LIV­ING THE AMER­I­CAN DREAM

AN IN­TER­VIEW WITH A KIWI FD ME­CHANIC

NZ Performance Car - - News - IN­TER­VIEW: MARC GIB­SON PHO­TOS: LARRY CHEN / SUP­PLIED

NZ Per­for­mance Car: Hey, Jake. For those who don’t know you by name, could you please start off by in­tro­duc­ing your­self?

Jake: What’s up?! I go by the first name my par­ents gave me, ‘Jake’, and the last name from the fam­ily is ‘Hakaraia’, but I’ll most likely re­ply to any name [laughs].

It’s fair to say that drift­ing is a huge part of your life — when did you first dis­cover drift­ing and was it love at first sight?

I dis­cov­ered drift­ing in NZPC magazine, to be fair. I was around 11 at that stage, so still pretty young. It def­i­nitely wasn’t love at first sight; I think I was too busy be­ing in love with try­ing to be like Brian O’Con­nor or Dom Torretto when the first Fast and the Fu­ri­ous movie dropped in 2001, so all I wanted to do was be like them.

So, it was tribal vinyl and chromes on your Civic then? What was your first ex­pe­ri­ence of drift­ing like?

[Laughs] Spot on! Watch­ing but not ac­tu­ally drift­ing, was when I was 18 work­ing at DTM Wheel and Tyre, where I still work at over the sum­mer. They spon­sor Kyle Jack­ways, and he in­vited me to a Stil Vodka NZ Drift round at Pukekohe. We went up to watch him and he ended up win­ning, from mem­ory, and ever since then I’ve been re­ally hooked and I thought to my­self, “I’ve got to give this a go”. So, I pretty much blame him for this crazy love af­fair with drift­ing.

How long was it be­fore you gave it a crack for your­self and in what car?

It was pretty quick, re­ally. I bought an S13 with a RB25DET pretty cheap, which lasted a cou­ple [of] track days and then the fly­wheel let go and ba­si­cally wrote it off, so I got an­other rolling body and swapped ev­ery­thing over. That sec­ond chas­sis saw me all the way through two sea­sons of D1NZ Rookie.

Would you con­sider your­self a com­pet­i­tive drifter or do you pre­fer just head­ing out and smash­ing tyres?

Yeah, I would — I en­joyed com­pet­i­tive drift­ing when I did it, but it’s pretty stress­ful gig, and if any­one knows me, they’ll at­test that I like to live a stress-free life, so, at the mo­ment, I’m just en­joy­ing head­ing out and smash­ing tyres.

In re­cent years, you’ve stepped away from driv­ing and helped out some teams, swap­ping your time be­tween New Zealand and the US, where you’re based in Las Ve­gas with For­rest Wang’s Get Nuts Lab For­mula Drift Team — how did that come about?

Amer­i­can drift­ing was al­ways some­thing [that] I was in­ter­ested in. I think, for most Ki­wis, Amer­i­can drift­ing is some­thing we as­pire to be in­volved with. Back in 2016, me and a friend came out for For­mula Drift Round 1: Long Beach, where I met Cameron Moore and For­rest Wang. The fol­low­ing week­end, we went out to Las Ve­gas, and, while we were there, Face­book came up say­ing there was a lo­cal event called ‘Ve­gas Drift’. So we went and checked it out, and, crazy enough, For­rest Wang re­mem­bered us from Long Beach, and he in­vited us to come hang out at the shop the fol­low­ing day, and that’s where our ini­tial re­la­tion­ship started. When I re­turned to New Zealand, there wasn’t much hap­pen­ing for me back there. So I asked Cameron Moore and For­rest if they had any­thing go­ing on that I could head over for. For­rest had enough help at that stage, but Cameron Moore openly said, “Yeah, pack your bags and come over”. So, late 2016, I spent two months with him and then the last month with For­rest. It [was] that last month with For­rest that set up what our re­la­tion­ship is to­day. I came back to Las Ve­gas in 2017 and spent the sum­mer here, and, at the end of that time, For­rest was ap­proached by Vapeta­sia to run a For­mula Drift pro­gramme for 2018. He and the team man­ager Nick Di­zon asked me if I was in­ter­ested in join­ing the team for 2018, and I said, “Hell, yeah! ”

So, you just de­cided to leave ev­ery­thing here and chase the Amer­i­can dream. This is your sec­ond sea­son in For­mula Drift (FD) — what’s your role within the team?

