What Exactly Is Drifting?

5th June, 2017 in Editorials

What exactly is “drifting”? This article is for those who are new to the sport, or for those who are looking to get into it.

Daigo Saito

What exactly is drifting?

This is a question I find myself answering on a fairly regular basis. If you have any friends or relatives who aren’t particularly in to motorsports or cars, this is probably a question you’ve answered yourself a few times in the past.

r35 drift

Trying to explain your fascination with Youtube videos of cars sliding around dark mountain roads, or photos of unkempt 90’s Japanese sports cars with mismatched wheels can often be difficult to those who aren’t enthusiasts, so hopefully you can point them to this page and let it do the hard work for you.

Drifting is the act of pushing a RWD car in to oversteer (when the rear wheels break traction and step out of line). Throttle and counter-steer are applied to control the slide. To initiate oversteer, use of the throttle, clutch and handbrake are often used along with weight transfer to break traction.

Manufacturers usually build cars to grip the road as well as possible (to make them compliant and safe for the driver).

grassroots drift

Drifting, in essence, is pushing a car past it’s intended limits, and doing it with as much style and smoke as possible.

Unlike other forms of motorsport, drifting doesn’t rely on lap times. Drivers are judged on their initiation point (when and where they initiate the oversteer), the angle of their drift, their line around the track (and proximity to ‘clipping points’), and the amount of smoke they create.

skyline crash

Although extremely technical in execution, drifting is judged on aesthetics. When more than one car drifts in tandem, they are also judged on how close the chase car can follow and mimick the lead car’s line, without making contact or affecting the lead car’s line.

Where did drifting start?

There is a lot of debate over the true origins of drifting. It is generally accepted that Japan popularised mainstream drifting competitions, which themselves evolved from drivers competing on winding mountain roads, called “touge”.

A young Japanese man called Keiichi Tsuchiya was allegedly one of the first people to introduce controlled sliding to the race track in the 80’s, a style of driving he puts down to his experience of learning to race by practising on the mountain roads of Japan.

As far as high budget, high profile drifting is concerned, Japan led the way and the rest of the world quickly followed suit.

Others believe that drifting was popular in rallying long before it became a standalone motorsport in Japan. European rally drivers could often be seen “Scandinavian flicking” their cars and using their handbrake to initiate oversteer in order to not lose momentum.

s2000 drift

How can I learn to drift?

Many tracks, air fields and large car-parks hold drifting practice days for drivers of all skill levels. Search online for practice days in your local area, but don’t be surprised if you have to travel quite a way to reach the nearest event.

Once you have booked into your local practice circuit/arena/area for some tutorage, our drifting tips for beginners article should clue you in on what to expect on your first day.

We should mention that many people do try to learn on the street, but perfecting your skill on the track will always produce the best (and safest) results. The local authorities do not take too kindly to street drifting (or “streeto”).

Searching “Grassroots” on this site will yield coverage from a number of practice days; you never know, one may be local to you.

s14 twin burnout

What car should I use?

Drifting requires the use of a rear wheel drive car, preferably with a decent level of power (although high power engines certainly aren’t essential).

To begin with, it is best to use something basic and easily fixable, as whilst learning, and even at a pro level, cars will get damaged. People get distracted by aesthetics and non-essential modifications, but to begin with, seat-time is the best investment you can make to improve your skill level.

When building a car to drift in, the essential modifications are a diff (welding the stock differential is usually the cheapest/easiest way to go), a bucket seat, and lots of tyres. Once you are well accommodated in these areas, and you are spending time on track, you will discover the shortcomings of your vehicle, and can modify as appropriate.

Many people spend months/years building their drift cars without getting the satisfaction of actually driving them! Popular starter cars in the UK are E30 and E36 BMWs, Ford Sierras, and many, many RWD Nissans (S13s, S14s, R32s, R33s, etc).

Don’t feel you have to follow the crowd though; get any RWD car that is mechanically up to the task and fits within your budget.

Our 7 Best drift cars for beginners is a fine place to do a little research on your first drift car.

bmw e46 drift

Anything else?

No doubt we’ve missed loads. Disagree with what we’ve said? Got something to add? Have any questions? Leave us a comment, feedback or questions below and we’ll slowly but surely add some debate to the article!

Don’t forget to share the love by clicking the sharing buttons – we really appreciate it!

If you would like to check out some fantastic drifting content check out Speedhunters – one of our favourite websites!

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