The drifting phenomenon has a magnetic attraction for many people, whether they’re thrill-seekers themselves or spectators sharing in the adrenaline rush. But what does ‘drifting’ really mean?
Essentially, drifting involves spinning your car sideways through corners, maintaining speed the entire time. Achieving a successful ‘drift state’ means deliberately oversteering to overcome the tires’ traction, breaking all the rules of ‘proper’ driving in the process. It’s no wonder drifting is considered an extreme sport, but of course, the danger is always part of the appeal.
Why do people drift a car on purpose? There are many answers to that question, but the most straightforward answer is “it’s fun!” Having full control of your car as you slide through corners involves unlocking 100% of your car’s potential, and people find it very exhilarating.
Different drifting styles and techniques make it a true art form, comparable to any extreme sport, like skateboarding, longboarding, and snowboarding. Each rider has their very own style of drifting that no one can mimic. In fact, some drivers can’t even replicate the same pass twice, making it a truly unique accomplishment to pull off a flawless drift.
This article is designed as a crash course in all things drifting – consider this your induction to Drifting 101. You will discover what drifting is, the origins of drifting, the rules of competitive drifting, the equipment you need, and how you can try drifting yourself.
Time to start with the basics – essentially, what does ‘drifting’ mean?
What is Drifting?
Drifting is a unique style of driving that first became a ‘thing’ in the early 1990s. It’s an incredibly fast-growing and unconventional motorsport, practised both as a hobby and professionally. Drift drivers navigate a corner sideways rather than front-on, deliberately oversteering to overcome the tires’ traction.
The drift state begins when the rear’ slip angle’ is greater than the front – meaning that when a car is turning right, the wheels are pointed left; and visa versa. Many people assume that drifting is like doing a power slide, but it is way more complicated than that.
When power sliding, the driver just throws down a slide while the vehicle will either stop or go into the direction the car is pointed. When drifting, the driver has full control over the car. They’re able to orient the car normally again after successfully making the tight corner turn and continue driving.
What is the Point of Drifting?
Drifting may not be the fastest way around the track, but it is a very technical skill that allows you to show off your abilities.
Like any extreme sport, the feeling of drifting is similar to executing and perfecting tricks. There is not really a ‘point’ to it when you do it for fun, but landing each trick perfectly is a priceless experience.
There are races and technical drifting competitions that can offer a tangible reward for your drifting, but we’ll talk more about that in the following sections.
For now, let’s look into why you should drift. The real reason why people drift is so you can say “yes” when someone asks you the question, “Can you even drift, bro?”
Kidding aside, people drift because it’s fun, but you already know that. Some people drift because it is very satisfying, and others want fame and notoriety for their competitive drifting achievements.
Many drivers enjoy practising the art of drifting because it allows them to become one with their vehicle. Drifting helps drivers understand the limits of their car and safely push the boundaries of conventional driving, while learning how to better control their car in extreme conditions.
Many drifting enthusiasts really enjoy the adrenaline rush of being in a drift state – whether it’s the smoke, the tension or a cheering crowd egging them on. Some might even say that drifting is the purest form of enjoyment behind the wheel.
But how does drifting fit into the traditional motor racing scene? Let’s find out.
Racing and drifting both fit into the broader world of motorsports, but there are some pretty big differences in approach. In standard motor racing, maintaining a grip on the road surface is vital for the driver to maintain precise control at high speeds. Drifting isn’t typically the fastest way around a course, either, so are there any scenarios where drifting a corner is helpful?
Drifting vs Racing: Does Drifting Make You Faster?
When it comes to racing, professional drivers may drift their vehicles when coming into a sharp corner, meaning they can successfully make the turn without drastically slowing down. Under normal circumstances, drivers would have to step on the brakes just to make the turn safely.
Of course, sliding recklessly through a corner is a big no-go – but an expert drift will allow you to smoothly hit the apex of the turn, perfectly navigating the turn without hitting the edges or opponent’s car. Naturally, it’s a pretty risky endeavour at racing speeds!
What are the Origins of Drifting?
If you’re interested in the ins and outs of drifting, you might want to know where and how drifting started in the first place. Drifting techniques were being developed as early as the 1970s, but it really became a phenomenon of its own in the 1990s.
If you remember watching The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, all the action centres on Japan, the country where drifting originated. Aside from some pretty gnarly parking structures, the film also accurately featured Japan’s winding mountain roads. Japan’s original drifting enthusiasts honed their craft on these treacherous roads, where drifting with absolute precision was literally life or death.
While the movie definitely helped popularise drifting to an international audience, the sport has put out global roots ever since the nineties. It is, in fact, one of the fastest-growing motorsports in the world with plenty of local, national, and international competitive drifting events popping up.
