Testing the limit of going round in circles

It’s like driving all the way to Durban - sideways. That’s how one of Jesse Adams’s colleagues summed up his world-beating exploit this week.

On Monday, Adams, a 39-year-old motoring journalist at the Saturday Star Motoring, beat the Guinness World Record for the longest vehicle drift.

German Harald Muller set the current record of just over 144km for a continuous drift, effectively skidding into a perpetual circle without stopping, in Turkey in 2014. Adams crushed it by 24km, setting a still-to-be-ratified world record of 168km in a marathon 5 hours and 46 minutes.

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An exhausted Adams hugs his wife, Shannon, after nearly six sideways hours in the Toyota 86.Jesse Adams on his way to setting the Guinness World Record for the longest vehicle drift.Jesse Adams leans on the Toyota 86 after setting  the Guinness World Record for the longest vehicle drift at Gerotek test facility, in Pretoria. PICTURE: Supplied

It wasn’t easy, he almost gave up during the 1 000-lap ordeal.

“Before Monday, I’d never done more than an hour in the car, so I was going into the unknown,” said Adams. “After an hour I was fine, after two hours I was doing calculations in my head and starting to panic. It requires intense concentration. You can’t lapse for a millisecond, because as soon as you do, the car starts to spin. I had a drinks bottle with a tube - if I reached for it, the car would go into a spin. If I reached for the energy bars in the door pocket, the car would spin, if I moved my left foot behind the clutch, I’d lose control.

Jesse Adams on his way to setting the Guinness World Record for the longest vehicle drift.

“At 600 laps, I had a major freak-out session, I was only just over halfway and I panicked, lost my bearings entirely. You’re doing circles over and over and I had three reference points; a fire truck, the gazebo where the judges and witnesses sat,and a staircase. I completely blanked out and almost began hallucinating, I started seeing everything in red.”

Adrian Burford, a former motoring scribe and today a racing driver coach, saved Adams.

“I had radio communications with Adrian and I said, ‘dude, you’ve got to talk to me’, he started counting off the laps with me.”

The panic subsided and Adams went on to complete the 1 000 177m laps, less 48 that were legally deducted as incomplete every time the car had spun.

Towards the end, the pain coursing through his neck, arms, legs and back was made bearable only by the thought of finishing and lying down on the skid pan next to the car and resting.

Monday was the culmination of a dream that’s been two years in the making, starting with a six-month bid to get the Guinness Book of Records to sanction the bid, and then 18 months of logistics and training.

He had to get permission to use the Gerotek military test facility, west of Pretoria, and arrange timekeepers and four independent judges, and medical rescue amid a whole host of other arrangements. Getting the car was the easiest part, he says.

“I pitched the idea to Toyota. They thought it was fantastic, perfect for their face-lifted 86, a rear wheel-drive sportscar, which is marketed as being able to go sideways. It’s a playful, agile car.”

With the exception of an extra fuel tank, the car was unmodified from the versions that are sold off the showroom floor.

Burford mounted some GPS-based Vbox dataloggers, the same technology that he uses to train racing drivers, and together he and Adams worked out exactly what it would take to beat the record.

But why go around and around in circles for almost six hours wearing a nappy just in case?

“I love cars, I love driving and this was a record that I thought I had the car control to challenge and the resources as a journalist to get done,” he says. Adams is unique as a motoring journalist in that he doesn’t just write about cars and go on exotic launches.

“When I finished school in upstate New York, my friends all went to college I started sweeping the floor of the local garage, graduating to fixing alternators and ultimately qualifying as a mechanic. From there he gravitated to motorsports but always in the pits, never behind the wheel. It was only when he came to South Africa 17 years ago that he started driving, rallying and doing circuit racing.

An exhausted Adams hugs his wife, Shannon, after nearly six sideways hours in the Toyota 86.

“It’s the opposite of drifting, I would drive at Kyalami where if you start drifting, going sideways, you’re losing time,” he says. The art of drifting, though, he perfected as a young driver in the winter in the US, on snow-bound roads.

“I became very comfortable with a car going sideways, almost out of control.”

In the 10 years he’s been at Star Motoring, he’s driven all over the world, from taking Porsches up and down the Scottish Highlands to racing in the Audi TT Cup in Germany.

“I’ve had some epic experiences and this one was right up there with the best, but it’s consumed the better part of two years of my life.

Now I just can’t wait to get back to the humdrum routine that most people hate, just coming to work, checking out the new cars and writing about them,” he says.

Saturday Star

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