Drift Techniques
By Daniel Pina
Drifting is often criticized for not being "the fast way of driving". But, if you are a drifter, you know that is not the intention. Drifting, is a style of driving. It is the perfect balance of car control. It takes great concentration, understanding, and reaction speed. A common misconception of drifting, is that in order to be able to drift, you must have a very powerful rear wheel drive car. Although this can make drifting easier, it is not a requirement. In fact, if you can learn to drift an underpowered car, you will later be able to drift a more powerful car easier. In an underpowered car, you are forced to learn to drift using many different techniques. Despite what many people think, it is possible to drift a front wheel drive, or FF car. Although it is possible to do, it is not very efficient in long turns. The tendency of a FF car is to go straight, or recover from a drift by understeering. Understeer is when a car continues straight, despite turning the steering wheel. This is every drifters enemy. Since power is displaced through the front wheels, massive amounts of power make hardly any difference in these cars. As far as set up, a stiff suspension is optimal, with maximum front camber in the front, and minimal in the rear. Also, running a higher tire pressure in the rear will increase the tendency for the rear to break loose, or slide out. On street tires, I recommend 38-44 lbs. If you have very grippy "R" compound, or other high traction tires, and you wish to drift, I recommend putting stock or cheap hard tires in the rear, and the better grippy ones in the front. This inbalance will force the car to upset very easily. The driving technique for a front drive is very, very, different from a rear drive. Since these cars tendency is to understeer, a very forceful, and exaggerated technique is required. In FF cars, the more than 75% of the cars weight is in the front, so getting the rear out is not too difficult, instead keeping it out is. There are three standard forms of getting a FF to initiate a drift. The first is E-braking. I only recommend this to people with hand brakes, and not foot pedal parking brakes. Some worry pulling this lever will damage their car, but the only problem I’ve ever encountered with this technique is stretching the parking brake cable, which can be easily adjusted. To initiate an e brake drift, you must be moving at least 25mph. I recommend second gear drifts, as most FF cars are high revving four cylinders, and have the most power in this range. I recommend 90 and 180 degree turns for practice, where there are no curbs or embankments to possibly hit. The key is to pull the e-brake quickly, keeping your thumb on the release button. You want to accelerate in a straight line, keep your left hand at 10 o clock on the steering wheel, and your right hand on the e brake. Turn the steering wheel FIRST and yank the e brake up immediately after turn in. Once the car begins to slide, release the e brake. This should be very quick, maybe one and a half seconds for all of the above steps. Once you release the e brake, you should grab the steering wheel with BOTH hands, and accelerate. You will probably have to counter steer. Counter steering is when you have to steer the car away from the direction of the drift to direct where you want the car to go next. For example, you may be drifting left, but steering towards the right. The key here is not to be clumsy. Practice winding your wheel without hitting your wrists together, or crossing your arms. Its difficult to do and not have your hands get misplaced. You have to teach yourself to anticipate counter steering. The next technique is trail braking. This technique requires much more speed, skill, and courage. The basic idea of trail braking is similar to the e brake technique, but not as abrupt. Trail braking, is breaking the balance of the car to become loose in the rear by braking hard. The hard braking forces the weight to transfer to the front of the car, making the rear light, and easy to rotate. I recommend trying this at a high speed auto cross or tracks with a lot of run off. This usually takes a great deal of speed, as you must brake very hard but still have a lot of speed to carry through your turn. I like using third gear, braking hard and consistent, slightly turning the wheel, causing the car to begin to rotate. The tendency of the car is to want to counter rotate so practice this technique with great caution and anticipation. The final technique is my personal favorite, weight transfer. Trail braking is an example of weight transfer, but there are even more drastic and effective ways of using weight to change the direction of momentum in a car. A pendulum turn, or "Scandinavian flick" is used often by rally drivers. In order to get the car to turn the direction desired, they first turn the car the opposite way in advance to the corner. The logic in this is that when a car is broken loose and begins to spin, but is less than 90 degrees to its direction of travel, the car wants to spin back the opposite direction to try and correct its spin. Drivers use this to their advantage to keep the car sliding the direction they want it to instead of understeering. This same method can be used in front drives. Since they tend to understeer, this method is extremely effective in the front heavy front wheel drives. Also, in addition to forcing the weight to push the rear of the car out, the weight will be pushed towards the front of the car which are the drive tires. So, if the car begins to slide too much, you can simply accelerate, and the car will pull itself out of the slide. The most import thing about drifting a front drive car is if you are uncomfortable with the slide, or if you begin to panic, DONT hit the brakes! When in doubt, use the gas! Using the gas will cause the front wheels to pull the front of the car straight and back in control. Remember, this does NOT apply to rear wheel drives. Rear wheel drives are the simplest and most popular style of drift cars. Front engine, rear drives or FRs, are the most desirable drift cars. A key element in the FR car is the rear end. The rear end is what turns the engine power into wheel spin. Most rear drive cars come standard with an open differential in the rear end. An open diff puts the power to one of the rear wheels. A Limited Slip Differential, or LSD allows both rear wheels to spin at the same speed, making over steer very easy. Over steer is when the rear of a car rotates around sideways in a turn, or drift. Over steer is a drifters best friend, and every serious drifter has an LSD. Rear wheel drive is the easiest to drift because of its tendency to oversteer. To accomplish this trait however, some setup is required. If you cannot afford an LSD, you should at least have the proper suspension setup. Stiff front and rear springs and struts are best, and camber should be set to full negative in front, and full positive in rear. Sway bars can be equally important. Tire pressures however, may vary for each car, but I tend to run 34-38lbs in front, and 36-44lbs