Drifting (motorsport)

A Toyota Supra in drifting exhibition in Commerce, Georgia

Drifting refers to a driving technique and to a motorsport where the driver intentionally over steers, causing loss of traction in the rear wheels through turns, while maintaining vehicle control and a high exit speed. A car is drifting when the rear slip angle is greater than the front slip angle prior to the corner apex, and the front wheels are pointing in the opposite direction to the turn (e.g. car is turning left, wheels are pointed right or vice versa), and the driver is controlling these factors. As a motor sport, professional drifting competitions are held worldwide. Drift challenges drivers to navigate a course in a sustained sideslip by exploiting coupled nonlinearities in the tire force response.[1]



Racing Origin

Drifting as a driving technique is documented as early as the 1930s as being used by drivers of the Grand Prix cars of the day. At least one piece of extant period footage used to promote the sale of a rare Auto Union D-Type racer clearly depicts the driver throwing his vehicle into a controlled drift to navigate a bend in the road racing track.[2]

Japanese Adaptation

Modern drifting as a sport started out as a racing technique popular in the All Japan Touring Car Championship races. Motorcycling legend turned driver, Kunimitsu Takahashi, was the foremost creator of drifting techniques in the 1970s. He is noted 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 smoking tires. The bias ply racing tires of the 1960s-1980s lent themselves to driving styles with a high slip angle. As professional racers in Japan drove this way, so did the street racers.

Keiichi Tsuchiya (known as the Dorikin/Drift King) 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 1987, 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 organize one of the first events specifically for drifting called the D1 Grand Prix. He also drifted every turn in Tsukuba Circuit in Japan.

Western Adoption

One of the earliest recorded drift events outside Japan was in 1993, held at Willow Springs Raceway in Willow Springs, California hosted by the Japanese drifting magazine and organization Option. Inada, founder of the D1 Grand Prix in Japan, the NHRA Funny Car drag racer Kenji Okazaki and Keiichi Tsuchiya, who also gave demonstrations in a Nissan 180SX that the magazine brought over from Japan, judged the event with Rhys Millen and Bryan Norris being two of the entrants.[3] Drifting has since exploded into a massively popular form of motorsport in North America, Australasia, and Europe.

Present Day

Drifting has evolved into a competitive sport where drivers compete mostly in rear wheel drive cars, and occasionally all wheel drive cars, to earn points from judges based on various factors. At the top levels of competition, the D1 Grand Prix in Japan pioneered the sport. Others such as Formula D in the United States, and the NZ Drift Series in New Zealand have come along to further expand it into a legitimate motor sport worldwide. The drivers within these series were originally influenced by the pioneers from D1 Japan and are able to keep their cars sliding for extended periods of time, often linking several turns.

Drift competition

Drifting competitions are judged based on line, angle, speed, amount of smoke, and show factor. Line involves taking the correct line, which is usually announced beforehand by judges. The show factor is based on multiple things, such as the amount of smoke, how close the car is to the wall or designated clipping point, and the crowd's reaction.[4] Angle is the angle of a car in a drift, speed is the speed entering a turn, the speed through a turn, and the speed exiting the turn; faster is better.

Team Drift Competition in Melbourne.

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 controlling the temperature of the tires and setting the car up 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, however in some European series, this practice is frowned upon by judges and considered foul play, resulting in deduction of points.

There are typically two sessions, a qualifying/practice session, and a final session. In the qualifying sessions, referred as Tansō (単走:solo run), drifters get individual passes in front of judges (who may or may not be the final judges) to try to make the final 16. This is often on the day preceding the final.

The finals are tandem passes, referred as Tsuisō (追走:chasing race). 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 explained above, however there are some provisos such as:

  • Overtaking the lead car under drift conditions is ok if you don't inerupt the lead car's drift.
  • 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 a crowd vocally disagrees with the judge's decision.[citation needed] 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. In the event of apparently close or tied runs, crowds often demonstrate their desire for another run with chants of 'one more time'.[5]

There is some regional variation. For example in Australia, the chase car is judged on how accurately it emulates the drift of the lead car, as opposed to being judged on its own merit, this is only taken into consideration by the judges if the lead car is on the appropriate racing line. 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.[citation needed]


Drifting Toyota AE86

Usually, drift cars are light to moderate weight rear-wheel-drive coupes and sedans over a large range of power levels. In Japan and worldwide, the most common drift vehicles are the Nissan Silvia/180SX/200SX/240SX, Toyota AE86, Toyota KE70, Mazda RX-7, Mazda RX-8, Infiniti G35 Coupe, Nissan A31 Cefiro, Nissan C33 Laurel, Nissan Skyline (AWD versions, such as the GT-R, are often converted to RWD), Nissan 350Z, Toyota Altezza/Lexus IS, Toyota Chaser, Toyota Mark II, Toyota Soarer, Honda S2000, Toyota Supra, Dodge Viper SRT 10, Ford Mustang and Mazda Miata/MX-5.

There have also been AWD rally cars that have been converted to RWD, such as the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Subaru Impreza WRX STi.

Despite the export of Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) vehicles to continents outside Japan,[6] it is notable that drifters within other countries prefer to use local examples as drift cars.

A high volume of JDM imports were brought to countries such as Australia, however it is not unusual to see Australian domestic vehicles such as the Holden Commodore or Ford Falcon utilised in drifting competitions.[7]

Drifters in other countries often use local favorites, such as the Vauxhall Omega in the UK and Ireland, BMW 3 Series, BMW M3, Ford Sierra, Volvo 240, Volvo 340 (other parts of Europe), Mercedes-Benz cars, Porsche cars, and Alfa Romeo 75.