A few years after drifting hit the mainstream, the first-ever professional drift competition was the held: the D1GP (Drift 1 Grand Prix) in Japan.
Over the years, amateur drivers and pro racers worldwide picked up on this engaging new style of driving. Many learned to drift by watching D1GP videos downloaded from the internet, as well as homemade videos from more illicit after-dark street racers.
In 1995, drifting once again underwent an explosion of popularity due to the manga series, “Initial D”, later adapted into a popular anime. Focused on the Japanese street racing scene, this manga continued to be serialised right up until 2013.
Drifting started out as an high-stakes underground activity, practised on the mountain roads of Japan in secret, but has risen to become an international high-profile professional sport. However, the origins of drifting are still subject to a lot of misinformation and confusion.
So who was the first person to drift? Read on to find out.
Who Invented Drifting?
Drifting was invented in Japan by motorcycling legend, Kunimitsu Takahashi. You heard that right, a motorcycling legend who also launched a career on four wheels to become the very first drifting legend. It’s no surprise that motorcycle racers have an exceptional feel for their vehicle’s performance, and this background served Takahashi well in his transition to car racing.
In his legendary Nissan Skyline KPGB10, Kunimitsu Takahashi began’ drifting’ turns in the late 1960s and 1970s. Taking advantage of the bias ply racing tyres’ weak grip, Takahashi would slide through corners while maintaining high exit speeds, giving him a tangible advantage on the racetrack.
Drifting was quickly adopted as a standard race technique. While improvements to racing tyres have diminished its usefulness in a battle of sheer speed, the cat was well and truly out of the bag. Drifting really took off when illegal street racers in Japan imitated what they saw on the track, and the practice became extremely popular on those high-stakes mountain roads (touge).
Keiichi Tsuchiya, A.K.A the “Drift King,” was one of the pioneers of touge drifting. His extreme skills behind the wheel and exhilarating drifting videos earned him superstar status among the racing crowd in the late 80s. He was featured in several popular Japanese car magazines, and gained so much popularity that he’s frequently (and incorrectly) credited as the founder of drifting. Sorry, Takahashi!
Where is Drifting Done?
Because drifting was invented in Japan, the earliest recorded drifting events took place on Japanese racetracks in Japan in 1996. Following that groundbreaking event, a Japanese drifting organisation decided to take the sport worldwide, with the first international event held at Willow Springs raceway in sunny California.
There are a huge number of drifting events happening all over the world right now – including North & South America (Formula Drift) and across Europe (The British Drift Championship, Power Drift Norway). In 2017, drifting was finally recognised as a form of motorsport by the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) and the FIA Intercontinental Drifting Cup was launched. Hundreds of competitors and thousands of fans flock to these exciting events, eager to see some smoky, fast-paced, high-speed action.
Drifting has made it to Australian shores, too – and Drift School has been running drifting events in Perth dating back to 2015. Between the regular selection of ‘learn to drift’ courses and Nishi-D track days, thrill-seekers in Perth can get their adrenaline fix at Wanneroo Raceway.
How to Drift a Car
Now, let’s head into the fun stuff. Before we dive into how to drift, we need to drop the typical ‘don’t try this at home’ disclaimer – and that goes double for drifting on public streets. The best way to learn to drift safely is to connect with a local drift school or club, like us here at Drift School WA.
The true essence of drifting isn’t hitting the slide – it’s having complete control over the car. It means that you should be able to guide the car throughout each corner, maintaining the drift state without straightening or over spinning at high speeds.
Competitive drivers will need to demonstrate precise control of their drift car in a sideways position from the start of the turn to the finish, without hitting anyone else in the process.
It may sound very tricky, but the truth is that just about anyone can learn to drift. With the right drifting coach, anyone who can drive a manual vehicle can learn the necessary techniques.
What Makes a Car Drift?
If you’re wondering how all of this is possible, we’re about to fill you in on the big secret. Getting a car sideways is a process of carefully combining the steering wheel input and throttle control, among other factors like well-timed braking.
There are various drifting techniques, especially on a pro-level, where many drivers have their own unique methods of drifting. However, it all starts with these two core skills.
Basically, what you want is to lose control and gain it back, and that is what breaking traction means. But just like any skill, the best way to learn is through muscle memory and repetition. You want to start slowly and practice the right process until everything comes naturally.
As stated before, there are plenty of techniques to try when it comes to drifting like the pros – but before you run, it is better to learn to walk first. If you were skimming through the intro, make sure you pay attention to this section if you want to learn how to drift correctly. Here are our top tips for those learning how to drift for the first time:
- Choose the right vehicle for the job
Before learning how to drift, you will need the right equipment for the job. When it comes to drifting, you will need a rear-wheel-drive car. There are a lot of modifications you can make to your vehicle for better drifting ability, but this one is the most important. For more on drift cars and how to set one up correctly, we cover this in a bit more detail further down.