Yeah, pretty much! I guess you could say [that] I’m a kitchen hand, if that’s the best way to ex­plain it. For­rest is ob­vi­ously the driver/fab­ri­ca­tor; Kyle, who is our tuner, trav­els with us ev­ery­where; Gar­rett and Jeff are the me­chan­ics; and also [there’s] our team man­ager, Nick.

So, whip­ping up burg­ers and chips, or is there a bit more to it than that? Walk us through your typ­i­cal race week­end.

FD Amer­ica is run over three days. But we tend to spend four–five days at the track. You would roll in on the Wed­nes­day and spend most of the day set­ting up your pit area, do­ing a wheel align­ment on the car, and get­ting fuel and tyres sorted. This year, FD brought in a new rule where you only get 12 laps be­fore qual­i­fy­ing, which, at that this level of driv­ing, is more than enough. If they’re in the Pro class, you’d hope that you could get the car di­alled within 12 laps — oth­er­wise, you prob­a­bly shouldn’t be there. Typ­i­cally, we would do eight runs on the Thurs­day and four on Fri­day. But some of the guys are that good [that] they’ll call it quits after four–six laps.

Each night, we give the car a full once-over ready for the fol­low­ing day. On Fri­day, things tend to get a lit­tle bit more busier. They run ‘hot pits’ out on track, which pretty much means [that] you don’t have to bring the car back to your main pit, and if you look at Road At­lanta, for ex­am­ple, it’s about 4–5km from the start line to the main pit, which you wouldn’t want to drive back and forth from. You would nor­mally leave all your tyres/tools out at the hot pit and ba­si­cally be there all day. Fri­day evening, we would do the same, re-check the car over, make any nec­es­sary changes if we feel like there are gains to be had.

Satur­day, we would set up the hot pit and take the car out there. The car pretty much won’t get back to the main pits till after Top 32, when we give the car an­other once-over. For­rest and the team spot­ter, Joe, will look at the bat­tle tree for who For­rest will po­ten­tially bat­tle all the way to the end and come up with set-up plans for each dif­fer­ent sce­nario of driv­ers, so that, when it comes to the time, we know what we’re al­ready do­ing to the car as soon as we know the re­sult of each bat­tle.

If all goes well and we make it to the end of the show, we are nor­mally at the track pretty late, and we’ll clean ev­ery­thing up, and, on the Sun­day, we will head to our next [com­pe­ti­tion round] desti­na­tion … We try to do it straight away, so there is less driv­ing to do next time.

For­est seems to be some­what of a round peg in a square hole yet still com­pet­i­tive. What do you think is the team’s se­cret to hav­ing a com­pet­i­tive chas­sis but still keep­ing some swag in the tank?

It’s 100 per cent stay­ing true to who he is and what he be­lieves. He will openly tell you that the Ja­panese style was the in­flu­ence of the way he drives. From day one, all he wanted to do was have a Ja­panese style of driv­ing, no mat­ter if it was just at a show or at a com­pet­i­tive level. A car re­flects who you are, so when you look at all of For­rest’s cars, they are all slammed, with big dished wheels, good qual­ity parts, and have some se­ri­ous at­ten­tion to de­tail. By stay­ing true to him­self, it draws com­pa­nies/peo­ple to the pro­gramme who want to be in­volved with the team.

Who is his big­gest ri­val within FD, the one guy he just can’t seem to shake?

As with most driv­ers, you would prob­a­bly say their big­gest ri­val is them­self [laughs]. But I don’t think there is one driver who is his big­gest ri­val; but, at the mo­ment, it’s the world against James Deane. While James has only won one round this year, he is the de­fend­ing cham­pion and is lead­ing the points with only two rounds to go.

How has the 2018 sea­son been for the team?

We started off re­ally good, with a sec­ond at Round 1 in Long Beach, then the fol­low­ing week­end at the Motegi Su­per Drift, which is also in Long Beach we got sec­ond again on both Fri­day night and Satur­day night. In FD, we were do­ing pretty good up un­til Seat­tle, where we lost a mo­tor due to oil-pump fail­ure in qual­i­fy­ing and slipped from fifth to 12th in points. Then, at St Louis, we dropped com­pres­sion in an­other mo­tor in Top 16. Also, [at] Red Bull Drift Shifters last week, For­rest fin­ished sec­ond, which was a good re­sult! And we’ve left the car in the UK, so, by the time this gets printed, we will have com­peted in the Ir­ish Drift Cham­pi­onship and Drift Mas­ters, which is get­ting hyped up to be the big­gest drift event in the UK.

