NZ Performance Car’s Rene Vermeer and Marcus Gibson battle it out for top honours in the DMNZ drift school Silvia

Not having the biggest background in the drifting scene, I was excited to hear that Marcus and I had been invited down to the Ricoh Taupo Motorsport Park to learn more about Jodie Verhulst and Drew Donovan’s upcoming event, Motorhead Festival, which is only days away as it is being held on March 8. Heading to Taupo wasn’t high on our priority list, as this kind of conversation could’ve been had on the phone, however the drifting duo had us chomping at the bit to head down after we’d learnt we will be driving their DMNZ drift school Silvia.

Drew and Jodie run a drift-training program where you can turn up on the day, hand over the dollars, then proceed with hours of learning how to drift. To get me warmed up for it, Jodie decided to take me out on the track for a few quick hot laps; I was happy to oblige.

The school car wouldn’t be much fun if it were close to factory. So, the RB25DE Neo that now sits in the engine bay has been turbocharged and churns out a somewhat responsive 270kW at the wheels. More than enough to learn with, but does ensure you get to see some tyre smoking action. The engine ran faultlessly throughout the day — who said plus Ts were unreliable?

As you can see, the cabin is all about learning with only the essentials visible to let Drew know that his school car is getting too warm. The handbrake is a hydraulic unit and is within close reach. No rev, boost, or speed meters are in the cabin and we can only assume this is to teach people that driving by feel is much more effective than worrying about what speed you’re doing. A factory R32 GTS-T steering wheel, which is a common choice for beginners, is present, as are two fixed-back bucket seats to keep you secure.

Before the action could take place, we first had to sign our lives away and take part in the first challenge; completing as many star jumps as we could with Drew doing doughnuts around us. As you can see, Marcus and I can do quite an impressive star jump. Conditions worsened with wind and rain, however both of our shoes had enough traction to get the job at hand done.

After the embarrassing, yet warming star-jump challenge, we jumped in the passenger seat of the school car to watch the master at work, demonstrating our next challenge; handbrake sliding in between two road cones, spaced wide enough to allow for just under a metre either end of the Silvia. With first gear being far too slow, the handbrake entry had to be made in second gear. As Marcus learnt on his tenth attempt, it’s speed that gets you the full way through the two cones. This was the challenge where I excelled, but that winning streak was about to get cut short.

The final challenge of the day was always going to go Marcus’s way. He's owned several rotary and turbo rear-wheel drives in his time so he was always going to have the advantage. This challenge required us to do as many doughnuts as possible around the cone, in both the left-hand and right-hand direction. I managed nine with the cone on my left side, and 10 with the cone on my right side. Marcus just casually doubled my left-hand cone count with a solid 20. Putting him ahead for this round.

With the DMNZ round points now equal, Drew decided there must be a tiebreaker, so an even more challenging course was set up. This time, Drew set up two cones, which we would have to figure of eight around. This required plenty of control with both the hydraulic handbrake and the throttle. Marcus laid down the initial run, coming around a total of six cones, which was now the benchmark. Determined to take down the boss I swung into action, but only managed to swing around five cones. I was defeated and boy did he want me to know it — in the kindest of ways of course. I don’t think he’ll ever let me forget this defeat.

Nonetheless, it was an awesome day out, both Marcus and I had a blast, both chatting about it all the way back to Auckland. Has this got me hooked on building a drift car? Yes. 

Motorhead Festival will be held on March 8 at Taupo Motorsport Park. If you're into drifting, cruising sessions, dyno competition, or car shows you'll want to head down with $25 in hand to get in. Family passes for $60 and kids under five are free. 

René Vermeer

Dutch, French, or just a Kiwi, René isn’t quite sure, but he does know he has a passion for Japanese vehicles like no other. A well-seasoned Gran Turismo player dating back to his single-digit days, René has a comprehensive knowledge of a wide range of performance vehicles and has owned more than 30 performance cars here in New Zealand, ranging from Nissans to Hondas. A lover of photography, you’ll find him either peeping under someone’s bonnet to snap a detailed shot, or on the side of the racetrack, perfecting his panning.