x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The Air Bag: Keep stunts to the race track, if you catch my drift

Doing car tricks on a public highway is utterly insane, especially one as busy as the E11, and it worries me that too few drivers use closed, private events to let off steam.

There are certain things I've seen with my own eyes that I wish I could scrub from my memory banks. I once saw a murder victim lying on the floor of a take-away in the UK, just a couple of minutes after he'd been stabbed. I wish I had been somewhere else that night as that's one of my worst memories. And yesterday, while researching online for the story on mo8, I foolishly watched a couple of videos on YouTube about drifting in the Middle East. The images will be etched on my grey matter until I shuffle off this mortal coil. Suffice it to say, people died from sheer, unadulterated stupidity and I really wish I hadn't seen the carnage.

The reason for my online video curiosity is very simple: last weekend, as you'll read on mo8, I attended the Middle East Motor Tuning Show (MEMTS) in Sharjah, where there were two Drifting Arenas.

Here, highly modified cars and SUVs liquidised their rear tyres in clouds of thick smoke to the delight and rapturous applause of assembled onlookers. The crazier the stunts, the louder the cheers, whoops, whistles and claps. Youngsters held aloft mobile phones as they filmed the action and, if a car blew up its engine in the process, all the better as far as they were concerned.

Going sideways in a car, and keeping it controlled, takes skill. You'll have noticed, however, that when The Stig is setting his "powerlap" times on the Top Gear test track, that powerslides are conspicuous by their absence because oversteer (when a car's rear end breaks traction and tries to overtake the front) looks impressive but doesn't make for a decent lap time. For that you need grip, traction and smooth inputs at the wheel - the exact opposite of the art of drifting.

While the safe enclaves of the MEMTS arenas are perfect for four-wheeled hooliganism, where walls of tyres protect cars and observers alike, there is a problem in this part of the world because a minority of drivers feel it's perfectly acceptable to behave like this on public roads. Take a drive out to the mountain roads surrounding Hatta and other places and you'll see enormous stretches of rubber marks on the tarmac, evidence of highly illegal, dangerous driving.

There are even sections of the E11 in Abu Dhabi where it's obvious people have been performing handbrake turns and "do-nuts" (where a rear-wheel drive car spins around in continuous circles). To do this on a public highway is utterly insane, especially one as busy as the E11, and it worries me that too few drivers use closed, private events to let off steam in their cars.

Recently, while on a photoshoot near Hatta, a beaten-up old Lexus approached us at high speed with its tail waving like an excited Labrador's. The driver was drifting up the mountain road, having a brilliant time wearing the rear tyres down to their steel belts but, when I caught sight of him, the really shocking thing was that he must have been all of 14 years old.

Seeing the crowds of young men entranced by the drifting at Sharjah last weekend reminded me of this, and my YouTube surfing simply heightened the fear that some of these lads won't be around to see their 20th birthdays because they'll come unstuck while emulating their heroes in some uncontrollable 1,000hp monster. I didn't want to see it on my PC, I certainly don't want to see it in real life or end up with one of them ploughing into me on my way home from the office. As the saying goes, there's a time and a place for everything.