Drifting (motorsport)

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A drifting exhibition in Atlanta in 2005.

Drifting refers either to a driving technique, or to a sport based on the technique; this article deals primarily with the sport. When the rear slip angle is greater than the front slip angle, and the 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 this, the car is drifting.


For decades 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[1]. 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. A 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 relatively low grip of even the best racing tires of the 1960s and 1970s 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 organise 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 bought over from Japan judged the event with Rhys Millen and Bryan Norris being two of the entrants and the race was incidentally won by a Honda Civic. It has since exploded into a massively popular form of motorsport in North America, Australia, and Europe. In the United Kingdom a drift contest was hosted in 2002 by the OPT Drift Club, 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 was since absorbed into the D1 franchise as a national series. There was an Irish series that was called the D1IRL which was also forced to change names for legal reasons.


Nowadays, 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.

Drift Competition

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.

Team Drift Competition in Melbourne, Australia.

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 (chase 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 above with some provisos.

  • 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 the crowd violently 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.

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.


In theory any car with FR layout will do. In practice, certain models crop up again and again. The top 15 cars in the 2003 D1GP:

Car Model 2003 2004 2005
Nissan Silvia S15 6 cars 5 cars 3 cars
Toyota Levin/Trueno AE86 3 cars 3 cars 2 cars
Mazda RX-7 FD3S 2 cars 1 car 2 cars
Nissan Skyline ER34 1 car 1 car 1 car
Nissan Silvia S13 2 cars
Toyota Chaser JSX100 1 car
Subaru Impreza GD (RWD) 1 car
Toyota Altezza SXE10 1 car

The popular cars seen around the world reflect the local flavors and what is commonly available, but center around light to moderate weight, rear-wheel-drive passenger cars with an emphasis on good handling. Japanese cars are often preferred, due to the sport's Japanese origins, but are not necessarily at an advantage. In Japan and worldwide, the most common drift machines are the Nissan Silvia/180SX, Nissan Skyline(RWD versions), Nissan Cefiro (RWD versions), Nissan Laurel, Nissan Fairlady Z, Toyota AE86, Toyota Altezza, Toyota Soarer, Honda S2000, Mazda Miata, and Mazda RX-7. US drift competitions will feature the local versions of all 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 parts of the world often adapt their own local favorites, such as the early Ford Escort (UK and Ireland), BMW 3 Series (other parts of Europe), Porsche, early Opel cars, or Volvo 700 series (Sweden).

There is some debate over whether or not front wheel drive (FWD) vehicles can drift, which is often accompanied by the false notion that anything done to make the rear wheels "slide" automatically qualifies as a drift. FWD cars do not qualify for entrance into D1GP events.

AWD vehicles, such as the Subaru Impreza WRX STi, and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution drift at a much different angle. As the front wheels are also driven on an AWD vehicle there is a noticeable lack of counter steer. D1 and other professional competitions do not allow AWD vehicles. However, vehicles such as the Impreza and the Lancer can be converted to RWD to compete in drift competitions that prohibit AWD cars.

Drifting techniques

The basic driving techniques used in drifting are constant, though each car and driver will employ some subset of these techniques. They include:

  • Hand-brake or Emergency brake drift - The hand-brake is pulled to induce rear traction loss. This is generally the main technique to attempt to drift a FWD car. Also, this technique is used heavily in drift competitions to drift large corners.
  • 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.
  • 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. FWD cars can also use this technique as it does not depend on the rear wheels being driven.
  • Shift lock - 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".
  • Braking Drift - This drift is performed by braking into a corner, so that the car can transfer weight to the front. This immediately followed by throttle in a RWD car causes the rear wheels to lose traction.
  • 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.
  • 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 to 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.
  • 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.

Drift Tuning

Drive Train

A proper mechanical limited slip differential (LSD) is essential for drifting. Open diffs and viscous diffs cannot be controlled during a sustained slide. All other modifications are secondary to the LSD.

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 (available on cars such as S15, FD3S, MX5, JZA8x) 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. Castor 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, the driver must be retained firmly by a bucket seat, and preferably 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 castor 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.


File:Drift Silvia.jpg
S13 Silvia bay with typical drift mods - including oil cooler, front mount intercooler (pipes only visible), remote oil filter mount, strut brace, camber strut tops, high mount turbo, glove over brake master cylinder.

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.


Cleaning up severed bars during Drift meet.

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.


S13 Silvia - tyre stretched over a wide rim, increasing sidewall rigidity. The rim has a high positive offset to increase track.

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. 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 tyres 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. However these tires are generally not available to the public, and only to drift racing teams at the moment.

Drifting in popular culture

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.

Manga and Anime

A De Lorean DMC-12 drifting in the game Gran Turismo 4. Many videogames and simulations include the physics necessary to simulate drifting.

Video Games


A Top Gear skit which Richard Hammond is taught how to drift by Yasuyuki Kazama.
  • The presentors 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.


  • 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 takes place in major Japanese cities, as depicted loosely in the feature, 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.


  • Best Motoring International 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.

See also

External links

Official Links

Event Coordinators

  • IDC Racing International Drift Racing Championship Series
  • US Drift - U.S.Drift was the first United States drifting organization.
  • DriftNation Inc. - Since 2002 DriftNation is the first and only drifting organization in Canada
  • Formula Drift - Major Drift events since 2003
  • PRODRIFT Prodrift - Worldwide Drift Event Organisers
  • D1GP - Founded by Daijiro Inada and Keiichi Tsuchiya in 2001
  • Lookout Drift - Mid-Atlantic Drift Events
  • PFD - Polish Federation of Drift (Polska Federacja Driftingu) created by Maciej Polody in 2005



Grassroots Sites