The Octane Academy is a reality show developed by Ford that's centered around a new generation of moto enthusiasts who want to be the next action star. Just send a video explaining why you should be one of thirty-two finalists and if you make the cut, you'll attend one of four race weekends hosted by Vaughn Gittin Jr., Ken Block, Tanner Foust and Brian Deegan. The events will feature both hands-on instruction and a series of challenges designed by the drivers to test the finalists' skills, personality and desire to win. Points are awarded based upon the results of each challenge, and at the end of the weekend, a winner takes home the glory and their very own tricked-out Ford.
The first race weekend isn't until November, but Ford hosted the Octane Academy Invitational last week at their 4,000 acre Michigan Proving Grounds to give the media a taste of what lucky finalists have in store. It was condensed into one day and sadly, no one took home a car, but it was a ridiculous amount of fun spending time with Ford's talented stable of drivers. If my experience is anything like the actual event, they are in for one helluva ride.
If you're going to learn how to drift, there is no better teacher in the world than Vaughn Gittin Jr. Not only does he have an endless reservoir of energy, patience and tiger blood, he's one of the most iconic figures in the sport. He drives balls out and it's why he's the only American to ever win a D1 Grand Prix event, not once, but twice, and claimed the Formula D title in 2010. He's drifting the dream.
I started by riding along with Vaughn in a souped-up Ford Mustang for a "hot lap". It involved accelerating until our eyelids peeled back and drifting a course marked by cones, punctuated by the severe weight shifts of the car. Although Vaughn makes it look easy, it isn't.
The goal of my challenge was to drift around a wide circle of cones continuously. To set it up, you'd accelerate hard in a straight line, steer right then in the same motion, steer left and floor the gas. This quickly brings the rear of the car around and before you spin the car, you carefully feather the throttle to ride the line between control and chaos. The hardest thing is anticipating the car's behavior because you can't afford a single mistake. I made so many that Vaughn gave me a video game so I could practice at home. True story.
If you are looking to practice drifting in the real world, you'll want a closed parking lot the size of Rhode Island with absolutely no obstacles like light posts. Luckily, Ford had one of those. You'll also want a tire sponsor. This is very, very important. There was a crew on hand to change them which was a good thing since we burned through twenty over the course of the day.