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WATCH: A land of smoke and burnt rubber … what dreams are made of for the Drifting Brothers

WATCH: A land of smoke and burnt rubber ... what dreams are made of for the Drifting Brothers

Johannesburg – It is only when you – quite ungracefully – shimmy and manoeuvre your way – left leg first – into the passenger seat of the 1000hp-plus, custom built, frightfully modified BMW of the Drifting Brothers, that you finally understand, comprehend and experience the true nature of the beast.

Up until this point, from afar, the billowing smoke of burnt rubber has enveloped the Red Star Raceway, the smell haunting the nose. The forces at play – friction, wind-resistance, gravity, velocity, human-control, physicality, mental-fortitude, muscle memory and strength, has so far eluded tangible understanding.

Now, sucked into the bucked-seat, strapped in over the chest and crotch, the reality is clear. The interior is stripped, all comforts gutted. Carbon fiber black dominates, a skeleton roll-bar the only protection. The car is noticeably pressed low against the road, the acrid smell of sweat clear, the heat obtrusive.

“Formula 3 level, I would say, if you want to do it on the highest level of competition,” Joe answers matter-of-factly, regarding the costs involved in participating as a professional driver in drifting.

“That is what makes it so challenging, because the budgets available in the sport are not there. It is a tough one for us, it is a struggle.

“But, if we can, we will never stop doing it, because we love it, we have so much passion for it.

“Now,” he says, turning the ignition, the dashboard coming alive with useful information, “I might not hear anything because of my radio.”

The engine roars to life, the machine awoken expecting terrible violence in his immediate future. Foot on accelerator, man and machine jump forward, pressing unprepared flesh further back into the embrace of the seat.

The first corner can be spied ahead, and with precise intent, Joe plays a concerto of movements with his feet; his one hand ramming through the gears, then wrenching on the handbrake, then back on the gearstick; the other hand cranking the steering wheel this way and that, holding control manfully as he pushes the car into a masterful controlled slide – a quite unnatural pose for any vehicle.

The lateral-forces punch down on the chest, the G-force pulling the body one way, cranking the neck the other. The tyres burn, the chemicals of their composition released in screeching protest. Puffs of angry fire erupt and spit out of the hood dump. The noise is a cacophony of stressed, untamed engine; pistons pumping; formulated, specialised fuel exploding; and tyres caterwauling.

There is a moment of respite as Joe exits the first corner, a sudden release of pressure, an adrenaline-induced euphoria taking hold, cracking the lips into a smile and a nervous chuckle as the second turn begins.

"If we can, we will never stop doing it," rings in the head, an understandable earworm after the experience.

Drifting doesn’t have the profile of the bigger motorsports – such as Formula One or MotoGP in South Africa. Indeed, it operates in a niche that operates beyond the fog of an undiscovered country for most, and its nearest cousin is arguably the more favoured spinning, which has its origins in Soweto.

Nevertheless, it is through such experiences as the Red Bull Giving it Gears programme, that Joe and Elias Hountondji – the eponymous Drifting Brother – hope to elevate the profile of the sport. In October, an hour to the east of Johannesburg, they hoped to begin that process in SA.

“We definitely want to come back and we want to help the stories (of motorsport here) to be heard. We didn’t even know about the passion, about the skill, about the talent that is here in South Africa,” said Joe.

For Joe and Elias, their mania with sliding cars sideways as fast as possible and as close to the edge, started at a young age.

“It goes really, really far back when the drift wires, as I would call it, got planted in our heads,” said the younger Elias.

“I can’t quite remember when, but Joe was in kindergarten and I was even smaller. Our uncle took us out with his Ford Capri back then on to a snowing parking lot … He actually skidded around with us in the car and he did brake-turns, just doing a little bit of drifting.

“What I can remember is that all my toy cars always went sideways when I was playing with them. When I got my first radio-controlled cars, I modified the rear tyres to make them less grippy, and so that they could also go sideways.

“I was always fascinated by seeing a car sideways. It was somehow in my mind. When Joe got his first car …

“Which was a Gusheshe (a E30 BMW 325iS – which was manufactured in South Africa),” Joe interjects proudly, flawlessly taking over the explanation from his brother, “it was my first car.

“We grew up in an area that had really nice mountain roads, and I always enjoyed that. I enjoyed driving, I enjoyed the feeling of getting close to the edge, experiencing where the limit of the car was, what you can do and then what techniques you can apply as a driver.

“Obviously, at some stage, at that huge empty space,” Joe concludes, referring to the parking lot, “going sideways a bit and I was, ‘oh, this is even more fun than just going fast around corners.’”

The brothers have a wonderful understanding of each other, and the passion for their sport is plain to see. They talk nodding and smiling at each other, completing each other's sentences. It shows on track as well, when they compete in twin-battles during their practicing runs.

Here, they take turns to follow each other, while attacking the layout, as closely as possible. It is one of the disciplines that is required in the sport, as Joe explained to the uninitiated.

“It is judged, which is the first difference, on four criteria: Line, angle, speed and style,” Joe said.

“Line is not always the quickest racing line, but a lot of times we have clipping lines where we have to get as close as possible … We are not aiming for the apex necessarily, but we are close enough to get a little bit of our paint on it.

“You have to balance high-risk and keeping your car together.

“Speed, obviously, means as fast as possible. With angle, the more sideways you go, the better.

“Speed and angle contradict each other, so you have to find the right balance because if you go too sideways, you will slow the car down way too much. You have to find the right balance.

"The most important one is style. It is not random, the judges tell you what to do. What they want to see is high risk and difficulty because it must look spectacular.

"You have a single round on which you are judged, and then you meet (an opponent) in twin-battles. You get one lap in front, and one lap behind.

“While in the front, you try to get away, matching all those criteria (line, angle, speed and style). The chase car in the rear, wants to be as close as possible and then you change around ….

“We have a championship (The Drift Kings Series) of about six to eight stops, mostly in Europe.”

Naturally, although they are of African descent – their father is from Benin – the German Hountondjis are cognisant of the fact that they are blessed to have a powerful bevy of sponsors – and an expert crew – in support and behind, which has helped them achieve their dreams and keep it alive.

Nevertheless, the Drifting Brothers have a few key pointers for those interested in taking up the sport.

“For young people that want to jump from spinning, I think they already have a good starting point because they understand how to handle and control a car,” said Joe.

“Get a simulator. You can get an incredible amount of time and experience for very, very low investment. It helps so much.

“Then, a low-powered car to get started and not a crazy high-powered car … you learn drifting techniques way more cleanly, precisely and way more of them. With the higher power, you don’t need all of them, but it helps in your development as a drift driver.”

Elias continued: “Remember we started out with Gusheshes (which, with 136hp pales in comparison with the BMW they now use). From thereon in, we took small steps – step-by-step-by-step – and eventually you can become whatever you would like to be.”

That final bit of musing is not only good advice for drifting, but for life in general.

@FreemanZAR

IOL Sport

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