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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Drifting 101

Drifting 101

This is truly more than just letting your car’s rear end hang out as there’s a theoretical approach on how to actually do it.


Its beginnings started as a competitive sport that catered to mountain-road racers of rural Japan. Informal challenges on mountain back roads (called “Touge”) eventually evolved into a heavily funded and advertised competitive event, sanctioned by organizations and held on private tracks. Initiated by Option magazine Japan and its video department V-Option, they created the popular D1 Grand Prix to catch and expand the drifting craze. Led by CEO Daijiro Inada, the Option D1GP has now broken into other venues like the States and other countries. Drifting actually started in America around ’02 a grassroots level among Club4AG members and has now exploded into a massively popular form of motorsport with the advent of the D1 GP. However, Japanese drifters are still considered to be at the cutting edge of technique and car development, but their American counterparts are quickly catching up, like Vince Gitten Jr (D1GP Champ), Rhys Millen, Samuel Hubinette, and Benson Hsu.


Drifting refers to the difference in the slip angle between the front and rear tires of a car. When the rear wheels are slipping at a greater angle than the front wheels, the car is said to be drifting, or oversteering. What happens is that the rear end of the car appears to chase the front end around a turn, as the driver utilizes both front tires and the rear tires to control the actual direction of the car. Adding more throttle induces more rear wheel slip angle and the rear of the car wants to overtake the front. Overall, the goal of the driver here is to achieve steering lock and use the throttle to fine tune the car’s angle and direction. Think of it as a controlled slide. Many of the techniques used today in drifting were developed by rally drivers who often competed on dirt, gravel and snow. Sliding around corners for rally racing was the only way to go faster around a corner as they normally raced on loose or slippery surfaces.

Drifting for Points

Nowadays, drifting has become a competitive sport where drivers have their own styles and techniques as they compete to keep their cars sideways for as long as possible. Drifting competitions are judged based not on the time it takes to complete a course, but how much slip angle a driver can get, how long can they hold it, and how close can they stay to the racing line, or to the wall. Keiichi Tsuchiya, a well known legend in the drifting world, is considered the father of drifting. Regarded as the “Drift King” (Dorikin), he is the official chief judge in the D1 Grand Prix Series. Final rounds of D1GP competition include tandem drift runs nicknamed “tsuiso” in Japanese, where one car follows another through the course, attempting to keep up with or even pass the car in front. In the “tsuiso” rounds, it doesn’t matter if the racing line is wrong, what matters is who can execute the most exciting drift. A car does not even have to keep up, because even though the other car is left behind on the straight, but managed to execute a spectacular drift, he can still win that round. However, a spin, understeer, or collision results in the disqualification of the offending party.

Drift Cars

Any rear-wheel drive car can be set up for drift competition, but must include the addition of a Limited-Slip Differential. Popular competition cars in the US include the Nissan 240SX, Nissan 350Z, Toyota Corolla GT-S (AE86), Mazda RX-7, and Honda S2000. In Japan, the top drift machines are the Nissan S13, S14, S15 Silvia, 180SX, Toyota AE86 Sprinter Trueno and Corolla Levin, Nissan Skyline (The 4-door sedan, RWD version, a.k.a. ER34), Toyota Altezza, Toyota Aristo, Nissan Z33, Fairlady Z, Nissan Cefiro (A31), Nissan Laurel, and Toyota Soarer. There is some debate over whether or not front-wheel-drive (FWD) vehicles can drift. By the technical definition (rear wheels slipping at a greater angle than front wheels), they are indeed able to drift. However, many consider FWD vehicles a poor choice for drifting, as the frequent use of the emergency brake (necessary to drift FWD cars) slows them down and makes them harder to control. 4WD vehicles, such as the Subaru Impreza WRX STi and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution drift at a much different angle and are usually induced by power-over. As the front wheels are also driven on a 4WD vehicle there is a noticeable lack of counter steer.

