Drifting refers to a driving technique and to a sport based on the technique; this article deals primarily with the sport. When the rear slip angle of a car is greater than its front slip angle, and its front wheels are pointed in the opposite direction to the turn (e.g. car is turning left, wheels are pointed right), and the driver is controlling these factors, then the car is drifting.
For years people have intentionally used oversteer in motorsports such as dirt track racing, motorcycle speedway, and rallying. Early Grand Prix drivers such as Tazio Nuvolari also used an at-the-limit form of driving called the four-wheel drift. It has also featured prominently in stunt driving and other forms of exhibition.
Modern drifting started out as a racing technique popular in the All Japan Touring Car Championship races over 30 years ago. Motorcycling legend turned driver, Kunimitsu Takahashi, was the foremost creator of drifting techniques in the 1970's. He was famous for hitting the apex (the point where the car is closest to the inside of a turn) at high speed and then drifting through the corner, preserving a high exit speed. This earned him several championships and a legion of fans who enjoyed the spectacle of burning tires.
The bias ply racing tires of the 1960s-1980s lent themselves to driving styles with a high slip angle. As professional racers in Japan drove this way, so did the street racers.
A street racer named Keiichi Tsuchiya became particularly interested by Takahashi's drift techniques. Tsuchiya began practicing his drifting skills on the mountain roads of Japan, and quickly gained a reputation amongst the racing crowd. In 1977, several popular car magazines and tuning garages agreed to produce a video of Tsuchiya's drifting skills. The video, known as Pluspy, became a hit and inspired many of the professional drifting drivers on the circuits today. In 1988, alongside Option magazine founder and chief editor Daijiro Inada, he would help to organize one of the first events specifically for drifting.
Drifting outside Japan "officially" began in 1996 with an event at Willow Springs racetrack in California hosted by the magazine Option. Inada, the NHRA Funny Car drag racer Kenji Okazaki and Dorikin, who also gave demonstrations in a Nissan 180SX the magazine brought over from Japan, judged the event with Rhys Millen and Bryan Norris being two of the entrants. The race was won by a Honda Civic. It has since exploded into a massively popular form of motorsport in North America, Australia, and Europe. One of the first drifting competitions in Europe was hosted in 2002 by the OPT drift club at Turweston, run by a tuning business called Option Motorsport. The club held a championship called D1UK, then later became the Autoglym Drift Championship. For legal reasons, the business was forced to drop the Option and D1 name. The club has since been absorbed into the D1 franchise as a national series.
Drifting has evolved into a competitive sport where drivers compete in rear-wheel drive cars to keep their cars sideways as long as possible. At the top levels of competition, especially the D1 Grand Prix from Japan and others in Malaysia, Australia, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, Formula-D in the United States, and New Zealand, these drivers are able to keep their cars sliding for extended periods of time, often through several turns. Drifting is still not recognised by the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) motorsport's governing body, as a professional form of motorsport.
Drifting competitions are judged based not on the time it takes to complete a course, but on line, angle, speed, and show factor. Line involves taking the correct line, which is usually announced beforehand by judges. Angle is the angle of a car in a drift, the more the better. Speed is the speed entering a turn, the speed through a turn, and the speed exiting the turn; faster is better. The show factor is based on multiple things, such as the amount of smoke, how close the car is from the wall, and the crowd's reaction. It is based on how "cool" everything looks.
To make judging less ambiguous, the DriftBox has been introduced to D1GP, it uses GPS/accelerometers to measure the angle, speed and g-force during a run. This takes the guesswork out of judging the angle and speed of the drift.
The judging takes place on just a small part of the circuit, a few linking corners that provide good viewing, and opportunities for drifting. The rest of the circuit is irrelevant, except as it pertains to setting up the car for the first judged corner. In the tandem passes, the lead driver often feints his or her entry to the first corner to upset the chase driver.
There are typically two sessions, a qualifying/practice session, and a final session. In the qualifying sessions, referred as Tansou (speed run), drifters get individual passes in front of judges (who may or may not be the final judges) to try and make the final 16. This is often on the day preceding the final.
