to drive so I really hope to be able to do more GT racing. But I think the discipline I want to get into is rallycross. I think with my background of motocross and drifting, rallycross and stadium trucks would be my forte.”

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