How to Drift a Road Car

How to Drift a Road Car

Drifting a purpose-built drift machine is challenging in its own right, but the approach it requires is quite different from that required in a road car. While the 800-horsepower, purpose-built Mustang made for Formula D requires some real talent to handle, it sets into and maintains a drift much more willingly than the off-the-showroom-floor Ford.

Getting a road car to slide starts with a dramatic shift of the weight. This can be done in several different ways. For one, heavy steering inputs are needed; flicking the wheel is a great way to set the nose into the corner. The car needs to enter the corner with the weight squarely on the front wheels, and so a rub of the brake, or at least a lift off the throttle, helps get the front tires to turn in as well as help move weight off of the rear axle, which now begins to trace a tighter line than the front.

Once the slightest bit of rotation into the corner is sensed, the next phase involves a generous amount of throttle. Most road cars, due to their differentials and soft suspension setups, need a lot of throttle to spin the tires and keep them spinning. A car like the Subaru BRZ, which makes a Mustang look like a top fuel dragster, is so underpowered that in addition to lots of throttle, the occasional clutch-kick comes in handy.

This entails a firm stab of the clutch pedal while the throttle is depressed. By making the revs rise rapidly before the clutch re-engages, this effectively works like a rolling burnout to shock the driveline and keep the tires spinning. It’s not the kindest thing to do to your car – but clutches are considered consumables to drifters!

As the car transitions into a nice, fluid slide with the rears cooking away, dialing in the correct amount of opposite lock becomes the focal point. For beginners, one thing that’s easy to remember is: Look where you want the car to go. As the rear swivels around, an experienced driver’s head will crane around on its own axis, pointing in the direction they want the car to move and not necessarily where the front end is pointing. With this practice instilled, the hands need only follow the eyes, and soon countersteering becomes instinctive.

When transitioning, the driver need to only release the wheel as it spins in their hands – provided the car has enough self-steering.

Though steering is what starts and helps balance a slide, transitioning in another direction requires an abrupt lift of the throttle or, at times, a dab of brake, to shift the weight once again. This helps the front tires dig into the asphalt and unloads the rear long enough to use that centrifugal force to pivot the car in the other direction. As long as the car has enough angle prior to the lift, the rear will steer itself into the slide and the hands only need to follow suit.

It takes a certain amount of practice to determine how long or short the lift must be, and how much lock is necessary to keep a car from spinning as it changes direction. Once the car is rotated in the intended direction, the driver needs to replant their right foot on the throttle to shift the weight rearwards and balance the slide again with wheelspin. By this point, the driver will be countersteering slightly and in proportion to how much the car is rotating.

The trickiest part of this whole affair is the straightening of a drift once it’s completed. The steering needs to be softly returned to center, and to subtly shift the weight over all four tires, the driver should gently release the throttle. Lifting abruptly has the effect of shifting the weight too abruptly, though on occasion a dramatic breakaway will require the driver to back out entirely. Of course, this is all done with some degree of subtlety, but each car will react differently to how much throttle is applied or taken away.

With underpowered cars like the BRZ, sometimes what’s important is getting up to a certain speed where the rear wheels are no longer torque-limited, but getting up to that speed requires confidence that can only be honed by lots and lots of low-speed practice. It also requires a stiff suspension, a limited-slip differential, a few sets of tires to practice on and a safe area to learn the essentials. Many tracks offer drift days or will rent the skidpad for a good price – so now, despite the romantic appeal of mountain driving, there’s no real reason to take the risk. Never practice these techniques on the public road – you’ll learn more on the track, anyways.

How to Drift a Road Car
Nowadays, with accessible drift days, there’s no reason to drift recklessly on the street.
About Tommy Parry 116 Articles
Tommy Parry has been racing and writing about racing cars for the past seven years. As an automotive enthusiast from a young age, Tommy worked jobs revolving around cars throughout high school and tried his hand on the race track on his twentieth birthday. After winning his first outdoor kart race, he began working as an apprentice mechanic to amateur racers in the Bay Area to sharpen his mechanical understanding. He has worked as a trackday instructor and automotive writer since 2012 and continues to race karts, formula cars, sedans and rally cars in the San Francisco region.

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