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What is drifting a car?

We’ve all seen cars sliding about it, be in a film with Vin ‘Mr Potatohead’ Diesel, or on the internet car of Ken Block. But here’s the thing, they’re not drifting. They’re power-sliding, or crashing with style. One of the two. Drifting is something completely different. But just what is it, and where did it come from? 

Origins of drifting

Drifting harks from Japan, and a motorcycle racer turned driver, Kunimitsu Takahashi. It was a skill born out of showboating, basically. Kunimitsu would wow crowd’s back in the ‘70s by hanging the back end of his car out through every turn. 

The crowds, predictably, went wild. But for one man, these vehicular antics were the start of something special. 

Enter stage left Keiichi Tsuchiya, or Drift King to you and me. He took the idea of sliding a car and refined it into an art. To slide a car is cool, but to do it from corner to corner, effectively controlling a large, smoky pendulum, is something else.

It was also an inspiration to others. After a video entitled ‘Pluspy’ was released in the ‘80s, others quickly took up the art. And soon, thanks to Option magazine, there was a drift championship by the name of D1. The rest, as they say, is history. 

What does it mean when a car drifts? 

 Drifting is just as much about linking a car’s slides as it is about the slide itself. Drifters have to ‘link’ their drifts. This means coming out of a right-hander, for example, and then swinging the car to then drift the immediate left-hander. 

But there’s more to it than that. You can’t just use the track as you please. Drivers have clipping points. Much like a traditional race would have apexes. So a driver has to follow that line for maximum points. And there are inner clipping points and outer clipping points. 

As you can imagine, it takes a tremendous amount of skill. Drivers essentially tasked with controlling a car that is in essence, out of control. It’s all about finesse on the throttle and precise, thought-out inputs into the steering. It’s not about mashing the throttle and going for it. 

Then there’s ‘twinning’. One car drifting is cool, but two is simply extraordinary. Side by side, slide by slide, the drivers have to lead or follow, and have to either create the massive drifts, or stay as close to the lead car as possible. All while going sideways. 

What kind of cars can drift? 

Big power is key in order to keep the back end out for as long as possible. Also, the cars often have increased steering angles (the wheels can point 90 degrees in most cases) so as to ensure the car can have the maximum drift angle possible.

However, what many don’t realise is that the cars aren’t set up to be loose or tail happy. In fact, most are set up for grip. Because the driver needs control and feel. So by setting the car up for grip, they can get that. It sounds backwards, but it works. 

What is the purpose of drifting? 

Drifting is a brilliant form of grassroots motorsport. All you need is a rear-wheel drive car and a willingness to learn. Places like Santa Pod or Norfolk Arena amongst others, all off open drift days for novices.

That means you can get involved, get tuition and most importantly of all, you can have fun. And if you’re really good, you could work your way up becoming a BDC (British Drift Championship) Pro drifter, which would be pretty cool.