- Get familiar with the functions of your vehicle
You have to be familiar with when to steer and when to use your brakes. Drifting like a pro requires excellent motor skills and arm strength when your hands are on the steering wheel. Before trying to drift, make sure you know the step-by-step procedure by heart, so you won’t get confused when you are about to throw down a drift or power slide.
- Look where you want to go
Another thing that is commonly overlooked when learning how to drift is getting familiar with the curve. You want to look exactly where you want to go. Make sure you know where to enter and look at where you want to exit. Naturally, your instincts as a driver will lead you to steer in that direction.
- Enter a corner at a manageable speed
It is always best to start slow, but not too slow. Slowing down too much will cancel a car’s ability to drift, so make sure you enter a corner at a moderate and manageable speed on a low gear to set up for a drift. The next step is to oversteer – or steers at a larger angle that is usually required for the turn you are trying to make. Then, floor the throttle as you move towards the exit, but don’t forget to steer in the opposite direction when you start to feel your rear wheels sliding. Before exiting the corner, step on the throttle to straighten out or gain back the traction.
- Maintain control on the steering wheel and throttle
As we’ve mentioned, the key to drifting is having full control of your steering input and throttle. Once you learn how to get into a sideways position, the next challenge is maintaining control of that drifting state. Playing with the throttle and steering will help you get a feel for drifting, and experiencing it for yourself will answer a lot of questions in your head.
- Pick the right spot to practice
Drifting is not legal in many areas, and it’s not a good idea to start practising with other cars around, either. If you want to practice drifting, make sure you don’t do it on a public highway with pedestrians or other vehicles in the vicinity. You can legally drift on a private road with permission from the owner, and there are practice sessions and courses held at many local racetracks.
- Practice regularly
Now that you know the basics and the step-by-step method for drifting, it is a good idea to practice regularly until drifting comes naturally. Drifting is a progressive skill that you can build on over time, meaning the more you drift, the better you get.
When you haven’t tried drifting in a while, make sure you start slow and let the feel for drifting come back to you.
It is true that drifting requires skill, technique, and precision—but it is also true that anyone can learn how to drift with the right coaching. Drift School WA has been running in Perth for four years now. We’ve turned hundreds of drivers into drifters by teaching them the fundamentals of safe and successful drifting.
If you want to unlock your drifting skills, Drift School WA’s courses are a great place to start.
How do Drift Competitions Work?
The purpose of pro drifting is to successfully complete a set course, with a score awarded by a judging panel. The score is based on the quality of the drifts, rather than the overall speed of competitors. Judges will be stationed at the optimum spot to observe the action, as close to the track as possible.
A typical drift competition will have two sessions: a qualifying round (solo runs or heats) and the final round (tandem passes). The drivers will battle it out until they reach the top spot, with poorly performing drivers eliminated as the competition moves on to the final showdown. Each round will involve multiple ‘passes’ where drivers will have the chance to impress the judges with their technique.
The final round is a tandem battle, or ‘chase ‘, where two cars compete simultaneously. The rules of this tandem battle vary from region to region. For instance, the lead car may ‘feint’ to throw off the chase car, but in Europe, this is considered foul play and may score poorly. In Australia, the chase car may be judged on how precisely they can imitate the lead car’s performance.
How is Drifting Judged?
Drift racing is nothing like an ordinary motor race, where whoever finishes first takes out the prize. In drift racing, the competitors are judged on based on the quality of their drifts.
The 4 Criteria of Competitive Drifting
These criteria can vary depending on the event or region. However, these four pillars are the basis of what makes a ‘good’ drift:
- Speed- Drivers are judged on how fast they can drift and how well they can maintain momentum, from the moment they approach the corner until the exit. This can be classified under ‘commitment’ – the confidence a driver show entering the turn.
- Line– Drivers will be judged by the line of their drift and the path they forge through the track. Courses and competitions will often have set racing lines, as simple as clipping points or as dangerous as getting near a wall at insane speeds. The closer a driver drifts to the wall without a collision, the more points they receive.
- Angle- This depicts how much counter-steer you have whilst drifting. The larger the angle of the drift, the greater control a driver is demonstrating. Heading into corners at a greater angle will score the driver more points, as long as speed isn’t sacrificed.
- Style- Every driver is unique, and pro drifters develop their own unique style to please the crowds. Some drivers are smooth, while some are aggressive and sharp in their technique. Everything from the way they initiate a drift to the giant clouds of smoke they let off will be judged under this criterion.
