x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

A woman driver you wouldn't dare toot

Kumika Kubokawa will drift her way into Abu Dhabi's Barbican Turbo show this weekend.

Sumika Kubokawa concentrates behind the wheel during a drifting demonstration in Abu Dhabi yesterday.
Sumika Kubokawa concentrates behind the wheel during a drifting demonstration in Abu Dhabi yesterday.

ABU DHABI // Sumika Kubokawa plans to spend her weekend driving around a car park in Abu Dhabi. 

But she won't be nervously looking for a parking spot. She'll be showing off her skills at drifting, a high-performance high-risk motorsport. 

Kubokawa is in the top ranks of the sport and her talents are such she has earned the nickname "drift queen". At the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (Adnec) yesterday, Kubokawa demonstrated some moves as part of the Barbican Turbo show. She slid round the bends of a small track, often just inches from other cars doing the same.

She and her two colleagues make up Team Orange, who have featured in Hollywood movies such as The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. 

Kubokawa started drifting when her friend took her to a local track. "When I first got behind the wheel and drifted for the first time, I was hooked," she said. 

"I loved it and I wanted to get straight back in the car when I finished it. 

"It was difficult to learn at first. I kept losing control and spinning out at first so I got in another car with an instructor and watched and felt how he did it. I got back in mine and did it straight away. I started out doing small doughnuts and progressed on to larger, more powerful slides."

It took her three years to get it right. 

Hiroki "Sleepy" Furuse, Team Orange's manager, saw her at the track and signed her up for the team. 

"She had that talent at the track. Every drifting event and even practice is done in a controlled environment. She had excellent control," he said. 

"Power sliding is different to drifting because you are accelerating around the bend and wearing your tyre out and you pop them. A tyre manufacturer will never sponsor them," Mr Furuse said.

According to him, there are 200,000 drifting enthusiasts in Japan, where the sport originated. 

Yesterday, Kubokawa was in a 2.6-litre Nissan Skyline turbo. The team also use Mitsubishi Evos and Subaru Imprezas. She started out in a Nissan 180SX. Her colleagues, Nobushige Kumakubo and Naoto Suenaga, have both eyes on her when she is leading them around the pack. 

Mr Furuse said it was the same as a flight demonstration team.

"She was under a lot of pressure to get it right. They copy every move she makes. When she turns, they turn, when she brakes, they brake," she added. 

The team was flown in from Japan with their three cars and nearly 60 spare tyres for the show, which runs until tomorrow. 

As well as the driving demonstration, there is a custom car and motorbike show inside the exhibition hall. 

Among those who brought their cars along for the first day was Ali Hassan, an 18-year-old aircraft maintenance student, who was proudly polishing his 1966 Ford Thunderbird.

"I bought it about a year ago but didn't get to register it until a few months ago." 

He imported the car from the US, along with its original Californian licence plate, 66WBIRD. 

"Everything here is in its original state. The seats, the engine and the interior are exactly the way they were when it came out of the factory." 

He was unsure whether he stood a chance of winning, but that was not the point, he said. 

"I just like having it here. There are a lot of other vintage cars here but we will see. I am trying to get the best out of the leather."

Right next to him was a Honda Accord with a black and gold body kit. Behind it was a 1930s Ford, on sale for Dh65,000. 

At the other end of the hall, Thamer al Nuaimi was pulling cables out of a box next to his Chevrolet Tahoe 4x4. He had spent an extra Dh105,000 on his car over the last year and won first prize for best car at last year's show. 

He said that most people would recognise him in his 4x4 because of its unique black and white pattern. 

"I got the design done by a German-based artist and got it made up here. It is not a paint job and is stickers. It is easier and looks a lot better," he added.

He reworked the hydraulics so he could raise and lower the profile of his car. 

"I take it for short trips like going to the shops and other times for cruising around. I roll down the windows and play the music very loud," the 30-year-old fitness instructor said. 

He left his pride and joy at home, though. 

"I have a 1991 Mini Coupe. The real Mini, not the German one," he said. 

The Mini was redesigned and relaunched after the marque was bought by BMW in 2001.