How dif­fer­ent is the FD land­scape to D1NZ? Is it still fun and games, or is it all game face and ‘don’t look un­der my car or else’?

Nah, it’s def­i­nitely still fun, and we have a lot of laughs, as you could imag­ine! It’s drift­ing — there’s not too many se­crets to the sport, and if you’re hid­ing any­thing, it is most likely some­thing il­le­gal. But, in say­ing that, FD is a lot dif­fer­ent to D1NZ when it comes to the busi­ness side, so we’re not quick to jump un­der any­one’s car to lend a hand in the sense that it would al­most be dis­re­spect­ful. If you were to do that, you could look at it in a way that Team A thinks that Team B doesn’t know what they’re do­ing or they’re not or­ga­nized enough, so Team B gets of­fended by Team A

So there def­i­nitely is the op­por­tu­nity for me to run FD, in maybe 2019 or 2020

get­ting in­volved, so you just re­spect other teams. But if they ask for help, ev­ery­one will help. But, like I say, it’s a busi­ness more than a hobby with FD.

What are the US drift fans like com­pared with those back home?

The crowd is a big dif­fer­ence be­tween the two coun­tries. I find that us, as Ki­wis, are pretty re­served com­pared [with Amer­i­cans], so we will sit there and watch cars go past and not get too ex­cited, but Amer­i­cans es­pe­cially are way more pas­sion­ate, so they get re­ally into it. One of the coolest things [that] I re­mem­ber was when Jarod DeAnda got the whole crowd cheer­ing and stamp­ing the grand­stands at Ir­win­dale when James Deane won the cham­pi­onship last year, and it seemed like it was the whole of Ire­land there. Very proud mo­ment for them, I’d say.

We bet you’ve done a few miles in the US now — do you guys tow the rig round to round, or is the car in a large trans­porter and you sim­ply fly from lo­ca­tion to lo­ca­tion?

Both, to be fair. For all the West Coast rounds, we will drive back and forth from Las Ve­gas, but, [for] the ones on the East Coast, we will drive the rig there, and it usu­ally stays in the East Coast. It takes about four days to drive from coast to coast, with overnight stops, so we don’t want to be driv­ing that back and forth. Nor­mally, the day after a round, we pack up and drive to the next round, then fly back to Ve­gas. We used to haul three cars, back in 2016, when Alec Hon­odale ran with the team, but, this year, we[’ll] just take two cars — the S15 for main com­pe­ti­tion and usu­ally the S14 that would go on dis­play in the Vapeta­sia or BC Rac­ing booth, but since that car is in the UK, we’ll take the Toy­ota Supra with us.

You must have a few crack up sto­ries from the road; care to share any?

Man, I’m try­ing to think of some good sto­ries [ laughs] — I can’t re­ally re­mem­ber any, to be fair. Nor­mally it’s just the boys ban­ter­ing and hav­ing a laugh at some­one else’s ex­pense, maybe over some­thing they have done or did on so­cial me­dia.

Prob­a­bly noth­ing PG rated then, we’re guess­ing. Who are some of the more solid cats in FD?

JTP [Justin Pawlak] is a solid dude! I spent over a month with him last year — went from Ore­gon then did Mus­tang week in Stur­gis with him, then FD Texas. Kristaps Bluss is also good value! You’ll get some good laughs out of Piotr Wiecek. And can’t for­get the Ir­ish — James Deane and Dean Kar­ney are also pretty funny! Faruk Ku­gay is a pretty down to earth guy, got a lot of time for him. Man, the list could go on, wouldn’t know where to stop!

Have you been able to do any drift­ing your­self while over there? Are we go­ing to see your name in FD any time soon?

Hope­fully one day you’ll see my name in there! When I drove the Get Nuts Lab S14 back at Street Driven Tour, we dis­cov­ered that driv­ing on the left-hand side wasn’t a strength of mine, so we’re cur­rently build­ing a Get Nuts Lab–spec right-hand-drive FD S14 Sil­via … that by the time this has been re­leased in the magazine will prob­a­bly be fin­ished. So there def­i­nitely is the op­por­tu­nity for me to run FD, in maybe 2019 or 2020, un­der the Get Nuts Lab brand, but it’ll be Pro 2 — I want to work my way up and earn it to get to the Pro level.

Care to share any more de­tails on the build?

