Head to, or watch via the live streams, any of the drifting events in Western Australia and you will see cars with Drift School WA logos on them. These drivers have all been to the only drift school in Western Australia run by 30 year old Ken Leong. Many drivers when asking who has been influential in their drifting career’s so far have all mentioned Ken. Such is the esteem that a lot of drivers hold for Ken, his name was on top of the list of people who I should catch up with for a chat about his history in motorsport.
Ken is also the current mastermind, evil genius, torture master (depending who you ask) behind the 2019 D1WA Championship layouts with many a driver left scratching their head with what he comes up with each round, before its explained, practice runs are had, advice sought and then the spectacle of the drift battle put on.
So what makes him tick? How did he get into this? Whats the motivation for letting complete amateurs get behind the wheel of some expensive equipment and throw them into corners sideways? Its definitely time to get inside the helmet of Ken Leong.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST “GET INTO” MOTORSPORT?
2003 when I was 13 years old, my dad and I would go to Barbagallo Raceway in our AE86 (which I still have) for track days and some cheeky attempts at drifting.
WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE “GOTTEN INTO” IF IT WASN’T MOTORSPORT?
Since I started getting into motorsports so early I’m not sure what else I may have gotten into, but if I had to think about it perhaps the fitness industry. I’m really out of shape right now! But it’s always been an interest of mine. Other hobbies included Muay Thai kickboxing, Skateboarding, computer games, body building, painting, so any of those could have been possible, who knows!?
WHEN DID YOU GET INTO COMPETITIVE MOTORSPORT?
Roughly around 2004 or 2005 when WA Drift at Barbagallo Raceway started organising drift events. Track time for drifting back then was so rare, so any event whether it was practice or a competition was valuable, even if I wasn’t keen on competing.
HOW DID YOU GO ON YOUR FIRST COMPETITIVE MOTORSPORT EVENT?
The same as most competitor’s first ever competition (horrible). It was just such a different scene back then with drifting being pretty much unknown to everyone, so all the drifters that were doing it were essentially pioneering the sport in WA. With my AE86, it was running a stock naturally aspirated 4AG, which put me at a heavy disadvantage to the rest of the field with turbo charged drift cars, but never the less, this was optimal for future skill development in figuring how to tune the handling from suspension/chassis/tyres and really learn how to control a drift car without relying on power.
WHAT WAS YOUR MOTIVE BEHIND STARTING DRIFT SCHOOL?
I was always going to run my own business. In 2014 I quit my job and started planning and thinking about what I wanted to do, and surprisingly drifting wasn’t even on my mind as what I wanted in a business. However, a year later in 2015 it all clicked and made complete sense that I should be combining my passion and job into one. I wanted a facility which new drifters could utilise and learn the knowledge which I spent a long time collecting locally in Australia and from Japan, essentially fast tracking their progress and ultimately saving money in the long run by employing technique and maximising track time with confidence.
WHAT IS YOUR GENERAL DEMOGRAPHIC FOR DRIFT SCHOOL?
It’s really hard to say! I get asked this question quite regularly but we really get a mixed bunch of people come through Drift School, which is really great to see! It can range from a teenager who really loves cars, to a grandma who is looking for a thrilling experience including every other age group in between, male or female. We try our best to cater for absolutely everyone, at every skill level. I think this is our best chance at helping drifting grow in popularity with the general public, encourage current enthusiasts and gain more support for the sport in WA.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BEST MOMENT WITH DRIFT SCHOOL?
If it was a material best moment, then it would have been when I finally saw all the cars in the fleet all painted, stickered and lined up. That was the time that I really felt “damn, I actually managed to make this my job”
But really, I have ‘best’ moments every month. As I’m getting older I’m to caring less about ‘me’ and more about helping others enjoy drifting, and watching people like my staff and customers alike grow by developing their skills and smiling ear to ear having a great time.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR WORST MOMENT WITH DRIFT SCHOOL?
Start of this year in January, our Drift School day landed on a roughly 44 degree day. This was bad enough but ontop of this we had 2 of the drift cars fail us (not due to the heat but just general wear and tear) and the water to wet the track stopped running halfway through the day which makes teaching beginners particularly more difficult. Safe to say, I really needed a hug at the end of the day and many cool beverages!
WHO WOULD YOU SAY WOULD BE YOUR BEST “SUCCESS” STORY FROM DRIFT SCHOOL?