The finals are tandem passes, referred as Tsuiso (chase attack). Drivers are paired off, and each heat comprises two passes, with each driver taking a turn to lead. The best of the 8 heats go to the next 4, to the next 2, to the final. The passes are judged as explained above, however there are some provisos such as:
* Overtaking the lead car under drift conditions almost always wins that pass.
* Overtaking the lead car under grip conditions automatically forfeits that pass.
* Spinning forfeits that pass, unless the other driver also spins.
* Increasing the lead under drift conditions helps to win that pass.
* Maintaining a close gap while chasing under drift conditions helps to win that pass.
Points are awarded for each pass, and usually one driver prevails. Sometimes the judges cannot agree, or cannot decide, or a crowd vocally disagrees with the judge's decision. In such cases more passes may be run until a winner is produced. Sometimes mechanical failure determines the battle's outcome, either during or preceding a heat. If a car cannot enter a tandem battle, the remaining entrant (who automatically advances) will give a solo demonstration pass. In the event of apparently close or tied runs, crowds often demonstrate their desire for another run with chants of 'one more time'
There is some regional variation, for example in Australia, the chase car is judged on how accurately it mimics the drift of the lead car, as opposed to being judged on its own merit. Other variations of the tansou/tsuiso and the tansou only method is the multi car group judging, seen in the Drift Tengoku videos where the four car team is judged in groups.
Usually drift cars are light to moderate weight, rear-wheel-drive coupes and sedans. In Japan and worldwide, the most common drift machines are the Nissan Silvia/180SX, Toyota AE86, Mazda RX-7, Nissan A31 Cefiro, Nissan C33 Laurel, Nissan Skyline (RWD versions), Nissan Z-car, Toyota Altezza, Toyota Chaser, Toyota Mark II, Toyota MZ20 Soarer, Honda S2000, and Mazda Miata. US drift competitions feature local versions of those cars (such as the Nissan 240SX and Toyota Corolla GT-S) as well as American performance cars such as the Ford Mustang, Dodge Viper, and Pontiac GTO. Drifters in other countries often use local favorites, such as the early Ford Escort (UK and Ireland), BMW 3 Series (other parts of Europe), Porsche, early Opel cars, the later Russian market Lada (Hungary) or Volvo 700 series (Sweden) ,and modified Proton cars (Malaysia).
Like the D1GP the most frequent nameplate in the top rankings is Nissan, but in America the Ford Mustang is making significant inroads and is growing a fanbase.
FWD cars do not qualify for entrance into D1GP events, nor are they eligible for Formula D events.
AWD vehicles, such as the Subaru Impreza WRX STi, and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution are converted to rear wheel drive so they can perform drifting.
The basic driving techniques used in drifting are constant, though each car and driver will employ some subset of these techniques. They include:
These techniques don't use weight transition, so are typically the first thing the novice drifter learns. However they are still used by the most experienced drifters, and require skill to execute properly. These techniques aim to induce a loss of traction on the rear wheels, either by locking the wheel (e-brake drift), or using enough power from the engine to break the traction force (power-oversteer and clutch kick).
* Hand-brake or Emergency brake drift - While the clutch is depressed, the hand-brake is pulled to induce rear traction loss. As soon as traction is lost, the driver releases the clutch, depresses the accelerator, and countersteers. This technique is used heavily in drift competitions to drift large corners, or to trim the car's line mid-drift.
* Power oversteer or Powerslide - This drift is performed when entering a corner at full throttle to produce heavy oversteer through the turn. The excess power causes the drive wheels to lose traction in a RWD or AWD car. This is the most typical drifting technique for all-wheel drive cars.
* Shift lock (compression slide) - Initiated by downshifting (usually from third to second or fourth to third, and using a very fast shift) instead of braking, without rev-matching, causing the drive wheels to lock momentarily. Helpful for very tight corners, allowing the driver to approach the corner at a slower speed and lower revs, while allowing quick acceleration when exiting the corner. This technique can be very damaging to the engine if mis-used as the ECU is unable to rev limit when the engine is oversped by the rear wheels. Premature downshifters are called "Rod Stretchers".