in rear. You may check youir tires while practicing, you don’t want the fronts or rears to wear over the corners, and you want the rears to spin very easily. Since they slide sideways, I air them up higher than the fronts. E brake technique can be used to initiate a drift like in a front drive, but once the drift begins in a rear drive car, you must modulate the gas to keep the drift going. For example, once you begin sliding, you must use just enough gas to continue your drift. Too much gas and the rear tires will spin too much and you will spin entirely. Too little gas, and the rear wheels will slow enough to regain traction. Once you get good, you will learn to use this balancing act to your advantage. For example, say you are doing a drift on a left hander, and after is a right hander. If the gap is a little long, you can use a little more gas to keep the car sideways a bit longer, then use your weight transfer pendulum turn to make the following right hander. A big element in FR cars is the recoil. This counter steering is critical in these cars, especially on 50/50 weight distributed cars like the Honda S2000, 93+ Mazda RX-7, and all other balanced cars like most MR, or mid engined, rear drive cars. Their perfect weight balance makes them difficult to judge their counter swing. They tend to whip-spin. A whip spin is a spin that happens after being sideways and the cars' momentum returns in a very quick and almost impossible to catch counter spin. The key here is to again anticipate this, and react quickly, and almost ahead of time. A lot of drivers practice "flinging" the steering wheel to counter steer. This skill is very difficult and necessary for drifting. Trail braking also works for FR cars to initiate a drift, and modulating the gas can allow you to continue to drift. But, the one method of initiating a drift that can only be done in an FR or MR car is "clutch-kicking". This technique is precisely what it is called. If you are accelerating, and you kick the clutch pedal quickly while keeping your foot on the gas, you cause the rear tires to lose traction. The quick disengagement, and re-engagement of the clutch forces the tires to spin. Like e braking and trail braking, this method is used to upset the balance of the car, and cause the rear to slide sideways. The advantage this technique has over the other two, is that once the car is sideways, if you clutch-kicked your car, the rear tires are already spinning. Also, if you are trying to lengthen your drift, but you sense the rear tires are about to get traction, a clutch kick will force the tires to keep sliding. The down fall of the clutch-kick is that you may damage your clutch or cause premature wear. Try to keep these to a minimum, and allow the clutch to cool in between kicks. The best part of rear drive cars is that you can make a mistake mid-drift, and still correct it. All of the techniques work on this style of car, and are fairly easy to learn. The most difficult aspect of this car is learning what to do once you've over done your drift. For example, if you over rotate on the first part a pendulum swing, it will upset your balance for the second part, and you will most likely spin out. Unlike a front drive, if you use the gas when over rotated, you are definitely spinning out. Understeer is quickly corrected by a simple clutch kick, but too much oversteer is not as easy. One technique that is difficult to learn but effective, is light braking and even coasting when over rotated. Light braking will cause the car to gain slight traction and slow the cars' sidewards momentum. If you over brake, you will upset the cars balance even more and again you will be spinning out. This technique requires much practice and is not easy, but it is do-able. Professional drifters use this technique to the extreme, by keeping their cars sideways extra long by e braking while sliding sideways. This technique is probably the most difficult, as you must have your momentum traveling sideways and not at all in a circular motion. Rear drives are the optimal car for serious drifters. The All wheel drives, or AWD are similar to front drives in behavior. These cars tend to understeer since their front wheels pull and rears push at the same rate. Since most four wheel drives are relatively under powered for their drive train lay out and weight, successful drifts are difficult. E braking tends to be the easiest way to initiate drifts in these cars. The biggest difference these cars have above all the others is their incredible amounts of traction, which is not what a drifter wants. The trick to these cars to get all four wheels at an angle where they have minimal traction, sideways, and keep it there. The basic idea is to keep the car tangent to the angle of the turn. Like front drives, when drifting if you step on the gas the car will begin to regain traction and understeer. Clutch-kicking wont work because the power is being displaced evenly to all four wheels, so it would not upset the rear. Oversteer cannot be accomplished simply by turning and accelerating like an FR car, unless the drive train can be biased towards the rear. In general, these cars are can be very sideways upon initiation, more so than any other type of car, but tend to pull themselves straight like an FF car. The advantage is, once you get it to the correct angle, and have your drift going, you just keep the gas pedal to the floor and let it hang there. You can literally put these cars so sideways, a FR or FF would spin, but leaving your foot in the gas will pay off in the end. In rain, snow, dirt or gravel, these cars are great for drifting and controlling. But their traction is their downfall. Like FF cars, short and sharp turns are easiest to drift, while long more open turns are nearly impossible to maintain a drift. Drifting is a style that takes much time to learn, and even more to master. Remember, even the pro's spin out, because unlike grip driving, there is not one proper or correct line. There are many more things that can happen while drifting, since you are already forcing your car to lose lots of its traction, and in turn some control. I recommend practicing in the wet in disserted parking lots or on tracks during drift events. Trust me, everyone I know has snapped a control arm off while drifting. It takes a lot less speed than you'd think to do some serious damage and it gets very expensive. Drifting can be done in just about any car, or truck for that matter. My experience is that learning in an underpowered car, with mostly stock parts will force you to learn more. You will teach yourself how to force a car to do what you want, without the help of a perfect set-up, or tons of power to break the wheels loose whenever you want. Drifting is a very delicate balance of car control. It takes finesse, and a good understanding of weight transfer, momentum, and physics. You have to be very patient while learning, and I highly suggest riding with more experienced drifters, and observing their techniques. Something I’ve learned is that you can always pick up something new. Article By: Dan Pina - DP Racing