There are a lot of people to mention here that I’m really proud of their success but to name a few that are super stand outs in the drift scene to me are:
Regan Curtis – He was already a decent driver, but managed to pick up the techniques/process ridiculously quick in a private coaching session we did, and now he’s just a complete menace out on track.
DJ Laubscher – Same situation as Regan above but except this guy takes 6 months for it to finally click in his head. He’s turned into a driver which I can confidently sit and watch and be like “yep, this will be exciting”
I’m really proud of these two guys because they really took everything onboard with an open mind, and I get to see the same lessons flowing onto others that they mix with as well as bouncing off each other.
Daniel Simmonds – Originally a Drift School customer in our first year of 2016 and now a good pal, for someone who had never done drifting before ever, he was able to understand the concept and learn it properly with very little equipment, progressing to now as a very competent driver in his own drift car.
Luke Veersma – I’d met Luke and his dad Peter when I judged/spectated RC drift. At that time, Luke was already winning most of the competitions so I feel he already had a good grasp of how drifting works and how to manipulate the car. When he turned 16, dad (Peter) promptly sent him to Drift School to learn drifting in our cars, as expected he got the hang of it pretty quickly which progressed to getting his own drift car. A few more drift lessons later and here he is now winning the local drift competitions, all credit to Luke and his great natural ability in going sideways of course!
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BEST MOTORSPORTING MOMENT SO FAR?
I’ve had some great times winning competitions here and in Japan. But my best moments are driving hard with my friends and Drift School family doing stupid shit and going all out. I’ve been travelling to Japan to drive at Meihan Sports Land C-Course for a few years now, and most trips are full of stress, plenty of money spent for little driving and written off cars, due to the harshness of the track itself and logistics of drifting in a foreign country. However in August just been I was able to drive there again stress free and do runs which I would call the 100% or ‘death’ line on Meihan. I say this is my best motorsport moment because it is truly putting my skills that I’ve learnt to the test and is a great gauge on chances to improve more. There is no other track in the world in my knowledge or experience that demands so many small technical aspects to be absolutely perfect to be executed correctly for a 100 point run.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR WORST MOTORSPORT MOMENT?
Probably long ago when my AE86 got freshly painted, and the driver I was chasing in a competition battle spun which resulted in my first big crash on the front passenger fender area. It wasn’t super bad, but being fairly new to how cars work at the time it was soul crushing seeing it all banged up after my dad and I had put so much effort into it, but after a small pull, new suspension and repaired wheel it was all good again. Since then I’ve gotten used to crashing and have learnt to accept it and move on.
BACK TO DRIFT SCHOOL, WHAT IS THE TEAM THERE BEHIND YOU?
My dad Kin, without him and his support I literally couldn’t even be drifting. All my successes goes to him.
My partner Caity, who encourages me with my decisions and what I do. You may have met her before at Drift School, she’s the admin lady!
Tristan at WTFauto who has been a partner of Drift School since the beginning, believing in the business and ensuring our engines are in the best performing condition thanks to his tuning wizadry. Go see him, you won’t regret it!
Kieran at WA local brand D-Speed, who has always backed us from the start providing aero, suspension and wheels for the fleet of Drift School cars, as well as our staff member’s personal drift cars.
Allister Lyons, my first ever student, team mate, tandem partner, head instructor and one of my bestest pals! Helping me shape Drift School from humble beginnings into what it is now with his insight teaching students and being the best at the job.
There’s also a huge list of other sponsors/partners who continue to assist and keep Drift School going.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO ANYONE WHO IS THINKING OF GIVING DRIFTING A GO EITHER AS A PASSENGER OR TO LEARN HOW TO DO IT?
You don’t need to be into cars to enjoy drifting! It is a fun experience just like a roller coaster ride, or sky diving, or any other extreme activity. Just make sure that you come to Drift School with an open mind and be willing to learn something new, whilst having a great time doing it! Be in the frame of mind that you’ll unlikely become DK in your first couple of sessions, getting a car side-ways is not a common thing to do in a car and takes years of practice for most, just like any other professional sport to get good, so don’t be discouraged and just enjoy the process. There’s no better place to try drifting than in a safe track environment with the encouragement and support from our team.
OK, I THINK YOU’VE TALKED ME INTO IT, WHEN I PUT THE CAMERA DOWN FOR A WEEKEND I’LL HAVE TO COME FOR A RIDE! THANKS KEN!
You can see Ken’s latest course creation at the D1WA 2019 Championships, or at his Nishi-D event coming up on November 17th 2019.