* Clutch kick - This is done by "kicking" the clutch (pushing in, then out, usually more than one time in a drift for adjustment in a very fast manner) to send a shock through the powertrain, upsetting the car's balance. This causes the rear wheels to slip. The foot should be at an angle so the brake and gas may be pressed as well, this being needed to control speed and stop from spinning out in the drift.
These techniques employ a further concept of weight transition. When a vehicle has the load towards the front, the "lighter" back is easier to steer, causing an oversteer condition that can initiate a drift.
* Braking Drift - This drift is performed by braking into a corner, so that the car can transfer weight to the front. This is immediately followed by throttle in a RWD car causes the rear wheels to lose traction. FWD cars can also use this technique as it does not depend on the rear wheels being driven.
* Inertia (Feint) drift, or Scandinavian flick - This is done by transferring the weight of car towards the outside of a turn by first turning away from the turn and then quickly turning back using the inertia of the rear of the car to swing into the desired drifting line. Sometimes the hand-brake will be applied while transferring the weight of the car towards the outside to lock the rear wheels and help the rear swing outwards. This type of drifting causes the car to accelerate faster afterwards, because of momentum built up while drifting.
* Kansei, Lift off, or Taking In - By letting off the accelerator while cornering at very high speeds, cars with relatively neutral handling will begin to slide, simply from the weight transfer resulting from engine braking. The drift is controlled afterwards by steering inputs from the driver and light pedal work, similar to the Braking drift.
* Dirt drop - This is done by dropping the rear tires off the sealed road onto dirt, or whatever low-grip surface borders the road, to maintain or gain drift angle. Also colloquially called "Dirt Turbo".
* Choku-Dori - This is done by swaying the car's weight back and forth on straightaways, using countersteer and throttle to maintain a large angle. This is a show maneuver that usually involves many cars following the same line.
* Ski Drift - This extremely difficult and dangerous drift is done by drifting while the car is on two wheels. If not done perfectly, the car will likely roll over and crash.
A proper mechanical limited slip differential (LSD) is almost essential for drifting. Open diffs and viscous diffs cannot be controlled during a sustained slide. All other modifications are secondary to the LSD. Popular drift LSDs include OS Giken, KAAZ, & Cusco.
The most popular form of LSD for drifting is the clutch type, in "2-way" form; this is preferred for its consistent and aggressive lockup behavior under all conditions (acceleration and deceleration). Some drift cars use a spool "differential", which actually has no differential action at all, the wheels are locked to each other. Budget drifters also use the welded differential, where the side gears are welded to give the same effect. This makes the car very easy to slide at high speed, but difficult to park, and is hard on the driveline. Torsen and Quaife (available on cars such as S15, FD3S, MX5, JZA8x, UZZ3x) diffs are adequate, but not generally available aftermarket.
The clutches on drift cars tend to be very tough ceramic brass button or multiple-plate varieties, for durability, as well as to allow rapid "clutch kick" techniques to upset the balance of the car. Gearbox and engine mounts are often replaced with urethane mounts, and dampers added, to control the violent motion of the engine/gearbox under these conditions.
Gearsets may be replaced with closer ratios to keep the engine in the power band. (Japanese drifters confuse the "L" and call these "cross-mission".) These may be coarser dog engagement straight cut gears instead of synchronised helical gears, for durability and faster shifting at the expense of noise and refinement. Wealthier drifters may use sequential gearboxes or sequential adapters to make gear selection easier/faster.
The suspension in a drift car tends to have very high spring and damper rates. Sway bars are upgraded, particularly on the rear. Caster is often increased to improve the car's controllability during a slide. Most cars use an integrated coilover/shock (MacPherson strut) combination. This type of suspension allows the ride height to be adjusted independently of the suspension travel. There is no perfect height setting or spring/shock combo for any car, but each driver will have their own personal preference. Many suspension manufacturers offer suspension tuned specifically for drifting, allowing many people to enter the sport competitively.
Bushings can be upgraded with urethane parts. Most Nissan vehicles have a floating rear subframe which is usually fixed in position with billet aluminium or urethane "drift pineapples", to prevent the frame moving during drift.
