NZ Performance Car - - 1989 Nissan Skyline Gts (r32) -

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

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