Hajwalah “Orchestrated Mayhem”

Youths burn up their tyres and write off their cars in growing 160kph ‘sport’.

It’s a ‘sport’ that is rapidly on the rise, although many of the original surviving participants will not be happy about that.

Hajwalah, or Middle East Drifting, sees motorists drive their cars at speeds of around 160 kph while repeatedly shifting their vehicles left and right, causing the vehicles to slide and challenging them to regain control.

The dangerous activity began in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s where ‘wealthy youngsters’ would carry out drifting stunts in wide sections of road.

Police are often called to stop the sport but the use of ‘spotters’ to alert drivers of the authorities means they frequently escape action.

When people are caught they can face the death penalty, with one man beheaded in Saudi Arabia in 2012 after his drifting killed two bystanders.

To combat this, leagues are now being set up by professional racers in arenas across the Middle East to give the sport a legitimate presence and discourage motorists from taking to the streets.

Photographer Peter Garritano last year spent a week in the United Arab Emirates photographing the sport for a series he produced.

He said the sport used to be the ‘Wild West’ of street racing in the Middle East but that efforts have been made to ‘formalise’ it in recent years.

Championships have been set up, including the Middle East Drift Championship that spans the GCC countries.

Events are now held in large arenas such as the Emirates Motorplex, a car club and venue which is around an hour away from Dubai and hosts drag races and drifting.

A video by Motorplex track owner Wael Hammad shows the tyres of one white SUV smoking as they are burned as the vehicle – which has OO7 written on one side – performs power slides along the asphalt.

Flames can also be seen shooting from an exhaust pipe below the vehicle as the engine roars.

Speaking to Wired, Mr Garritano said: ‘It was way more formal than I was expecting. It used to be going out with your friends on the streets and causing mayhem. Now, it’s causing orchestrated mayhem.’

Events are said to be held at the Motorplex every fortnight from dusk until around 2am, usually involving 70-or-so participants, with many aged between their teens and 20s.

They are given three minutes to perform stunts, and many use SUVs from mainstream brands like Toyota that have been upgraded with engines from supercars like Ferraris.

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Points are given out to the most daring drivers for the levels of risk they take, providing they don’t crash, although hospital selfies are regarded as one of the highest honours a driver can achieve.

Mr Garritano added: ‘Everyone I spoke to had a picture of themselves on Instagram in a hospital bed recovering.

‘It’s the same sentiment behind teenagers doing donuts in any part of the world.’

Images: Instagram/Wael_Hammad

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