One suspension tuning method, still popular in Japan, is known as "Demon Camber" (Japanese: 鬼カム, Oni-kamu). It involves setting the suspension with extreme negative camber in the front to reduce slide. Negative camber on the rear would only induce understeer, making the car more difficult to drift. The front of the car having better grip and less tendency to slide, it is easier to swing the rear of the car around to get a good drift angle. However stability, grip, and overall ability to control the car are compromised. It has thus fallen out of favor as a serious performance-minded suspension setup. However, many cars built for show (such as those driven by bōsōzoku) still use this style of suspension setup for its aggressive look. A few degrees of toe-out on the rear wheels in some vehicles (leading edges angled outward) can improve turn-in, and make setting up a drift a little easier.
Generally drifting consumes tires rapidly and multiple sets may be necessary for a single professional event.
Because of the large sideways forces, drivers find it preferable to be retained firmly by a bucket seat, and five point harness. This allows the hands to merely turn the wheel, as opposed to bracing oneself against the wheel. The steering wheel should be relatively small, dished, and perfectly round, so that it can be released and allowed to spin through the hands as the caster returns the front wheels to center. The locking knob on the hand brake is usually replaced with a spin turn knob, this stops the hand brake locking on when pulled. Some drivers move the hand brake location or add an extra hydraulic hand brake actuator for greater braking force. Many drivers favour additional gauges to monitor such things as boost levels, oil, intake and coolant temperatures
Engine power does not need to be high, and in fact if a car has too much power, it can be very hard to handle during a drift. Each driver has their own preference, and drift cars can be found with anything from 100bhp (74kW) to 1000bhp (745kW). Typically, engine tuning is oriented towards achieving linear response rather than maximum power output. Engines also must be equipped with upgraded cooling systems. Not only are the engines pushed very hard, creating lots of heat, but being driven at an angle reduces the airflow through the radiator. For turbocharged engines, intercooler efficiency is similarly reduced. Oil coolers are almost essential. V-mounting the intercooler and radiator improves flow through these components, and keep the expensive intercooler out of harm's way in the inevitable offs.
With increased steering angle it is possible to achieve greater angle with the vehicle, it will also aid in spin recovery. This is often done with spacers on the steering rack, custom steering racks, custom tierod ends, or machining the spindles. Increased steering angle often requires other modifications as at some point the tire or wheel will come in contact with other suspension pieces or the inner/outer fenders.
Chassis preparation is similar to a road racing car. Roll cages are sometimes employed for safety, and to improve the torsional rigidity of the car's frame, but are compulsory in events that involves the 2+ cars tsuiou runs in the event of a side collision. Front and rear strut tower braces, B-pillar braces, lower arm braces, and master cylinder braces are all used to stiffen the chassis. The interior is stripped of extraneous seating, trim, carpet, sound deadening; anything that is not essential is removed to reduce weight.
Body kits are usually attached with cable ties. When the body kit meets the wall or curb, the cable ties snap, releasing the part, as opposed to breaking it.
As drift cars are pushed faster, aerodynamic tuning becomes more important as well. Rear spoilers and wings usually are useful only in large, open tracks where the cars develop enough speed to create a need for more downforce. Wheel arches are often rolled or flared to allow the fitment of larger tires. Airflow to the engine is critical, so the hood is often vented.
Due to the nature of the hobby, drift cars are typically involved in many minor accidents. Thus, those involved with the sport tend to avoid expensive or easily damaged body kits and custom paintwork. Typically drift cars will show signs of body damage: dents, cracked bumpers and applications of duct tape.
The cars quite often have different tires on the front and back, and the owner may have quite a few sets. This is because a single afternoon of drifting can destroy a new set of tires. As a rule, good tires go on the front for good steering. On the back, hard-compound tires are used, quite often second-hand ones tend to end up in a cloud of smoke. 15" wheels are common on the rear, as 15" tires are cheap. As a driver gets better, they will most likely want to upgrade the tires used in the rear for a higher grip compound. Although cheap/hard tires are fun purely for their slipperiness and ease of drifting, they quickly become a hazard for high-speed drifts. More advanced drivers require the most grip possible from all 4 tires, so as to retain control adequately during high speed drifts. Competitive drifters often run DOT approved tires closer to racing tires, which is permitted, with the exception of some major championships including D1GP which only permits commercially available tires that are approved by them. The grip is required for control, speed, and a fast snap on the initial entry. Some companies have started to create tires with special effects for drifting One such company is Kumho. They recently released tires designed especially for the drifting crowd. These new tires produce colored smoke instead of regular grey smoke when drifted. Furthermore, they are not permitted in many competitions, as they are seen as giving an unfair advantage to teams with the funding to utilise them, as they are currently too expensive to be used by the amateur competitor.
