Throwing a car sideways through a corner at 200km/hr for most people sounds terrifying, but not for Tauranga’s Jodie Verhulst.
One of New Zealand’s top female drifters and competing in the Demon Energy D1NZ National Drifting Championship, we talk with Verhulst ahead of round two of the championship at Tauranga’s Baypark, January 8-9, 2016.
What’s your background in motorsport? Where did it all start?
JV: My brother never treated me like a girl, there were no excuses, I had to keep up or get left behind. I think this has helped me with my driving not to be intimidated and hold my own when I’m out there. I grew up with a petrol head brother and a mechanic father so there wasn’t a lot of chance of being anything different! Drifting started for me when my partner (Drew) bought a car and started drifting. He gave me the opportunity to drive his pride and joy at a track day and I was instantly hooked. I have been driving alongside him ever since and now compete alongside him in D1NZ.
What is drifting all about?
JV: Drifting is all about getting the car sideways and maintaining this angle through a series of corners. You are judged on line, speed, smoke, style and angle.
What is it about the sport that you love?
JV: Nothing compares to drifting! It’s forever evolving and developing new challenges. There is never a dull moment!
Do you have a favourite circuit? Why?
JV: Pukekohe is my favourite due to the challenge it presents every time you enter the section. No matter how many times you hit that corner at 200km+ it never gets 'comfortable.' This track has the ability to make or break you in a matter of seconds and it takes no prisoners.
You’re competing at Round 2 in January of the Demon Energy D1NZ in your hometown. The Tauranga Baypark circuit seems to be a concrete canyon, does that provide more risks?
JV: Yes Baypark has some pretty big risks involved. Every driver who has had an altercation with the walls knows how fast and easy it happens, it’s not a case of if but when you are going to hit them. This is a high-risk track with no room for error, definitely not for the faint hearted.
Tell us about your car, did you build it yourself?
JV: The Milwaukee Supra has been developed over the past 5 years with a mammoth amount of time put in behind the scenes by both the team and myself. It has been one tough cookie to setup with the chassis-favoring grip over drifting especially in the early days when I had a smaller engine package. Through many hours of testing and late nights the Supra has become a true weapon on the track and will continue to develop, as we get higher up in our racing. Team DMNZ does majority of the work in-house, opting to build rather than buy, we are just lucky to have the support of such an amazing crew behind us to make this possible. As you can imagine having two drift cars in the family can be very expensive to say the least!
I do work on my own car with my great crew, and would not be what you call a “typically” female. I take a lot of pride in my car and have been 100% involved in the build every step of the way. I think more females should give it a go!
Is motorsport still considered largely as a man’s domain?
JV: It is still very much dominated by males but in no way does that mean that the support isn’t there for the few females within it. Females in motorsport these days are becoming more and more common which is great! Society has changed a lot from the days that female participation was frowned on, it is now encouraged and the support received is amazing. More females need to get involved and get amongst the action.
Are there other girls competing in drifting? Why should more look to get involved?
JV: There is myself and one other that compete in D1NZ. Bex Bennett is the mother of 5 based in Hamilton and she competes in the Pro Sport series.
Females need not get put off by the shed being the mans domain. Motorsport is one of the few sports we are not limited by our strength and can compete head to head with the guys. I would love to see more females out there giving it a go! To help with this we have started running all girl drift training events where they are able to head along to one of our days and learn in a no pressure, safe environment.
Your partner Drew also competes in the sport, who was drifting first?
JV: Yes my partner Drew Donovan drives alongside me in D1NZ Pro. He got me involved about 6 years ago when he trusted me enough to drive his pride and joy around the track. Drew is an amazing mentor with my driving, I am very lucky to have such a supportive partner, not a lot of females get that! We have now started driving overseas in Australia also so that has been great that we are able to do this together!
Given that you both compete in the same sport, does it provide an interesting dynamic as a couple?
JV: We definitely push each other and are constantly competing against each other, which has been good with our training. We are yet to come up against each other in a competition event and have a feeling when the time comes it is going to be an aggressive battle.
Who is more competitive out of the two of you?
JV: I would like to say me but I think the truth is Drew has got a lot more aggressiveness to his driving and is willing to put his car on the line to get to the top. I really admire that about him and strive to get that aggression in my own driving. I am a little bit more mechanically sympathetic to my car!
You also operate a drift school, how did that come about? What does the drift school set out to achieve?
JV: Drift school was launched in 2010 by Drew and I to give people the opportunity to experience drifting without the huge investment. Teaching people is a real passion of ours and have always enjoyed giving people a safe low-pressure environment to learn in. It also has a really good community kick back with giving people a way to get their hooning off the street and allows them to practice car control in a safe environment.
It is one of the most addictive, challenging disciplines of all motorsports and we love the chance to show people this. This New Year will see us kicking off a school campaign to help youth with car control and evasive driving techniques.
When you are not drifting, what are your other interests?
JV: We live for drifting, between our work; Drift team here and in Australia as well as Drift School there isn’t any time for anything else. Family and friends become the next point of call with our free time.
Jodie Verhulst will compete in Round 2 of the Demon Energy D1NZ National Drifting Championship at Tauranga’s Baypark, January 8-9, 2016.
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