Jobs 101: Drift Driver
Youth.SG talks to a professional drift driver and finds out what it takes to be behind the wheel!
We have seen it all on television and movies like the Fast and the Furious and Initial D. Going into a tight corner, the driver over steers the car and turns the front wheel of the car sharply in the opposite direction. The car looks like it is spinning out of control for a split second – before the driver reins it in again and pushes it around the corner while the tyres screech against the asphalt, kicking up a flurry of smoke.
The near-impossible feat is part and parcel of Ivan Lim’s daily life. Ivan is a professional drift driver.
WHO: Ivan Lim, 34
OCCUPATION: Drift Driver
Youth.SG met Ivan at the press conference for the 2012 Achilles Formula Drift Singapore competition on Jun 28.
Ivan, who has been driving for 10 years, drifted during the 2012 Achilles Formula Drift Singapore competition on last weekend in a Nissan S13, alongside eight fellow Singaporeans. He has also trained extensively under Ken Nomura, a top Japanese drifter, and is looking forward to show his aggressive driving style this Formula Drift season.
Tell us more about yourself. What do you love doing besides driving?
I cycle often as well. Of late, I have also been spending a lot of time reflecting on life, appreciating life. I have noticed how fragile life is and how short it is. I guess maybe because of all the extreme stuff that I do, I like to spend time thinking about life and appreciate things around me better when I’m off the track.
Tell us more about what a driver does.
The main thing a professional driver does is to give his sponsors good mileage and publicity. To do that is basically to drive well, do well and achieve something out of the event.
We also have to be very disciplined, especially on race day, giving it 100 per cent – mind, body, soul, everything. For drifting, it ends within a split second, so it is a ‘make it or break it’ kind of event. If you put in your best, no matter the outcome, you will feel good, and your sponsors can see the effort you put in and appreciate you as well.
How did you become a driver?
I have always liked cars. After I got my driver’s license, I used to fiddle around with cars and play with cars. One time, my friend brought me to a circuit in Malaysia and introduced me to racing. I started to explore the racetracks in Malaysia and got hooked on racing.
Soon after I got a rear-wheel drive vehicle, I decided to move to drifting, because it was cheaper. Then, drifting used to be a very “ghetto” sport and the drifters used to be poorer guys.
Is the learning curve to be a professional driver a steep one?
All you need is a basic background in driving, and a very good sense of your car. As long as you can feel your car, it is not an issue.
Describe how you prepare for a competition and what goes through your mind during a race
The preparation before a competition is quite stressful. There are many late nights when we are rushing to get the car ready.
Since Singaporean drivers do not have the racing facilities such as the racetracks to get ready, we never know what will break or malfunction on the race tracks. We usually pull all-nighters at the workshop, trying to fix the car and repair whatever is not working.
After this, I have to go for the race the next day even if I am very tired. Normally, it gets very hot as you will be in the race suit, and there is no air conditioning in the car. The heat really drains me and a lot of energy and focus is channeled into the driving.
During the race, I also have to shuffle between making the car work and telling my crew what I want them to do and how to make the car work better.
Here are some photos of Ivan at work:
How long have you been in this industry and how has it changed over the years?
I have been driving for about 10 years.
The biggest difference is the level of competition. Back then, most of us had low horsepower. In the past, we were running cars with about 350 horsepower (the level of power a car’s engine can produce), but now, most drivers average over 600. Some are even running up to 1,200 horsepower.
People have deeper pockets and there are more sponsors.
What are some of the toughest challenges you face?
The pressure to do well on the racetrack.
As drivers, we want to give good mileage to our sponsors, do well as drifters, and for people to recognize us for our achievements. We have to compete against ourselves as well as our competitors – firstly, I need confidence and practice to feel confident as a driver. Then, I have to see how my competitors drive and react accordingly to their style.
Are there any unexpected incidents that have happened to you while driving?
I guess everything is expected. In motorsport, you tend to expect accidents and injuries, as they are just another occupational hazard.
I have gotten into one major accident in America, where I smashed a car into the wall at about 200km/h. That hurt my neck and I still feel it sometimes today, even five to six years after it happened.
Are there any sacrifices you have to make for the job?
I sacrifice a lot of time. Most people would hang out and do stuff after work, but as a driver, I go back to the workshop right after practice sessions to check the car and make sure it is fine for the next day.
What motivates you to keep driving?
I have a passion for racing and want to do well in that.
I am also very honored to represent Singapore as a driver. A lot of international drivers do not know where Singapore is.
This gives me an opportunity to show them that although we are from somewhere really small, we have passion and the ability to do well.
What advice do you have for youths considering driving as a profession?
It sounds wrong to say this, but you have to remember that passion does not always equate to money. This applies especially for motorsports and even more so in Singapore, as it is a pretty niche area. You should work on building a career first, and then with spare cash, you can go on to enjoying your passion and interests.
In terms of driving in Singapore, you should always do it somewhere safe. Don’t race on the streets; don’t get into trouble with the law. On the streets, you will never know if someone is going to dash out onto the road, or if you are going to get into an accident with another car – those are many unnecessary risks to take.
Being a driver:
Educational requirements: None
Qualities needed: Determination to keep learning and improving.
Working hours: No fixed working schedule, and depends on events. Most of the preparation happens 2-3 days before the event, so drivers will spend every hour before that, setting up the car to their preference.
Salary range: Ivan said that most drivers in Singapore are not paid a lot, but their costs of accommodation, logistics, equipment and the car are covered. What they earn goes back into fuelling their hobby of driving. However, drivers from overseas earn more money from sponsorships or test driving jobs. Drivers also get income from prize money which varies according to the competition.
Career prospects/advancements: Test driver, or drivers can start their own garage.
Specialisations: Circuit driving, drift driving, gymkhana (course) driving