It’s ya typ­i­cal Get Nuts Lab S-chas­sis build, although the mo­tor’s go­ing to be pretty stock — [a] 2JZ push­ing maybe 500–550hp [373–410kW]. [We’re] after some­thing that’s go­ing to be re­li­able, with a four-speed dog­box, Wise­fab steer­ing kit, three-way sus­pen­sion — so we’re hop­ing for a pretty good plat­form to move into Pro 2 [with] if I can put a pro­gramme to­gether.

A lot of young Kiwi drifters dream of run­ning in FD — what ad­vice would you give them, hav­ing seen it from that side? Re­al­is­ti­cally, what size bud­get would they need to com­pete, and is the spon­sor­ship mar­ket very com­pet­i­tive?

It is for sure! And I’m very blessed to be given all of these op­por­tu­ni­ties. My first ad­vice to­wards a bud­get is buy a plane ticket, come over, shake hands, meet peo­ple, and build re­la­tion­ships with po­ten­tial spon­sors. If you sit back at home be­hind a com­puter send­ing emails and pro­pos­als, you have about one per cent chance of pick­ing up any sort of help; it re­ally does noth­ing for you. The only real way [that] you’re go­ing you get sup­port from a tyre com­pany also is [by] com­ing over and shak­ing hands — you’ve got to re­mem­ber [that] they prob­a­bly get five to 10 emails a day from guys all over the world want­ing free tyres.

There are cou­ple teams that only have a bud­get of US$40K, and they use a nor­mal two-axle truck and en­closed trailer, so run­ning cost is pretty low (keep in mind they live here, so it’s eas­ier). Then I’d say the next step from there is US$80K–$100K, which isn’t tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the fact that you have to buy a tow rig and a trailer. There are also other driv­ers who have spots in their trail­ers and charge about US$20K–$30K for the year to haul your car around the coun­try­side, which is pretty good con­sid­er­ing that we spend about $25K on … diesel alone for the year to get our rig to all eight rounds. For the guys back home want­ing to do it, I think find­ing some­one else keen and go­ing halves in a rig/trailer, then half ev­ery­thing else through­out the sea­son like run­ning cost / diesel / shared driv­ing, etc.

If you’re look­ing at Pro 2 then you prob­a­bly need a bud­get of US$40K, as it’s only four rounds, so you’ll be US$10K at each round. FD has re­stricted tyre brands down to two that you’re al­lowed to run, which [are] … Achilles and Nexen Tire, with a size limit for Pro 2 of 255[mm] wide. You’ll also have to pe­ti­tion for a Pro 2 li­cense, which is US$1K, but D1NZ is a rec­og­nized drift com­pe­ti­tion, so I don’t think get­ting the li­cense would be too hard for guys com­pet­ing in D1.

But, in all se­ri­ous­ness, for the guys who want to run in FD Pro 2, sit back and look at what you’re spend­ing in ive rounds of D1NZ and look at your op­tions for Amer­ica — it’s re­ally not that much more. You have to re­mem­ber, New Zealand is an is­land, so ev­ery­thing’s go­ing to cost so much more, as ev­ery­one’s clip­ping the ticket on parts. GST is get­ting charged on top of GST, and, by the time we get parts in our hands, it’s blown out. But, in Amer­ica, you’re get­ting it straight from the man­u­fac­turer. You’ll be sur­prised at how cheap the Get Nuts Lab S14 that we’re cur­rently build­ing at the mo­ment is cost­ing; there is no way [that] I would have been able to build it back in New Zealand for the bud­get we had.

If any­one back home is se­ri­ous about run­ning in Amer­ica, I’m only a mes­sage away, and I’d be more than will­ing to help any­one, also.

By the same to­ken, we’re sure plenty of pit crew mem­bers would love to go over and make a go of it. Are there guys mak­ing a de­cent liv­ing work­ing for teams over there, and how hard is it to crack into?

Na, not a de­cent liv­ing, but once you’re on the road, ev­ery­thing’s paid for and [the] ex­pe­ri­ences of learn­ing, meet­ing peo­ple, and mak­ing mem­o­ries def­i­nitely out­weigh try­ing to earn a de­cent liv­ing, if that makes sense. But there are al­ways op­por­tu­ni­ties at ev­ery cor­ner when you’re in the scene, so you just gotta make some­thing of it when it arises. It’s not too hard to crack; you just need to build a re­la­tion­ship with the driver to the point [that] he trusts you’ll be loyal and able to de­liver.

Cheers for your time, Jake, and we hope to see your name in FD real soon.

we spend about $25K on … diesel alone for the year to get our rig to all eight rounds

JAKE’S NEW ZEALAND-BASED C35 LAU­REL WHICH HE HAS RUN IN D1NZ PRO

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