We try our hand at drifting with Prodrift Academy UAE
It’s not easy to drift. No, doing doughnuts in a parking lot or sliding out your tail in a left turn is not drifting. My skills are limited to initially mild slides and catching them, hence why I’ve never run a car into a tree in a decade of driving. But drifting requires a precise level of control over the steering, the throttle and occasionally the handbrake, continuously. It’s something that I’ve tried my hand at, in closed parking lots mind you, and mostly failed, except with that one car back in 2007 which had balance so perfect that I was able to hold a few drifts for a few seconds at a time. The main issue has always been having a place to practice legally. So off we went to the recently-created Nissan Drift Experience, run by the Prodrift Academy in Dubai.
Run at one of the Global Village parking lots on every weekend, it’s an event that runs for two-and-a-half hours, makes use of two or three Nissan 370Z sports cars and a number of instructors. Since a number of attendees have to take turns for a stint at the wheel, there’s “only” 25 minutes of drive-time, but trust me, it’s more than enough for what is essentially a teaser of the full drifting courses that the Academy offers.
Why were we more excited about this event that similar ones held at other facilities around the UAE? Well, for one thing, there’s no cheating with plastic tyres or watered-down tarmac. On the bone-dry pavement, you make full use of a Nissan 370Z, one of the hardest cars to drift thanks to its short wheelbase and extra-wide rear tyres. The cars are fitted with a rally-style handbrake, which is basically a long stick right that reaches the level of the steering wheel. There’s always an instructor to guide you from the passenger seat.
Participants start off straight in the driver’s seat for a few runs using the handbrake in a straight line at just 40 kph; then try it again with a bit of angle to the steering wheel, which is easy to catch; then again at 60 kph at the same wheel angle, at which point the car spins. It’s to show us what a small difference in speed makes.
The second exercise involves pulling the handbrake to make a movie-style 90-degree turn, and seeing the difference between pulling the handbrake then turning in, and turning in first then pulling the handbrake. Good fun, that.
Then the third exercise throws you straight into the drifting phase. Participants, novice or otherwise, are asked to drift around a circle. It requires breaking traction with a boot of the throttle while leaving the steering wheel, then backing off and grabbing the steering wheel at the correct angle, then pumping the throttle just the right amount to get a drift going. It feels literally impossible, as I kept spinning out again and again. But in the final run, I managed half a circle of drift, even if I went wide of the course. Maybe there’s hope after all.
The experience costs Dhs 750, worth it in our opinion, and offers a fair bit of wheel-time that lets you see just how good or bad you already are. Actual drifting courses start at Dhs 1500 each for several levels of training, should you wish to better yourself with proper instruction. There will even be drift track-days later on, for when you just want to play around.
The Prodrift Academy is something I’ve been waiting for my entire life. It’s one skill that’s been missing from my driving experiences, which have included everything from track-driving to dune-bashing. I can finally try my hand at drifting without worrying about tyre expenses and jail time.