My Jakarta: Irwin Zhang, RC Drifter
Mark Vincent Sindhunata
If you’re familiar with the Initial D manga or saw the feature film “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” you know what drifting is. With smoking tires and squealing rubber, it focuses more on making smooth turns than hitting the finish line first.
Irwin Zhang does all that, but with a much smaller and radio-controlled (RC) car. You can find him spending hours inside Seasons City mall, armed with a screwdriver and controller, fixing and drifting his OTA-R31 type car.
Irwin, 32, talks about his hobby, the competitions, the judges and the urge to drift in a full-sized car.
How complicated is this hobby, do you just push a button and steer the car?
RC drifting is a variation of radio-controlled car play and it requires special skills in the art of drifting. When playing RC drift, you need the car itself, the controller, battery and special hard PVC tires. It basically involves all the modifications that you can do with a life-size car, because the only difference between a radio-controlled car and a real car is the size.
If you’re serious doing this, it really helps you to understand about motorworks, how to balance the car or weight shifting and much more.
Do you ever drift in real cars?
I used to drift with real cars at first, but ‘playing’ with real cars costs a lot of money, so I stopped.
I found out about this hobby and fell in love with it my first time playing.
How much money does it take to start this hobby?
The price for RC drifting cars runs from Rp 3 million [$320] to tens of millions, depending on the modifications.
Talk about this RC drift community.
It was founded in 2007 and now has more than 300 members from Jakarta, Bogor, Depok and surrounding cities. Our members are kids to adults, and employees to celebrities. We welcome all drifters here. Communities are important because the more, the merrier.
Are you ever tempted to go back drifting behind the wheel?
Sure, it’s more exciting drifting the car with you inside, but you could spend millions just for the tires. With RC, I can almost enjoy the whole experience with much less money. So I don’t think so.
How do you decide the winner in an RC drifting contest?
We don’t decide the winner by speed or from whose car touches the finish line like in other RC variations. We decide the winner by the ‘beauty’ of the drift.
We use three judges to score the drifting. The judges are senior players or invited world-class players. It depends on how big the competition is.
How addicted are you to this hobby?
I play three times a week. On weekdays I play after work, and on Saturday or Monday I can spend half a day on this.
Most drifters like me work, so we can all meet and play after work.
Considering the small cars, can you play anywhere with a flat surface?
No. In the beginning we had a problem with the availability of tracks. It’s always more fun to play on tracks with their unique design and characteristics.
If we don’t have a track, we’ll put down some road cones or barriers to make our own track lines.
At first, the only track available was in Menteng, but now we have four tracks available in Jakarta, including the track in Seasons City.
With drifting being quite an expensive hobby, are the spare parts all imported and difficult to find in Jakarta?
No, they’re pretty easy to find. You can easily find the spare parts in malls which have tracks in them, like Mall Artha Gading, Blok M and Seasons City.
How did this RC drift community get funding for tournaments?
We don’t take any money from our members, that’s for sure. This community funds itself through sponsorships, especially when it comes to big events like a regional- or national-level competition.
Sometimes, the RC car shops help us out by becoming sponsors, and that really helps us out so we can go to international competitions.
Irwin was talking to Mark Vincent Sindhunata.