I crashed my first car (1.1 Ford Fiesta). Quite spectacularly really, it ended up on its roof at the side of the road. Luckily the only injury I sustained was a slight shoulder ache from forgetting about physics when undoing my seatbelt. If I’m honest I ignored physics throughout the whole experience. I had gone into a corner far too quickly for the slippery (arguably icy) conditions, felt the front slip and lifted off, the back of the car started to come round so I braked, as you would if you believed you were going to crash. To my surprise this only made things worse. There was my first lesson on ‘lift off oversteer’ and the weight shift of a car.
Fast forward 8 years to today and I am technically a professional driver. I have a degree in Motorsport engineering and since I was 19 I have taught drifting at many different schools and track driving at others. I’ve worked for manufacturers, I have my race licence (although it’s rather dusty and unused) and I have owned too many rear wheel drive Japanese cars. I have done more donuts than is ever necessary and I reckon I’ve taught over 1000 people some sort of car control. Hopefully this qualifies me to give some sort of advice.
Whatever gets the idea of drifting into your mind, whether you’re like me and wanted to avoid crashing again, or you have watched Tokyo Drift way too many times and now think “That looks easy” here are some warnings before you dive into the strange and dark world of (UK) drifting.
1. You might not like it
Drifting isn’t for everyone. It’s a strange and unnatural urge to keep a car out of shape and there is nothing wrong with not enjoying it. There is also a high possibility it will make you feel sick. What I’m saying is please try before you buy. There are some decent schools out there that for £60 will get you a taster of what it’s like. Compare £60 vs what you’d spend on a car, drift day, tyres, fuel, potential damage and cable ties and it’s a small price to pay to see if you want to dive in. Please do not expect to be sat in a 600bhp competition drift car doing 100mph entries at these drift schools. You have to start with the basics.
2. It’s expensive but not excessive
The 200sx S13 is cool, it’s like a secondary poster boy for drifting after the AE86, but like the AE86, they cost a fortune. You get no more bonus points for learning in something expensive than you do for learning in something cheap. There is no reason you can’t get something perfectly capable for drifting for under £1000. Also worth taking into account that drifting track time is often cheaper than standard ‘grip’ track time but you will tend to spend a little more on tyres and general wear and tear on the car.
3. It’s dirty and messy
Drifting hasn’t yet gained the glamour of F1. I know Formula Drift shows Ryan Tuerck and Chris Forsberg (if you’re not sure who they are; please use the internet) surrounded by pretty women and driving clean drift cars but unfortunately that’s not what Santa Pod looks like. It’s probably wet, it’s probably cold and you are more than likely going to have to get on your knees or lay under the car at some point. Tyre delamination or blowouts will leave black marks all up your rear arches, your hands will be black from fixing things and the bits of rubber and tyre smoke will stay with you for a day or so after each drift day.
4. There are limited tracks that allow it in the UK
Be prepared to get up way before anyone should be awake and travel. Drifting is still growing and tracks are still reluctant to allow such a noisy event. The Driftworks forum keeps pretty on top of events in the UK but don’t be surprised if you have to travel for a few hours. FYI Santa Pod is probably the closest to London and a very good place to learn.
5. It’s worth it
I’m going to sound like a line from Tokyo drift but honestly when you are drifting, or even when you see your friends linking corners or making huge amounts of smoke, it’s cool, undeniably cool, it feels cool and it looks cool and it’s quite difficult not to smile when you nail it.
There are lots of things I have had to miss out but I feel those are the 5 most important things. I’d really appreciate it if you posted in the comments any you’d like to add and I can pop the best ones in the next post. In the next post I will go into what you should be driving, and what modifications that car will need.