ABU DHABI // "Drifting" may be a popular pastime with stunt videos being viewed online thousands of times, but rally drivers and safety experts went out of their way yesterday to emphasise that the car tricks and skids belong on the racetrack and not the city streets. "Drifting is about entertainment but also ability," said Mohammed ben Sulayem, a 14-time Middle East rallying champion who lives in Dubai.
"It has taken me 20 years to perfect my skills, and young people should be aware this kind of driving has to be done in the right environment." However, he said the skills needed for the extreme sport could be useful for regular drivers in emergencies. "As long as this kind of driving is encouraged in the right way, then I believe it can help the situations on the roads." At the Barbican Turbo Show in Abu Dhabi yesterday, he joined a team of qualified racing drivers who are visiting the UAE to teach drifting.
The drivers, who compete in the European Drifting Championships (EDC), said their presence could help improve road safety records. Although road safety campaigners have condemned the posting of amateur drifting videos on websites like You Tube, Mr ben Sulayem said that if practised in the right circumstances, the moves could help make roads less dangerous. "There is no excuse to put other people's lives in danger by practising on the roads," he said.
"We have two tracks in Dubai, one in Umm al Qaiwain and now the F1 track in Abu Dhabi that is second to none. "Hopefully when the dust settles after the big race, there will be plenty of events there to satisfy drivers." All weekend, the EDC team will be demonstrating their drifting skills at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. They will also give a few lucky enthusiasts one-on-one training. At the end of the show, if the amateur drivers prove their abilities, they will be awarded a European drifting licence and invited to Europe to compete in the championship.
Tim Marshall, 31, a commentator and judge with the EDC, said he was trying to promote drifting as a sport - not an underground activity where people end up killing themselves in crashes. "We understand young people with fast cars are trying to do this on the roads, but we want to show them that unless they have a top-spec car, fireproof harness and a helmet, and are on a proper track, it can be dangerous," Mr Marshall said.
"We want to teach people in the UAE so that they can come to tracks and get it out of their system, so that by the time they get on the road all they want to do is go from A to B." Lex Akehurst, a motorsport consultant working at this weekend's show, said the secondary aim of the lessons was to create the first national UAE drifting team. "We know a lot of youngsters see videos on YouTube of cars spinning in doughnuts and want to copy them," Ms Akehurst said.
"But we are trying to teach these skills. This weekend, we are teaching these guys about dynamics of their cars and how to control them if they do lose control. "It is about safe driving skills, and is easily translated onto the streets. "If they are good enough we will create a national team." Amru Abbas, one of the young drivers taking the drifting classes, said such skills would satisfy his passion and help him personally.
"I go to many autocross events with my GTZ car club, and we try to take our cars through these skills, so I am really excited to be learning them from professionals. "Also, I am getting to know my car better. Whenever you lose control of a car that is not the end, there is a lot of time before you hit anything so by understanding how your car works you can improve your driving and that can help you get out of potentially dangerous situations."