Because of the showy, spectator-friendly nature of drifting, it has received some exposure in mainstream culture both in Japan and the rest of the world.
* The manga series Initial D by Shuichi Shigeno, later adapted to an anime, an arcade game, and a Live action film, is sometimes peoples' first exposure to the sport of drifting.
* Many racing video games such as Project Gotham Racing, Daytona USA, OutRun 2 and especially Ridge Racer and Kaido Battle require drifting techniques to perform well in the game.
* Driving simulators like Gran Turismo, Enthusia Professional Racing, Forza Motorsport, and Live for Speed include the physics necessary to simulate drifting. Live for Speed has online multiplayer servers specifically for drifting.
* In the Need For Speed Underground and Need For Speed Underground 2 series and Need for Speed: Carbon, players must compete in Drift events to meet game requirements to pass levels.
* Super Mario Kart introduced drifting (or power sliding) to the series in 1992 and is key to winning races and setting the fastest lap.
* Recent Games, with a greater focus on drifting, are D1 Grand Prix and The Fast and the Furious (PS2 game), both for the PS2 game console.
* Drift moves are used in The PS2 Game Juiced In 'showoff'. Where you can perform varies moves
* The presenters of British TV program Top Gear are known to enjoy powersliding cars on their test track. In the final episode of series 6 Richard Hammond tested the Vauxhall Monaro VX-R and was taught how to drift in the same car by D1 Grand Prix driver Yasuyuki Kazama. Despite being unable to speak English, Kazama was able to teach Hammond by using hand signals. Kazama then took the VX-R and showed Hammond how to drift properly.
* Drift events have been covered by major TV sports networks worldwide, as well as through a regular program on US-based cable TV network G4techTV.
* One of the earliest coverage on drifting was at the first episode of Jeremy Clarkson's Motorworld, at the early segment of the episode which deals with Japanese car culture, Jeremy Clarkson visits a touge where drift runs took place and remarked that its like joyriding but with their own cars, he then interviewed a boy of 19 when his 180SX is waiting for it to be recovered. He then attends a drifting event where he interviewed Dorikin.
* Drift: The Sideways Craze (2007) is a documentary HD film that features the art of professional drifting. National drifting champion Samuel Hubinette and drifting rival Ken Gushi prepare for the D1 Grand Prix, while they teach a young fan the basic elements of drifting. The film can be found on Discovery HD Theatre.
* The third film in the The Fast and the Furious series, Tokyo Drift, is set in a romanticized version of Japan's drift culture. The film very loosely depicts the Japanese drift-racing environment. However, little to no street racing -- such as that depicted in the feature -- takes place in major Japanese cities, and the majority of racing is undertaken on licensed tracks or on touges (mountain passes).
* Drifting and Touge driving are featured in the third, fifth and final installment of the Shuto Kousoku Trial series.
* A vehicular character also learns to drift in the Pixar movie Cars.
RC Drifting refers to the act of Drifting with a Remote Control Car. RC cars are equipped with special low grip tires, usually made from PVC or ABS piping. Some manufacturers make radial drift tires that are made of actual rubber compounds. The car setup is usually changed to allow the car to drift more easily. RC drifting is most successful on 4WD (Four wheel drive) RC cars.
* The Drift X series includes drama and drifting refereneces and talks about drifting down mountains and in parking lots, similar to The Fast and The Furious Tokyo Drift.
* Best Motoring International as well as JDM Option frequently features drifting events with Keiichi Tsuchiya (nicknamed the Drift King). BMI also released the Drift Bible, a well-known reference DVD explaining drifting in a step-by-step fashion.