440kW and 710Nm torque at the rear wheels
Today I received the phone call of my life,” revealed Joe Kukutai, as he announced his latest naming-rights sponsorship with Rockstar Energy Drink to his family, sponsors, and the wider community. “It feels so surreal to have all of our hard work pay off, it makes all the roadblocks worth it.” Step off the gas and wind back a few months to round three of the 2015 Demon Energy D1NZ National Drifting Championship season at ASB Baypark earlier this year, at which Kukutai pulled off a jawdropping qualifying run that banked him P2 with a score of 87/100, leaving even the judges on the edge of their seats — how did a rookie teenager beat the likes of drifters who’d been competing in the series for over a decade? We sat down with Rockstar Energy’s ‘Smokin’’ Joe Kukutai to find out more about what this kid from West Auckland is really capable of.
Joe stepped onto the scene in mid 2011 after purchasing a fairly standard Nissan Skyline R32 GTS sedan, first attending local Hori Dori events at Meremere Dragway before quickly leaping behind the wheel for his first full track experience at Manfeild. His improvement was consistent thanks to frequent weekend trips to Hampton Downs, with his father Denny and crew in tow, and practice at secret locations — he would pack the truck with a couple of cones and go in search of small skidpan-like sections on which to perfect his linking technique.
By late 2012, Joe had disintegrated five gearboxes and two engines, taken a podium win at the V 4&Rotary North Island Jamboree, attended a V8 SuperTourers drift demo, and received the Hori Dori Best Up and Comer award for that year.
Heading into his first D1NZ Pro-Am season, Joe was running an RB20DE+T in the heart of the Skyline and had only a handful of new sponsors, including AK Customs, Luxury Sports, Drift Direct, and, of course, faithful father Denny at Kukutai Transport. The first half of the season was testing for Joe, with mechanical troubles and inexperience the major factors preventing him from reaching the podium. However, in a dramatic change towards the end of season, we saw him finish the championship on a high by banking the single best qualifying run of the year and a second place at round five in Christchurch. With enough points behind him, D1NZ