Ultimately, the goal of a competition run is to combine all the skills mentioned above, with some spectacular showmanship to impress spectators and judges.
At the end of the day, drifting is all about balance. A driver will need to balance each factor to have a chance at achieving a high score. Nailing one aspect of the drift and tanking the others won’t be enough to win a competition, so practice is essential for well-rounded drifting skills.
Competition aside, grassroots drifting plays a big part in the drifting scene. At track meets and practice sessions, you’ll find a community of enthusiasts who just enjoy drifting for what it is: driving sideways with friends and having a great time doing it.
What do I Need to Start Drifting?
If you want to start drifting, you are going to need two things. The first thing is a rear-wheel-drive car, and the second thing is a place to practice.
These two key ingredients are all you technically need to start learning how to drift. However, there are more elements that can make drifting a lot easier (and safer), and we’ve included a list of those recommended modifications for drifting below.
If you don’t have a capable car or a place to practice, check out clubs or drifting courses near you. Here at Drift School WA, we maintain a fleet of fully modified drift cars, so you can start mastering the skills without the upfront expenses.
What Kind of Car is Best for Drifting?
The ideal car for drifting would be one with all the upgrades mentioned below. But if you are wondering which models are best for drifting, we can look to the community of enthusiasts to see which are the most popular.
Some of the most common drift cars – both in amateur and professional drifting – include the Nissan 200Xs Silvia, Nissan Skyline GTS, Lancer EVO, BMW M3s, and Toyota Supra models. When looking for a car, you want one that has a low centre of gravity for better velocity when going sideways at higher speeds.
These days, all cars you’ll encounter on the drifting scene are modified, allowing easy drift initiation and better performance in a drift state.
Drift Tuning: Common Drift Car Modifications
Some of the most common upgrades made on a drift car are modifications to the drivetrain, the cockpit, changing the tires, and upgrading the steering and suspension. All of these upgrades and mods might not be necessary for beginner drifters, but it is something you should think about if you are serious about drifting.
These modifications include:
- A manual gearbox
- A mechanical limited slip differential
- A functioning handbrake
- An upgraded drift-friendly chassis (Silvia, Skyline, AE86, JZX, etc.)
- A coil-over suspension
- Adequate power
- And a supportive bucket seat
Want to experience the difference these drifting mods make? Come on down to Wanneroo Raceway and take one of our drift cars for a spin.
You’ll find it truly enhances the experience and allows you to really hone your technique on the tarmac.
Drift Car Frequently Asked Questions
Can you Drift with an FWD?
Technically, you can manage something similar to drifting with a front-wheel-drive car. After all, any vehicle can manage to lose traction – but genuine drifting in a safe and controlled way is another matter entirely. The real art of drifting requires a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, and at Drift School WA, we only work with RWD cars. Why make things complicated and unpredictable if you can just use an RWD motor, right?
Can you Drift with an Automatic Car?
Not very easily and not very effectively, either. Again, an automatic car may approximate the drifting experience, but it is not going to be easy – an automatic car does not have a clutch that will transfer the precise rotational power from the engine to your wheels, which is a crucial ingredient for drifting successfully.
How Can I Get into Drifting?
This is the question we love to hear! Since drifting has exploded in popularity worldwide, you’ll surely find a place to practice drifting in your country or region. You can search for local drift clubs, local drift events, and local drift schools in your area.
If you live in the Perth region, you can also sign up for one of Drift School WA’s drifting courses – the perfect way to learn and join a community of drifting enthusiasts.
Drift School WA provides you with a safe, legal place to practice, our fully modified drift cars to drive, and the instruction of our pro drift courses. Even beginners will be getting sideways on the tarmac by the end of the session!
If you’re curious about drifting, we highly encourage you to get out there and connect with this vibrant, fun-loving community. Whether you sign up for drifting lessons or just turn up to spectate at a local event, there’s no time like the present to get started.
Is it legal to drift?
Always check your local laws – it is usually illegal to drift in your neighbourhood or on any other public road.
However, you can always visit a drifting track meet or open day at your local racecourse, where it’s perfectly legal to practice.
How dangerous is drifting?
Like any motorsport, drifting can be dangerous if you don’t have the right car and a safe place to practice. It’s crucial to start slow and practise your techniques before you start drifting at higher speeds.
For maximum security, learn to drift from a local drift school or club, and always wear a helmet.
Is drifting bad for your car?
It’s true that drifting can be pretty hard on your vehicle – it requires high RPM, which accelerates wear on your vehicle parts, such as the transmission and engine.
It will also wear out your tires and brakes much faster than everyday driving. If you decide to get into drifting, keeping up with your car’s maintenance is crucial for safety purposes. Many people will have a dedicated ‘drift car’ separate from their daily driver to avoid premature wear.