Drifting Techniques

Braking Drift

This drift is performed when entering a corner to induce the car to “set” or shift its weight to cause the rear wheels to lose traction and drift. This is performed by braking before a corner while starting to turn in, vary the brake petal until loss of grip is obtained and then balance the oversteer through steering and throttle inputs to control and sustain the drift.

Power-Over Drift

This drift is performed when entering a corner at full throttle to produce heavy oversteer through the corner, it is the most typical drifting technique for All Wheel Drive (AWD) cars.

Inertia (Feint) Drift

This method is done by “rocking” the car much like a pendulum, whereby once the car is rocked towards the outside of a turn, you then use the inertia of the car to swing it back to the desired direction. By going away from the corner, and turning back in hard, you are now coming in the corner at a much sharper angle.

Hand-Brake Drift

This technique is very straightforward, upon entering a corner, pull the hand brake lever to induce traction loss at the rear wheels, and balance the drift through steering and throttle play. Some people argue that this method doesn’t actually create a drift but rather just a power slide. The bottom line here is that using the hand brake is no different from any other method of starting a drift. This method is generally the main technique to perform in a controlled drift when using Front Wheel Drive (FWD) cars.

Dirt Drop Drift

This is done by dropping the rear tires off the road into the dirt to maintain or gain drift angle without losing power or speed and to set up for the next turn. Only permissible on roads without barriers and lined with dirt or other materials which to lose traction. This is commonly done in WRC rallying.

Kansei Drift

This is performed at race speeds, when entering a high speed corner a driver lifts his foot off the throttle while slightly turning into a corner to induce a mild over steer and then balances the drift through steering, braking and throttle motions. (note: the car that is being used for this style of drift should be a neutral balanced car therefore the over steer will be induce when this technique is applied, if the car plows through any turn this technique will not work)

Shift Lock

This is performed by letting the revs drop upon downshift into a corner and then releasing the clutch to put stress on the driveline to slow the rear tires inducing oversteer. (This is like pulling the E-brake through a turn – note: this is best to be performed in the wet to minimize damage to the driveline etc)

Jump Drift

This technique is used to start a drift by letting the rear tire run on the inside of a turn or apex and letting it bounce over a rumble strip to help lose traction resulting in oversteer.

Clutch Kick

This is done by “kicking” the clutch (pushing in, then out) to send a shock through the powertrain, upsetting the car’s balance. It causes the rear wheels to slip and enables the driver to induce oversteer, thereby starting a drift.

Choku Dori

This is an advanced technique that involves using one of the previous techniques to start the drift, while using the hand brake to extend the drift into a turn. This is done by pulling the hand-brake through a straight to start a high angel drift while holding this angle to set up for the turn ahead. (note: this can only be done at high speeds)

Manji Drift

This is used while drifting on long straightaways. The driver of the car sways the car side to side (like a pendulum) while the car is in a drift, which looks impressive. It can be initiated through all the above techniques

Drift Spec Suspension Tune

Drift spec tuning gives emphasis towards making the car go sideways in a controllable state. The car needs to have a low centre of gravity and be able to spin the rear wheels with ease. This makes the car look good while going sideways.

Drift Suspension

Suspension: Setting is primarily for high grip on the front wheels and low or no grip on the rear wheels. Steering inputs need to be sharp and precise. Use of a quick rack or longer steering arms recommended. Use of stiff spring/shock rates is mandatory as this gives the car low grip levels, hence the ability to easily slide.


Brakes: Low-mid temperature brake pads recommended for front to give good initial bite which helps weight transfer to the front making the rear tires light thus being able to freely spin. Handbrake cable adjustment with ultra high grip disc/drum pads are required to effectively lock the rear wheels.

Performance Mods

Performance: Top end (high RPM) response and power is required to hold the drift through the corners. Power tuning up top is highly recommended together with engine reliability. Large radiators and oil coolers are essential to combat over heating with the engine spinning at continuously high RPM level. As the car goes sideways.

Summary: Tuning of this level makes a very responsive and very maneuverable vehicle, with a twitchy characteristic. Power and braking levels are also high, with a very hard suspension setting.

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