The American market enjoyed a relatively high volume of JDM cars being imported over the last decade, despite Japanese domestic vehicles being right-hand-drive only.[8] Locally-sold imports such as the Lexus SC and Nissan 240SX feature heavily in American drifting, however they are usually modified with JDM engine transplants to mirror their Japanese domestic equivalents (usually with a Toyota 1JZ-GTE/2JZ-GTE or Nissan CA18DET/SR20DET respectively).[9]

As an example, the top 15 cars in the 2003 D1GP,[10] top 10 in the 2004 D1GP,[11] and top 10 in the 2005 D1GP[12] were:

Nissan Silvia S15 drifting
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 R34 1 car 1 car 1 car
Nissan Silvia S13 2 cars
Toyota Chaser JZX100 1 car
Subaru Impreza GD (RWD) 1 car
Toyota Altezza SXE10 1 car

The Top cars in the Red Bull Drifting Championship:

Driver Make Model
Maciej Rajca BMW BMW M3
Vaughn Gittin JR. Ford Mustang
Tanner Foust Scion tC
Justin Pawlak Mazda RX7
Issac Yakamoto Infiniti Q45
Hiro Sumida Lexus IS350
Casper Canul Nissan 240SX
Ken Gushi Nissan Silvia 240sx S13
Kevin Huynh Mopar Viper SRT10
Dai Yoshihara Lexus IS350
Calvin Wan Infiniti G35
Rhys Millen Hyundai Genesis Coupe V6
Vanessa Ozawa Dodge Magnum SRT8
James Huynh Toyota Chaser
Robbie Nishida Nissan 350Z
Sam Hubinette Dodge Charger
Chris Forsberg Nissan 350Z
Ross Petty Nissan Nissan Silvia
Michael Essa BMW 350R M V10
Nathan Jones BMW M3

AWD vehicles, such as the Nissan Skyline GTR, Subaru Impreza WRX STi, and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution can drift but usually need to be converted to RWD. In D1 Grand Prix, these cars are modified to RWD specification.

Drift tuning

Drive train

A proper mechanical limited slip differential (LSD) is almost considered essential for drifting. Attempting to drift with an open or viscous differential in a sustained slide generally yields relatively less impressive results. All other modifications are secondary to the LSD.[13] Two popular LSD brands amongst drifters are OS Giken & Cusco.

The most preferred form of LSD for drifting is the clutch type, in "2-way" form, 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-minded drifters may use a welded differential, where the side gears are welded to give the same effect as a spool. This makes it easier to break rear traction because it reduces maximum traction in all situations except traveling in a straight line. Welded differentials have an inherent risk involved, due to the tremendous amounts of internal stress the welds may fail and the differential completely locks up leaving the rear wheels immobilized. Helical torque sensing types such as the Torsen or Quaife (available on cars in certain stock trims such as S15, FD3S, MX-5, JZA8x, UZZ3x) differentials are also adequate.

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 or aluminum 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. 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 to make gear selection easier/faster, while sequential shift lever adapters can be used to make shifts easier without increasing shift time.


The suspension setup on a drift car tends to be set up similar to a road racing car.

High spring rates are used for more predictable weight transfers. Stiff Sway bars are used to reduce lateral body motion, and to fine tune inside/outside wheel loading. Adjustable dampers are used to tune transient responses, particularly for the rear for fine tuning drift transitions from side to side. Adjustable suspension links are commonly used to adjust camber, toe, and caster for better entry response, lateral grip, and stability.

Chinese and Taiwanese manufactured suspension components are popular in contemporary drifting, mainly due to their afforability compared to more bespoke products from Europe and Japan. Although high end suspension is still popular at competition level drifting, there are numerous competitors using entry level coilover suspension with success.


Because of the large centripetal force encountered during drifting, drivers find it preferable to be retained firmly by a bucket seat, and 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 caster 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. Many drivers make use of additional gauges to monitor such things as boost levels, oil, intake and coolant temperatures.


S13 Silvia bay with modifications for drifting.

Competitive level drift cars run anything from turbo charged high HP 4 cylinder engines, to big displacement V10 engines producing anywhere between 400-850HP, even though peak HP figures isn't necessarily beneficial. Larger displacement engines are typically in favor. These engines can be tuned in a manner where peak HP is reduced in order to have a wider torque band for easier throttling in any circumstance.


Steering angle and geometry is often modified to increased steering angle so that it is possible for the car to achieve greater drift angle and aiding in spin recovery. Modified steering racks/tierods, and revised steering knuckles that effect ackerman angle are common. With the combination of well set up suspension and tire selection, many cars are capable of achieving a 90 degree drift without spinning out.


Cleaning up severed bumpers 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' tsuiso 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 often 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.

Due to the nature of the hobby, drift cars are typically involved in many minor accidents.


S13 Silvia - tire stretched over a wide rim, increasing sidewall rigidity. The rim has a low offset to increase track.

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 tires that are approved by them. Professional drifting has come to a point where the maximum amount of tire grip is necessary to be competitive in terms of sustaining speed, and stability in a drift.

Grassroot level Japanese cars with low horsepower quite often have different tires on the front and back. The tires with more grip are used up front and harder compounds in the rear to be able to spin the rear wheels in a higher gear while still being able to maintain a relatively moderate speed in a drift.

R/C drifting

R/C drifting refers to the act of drifting with a radio-controlled car. R/C cars are equipped with special low grip tires, usually made from PVC or ABS piping. Some manufacturers make radial drift tires that are made of actual rubber compounds. The car setup is usually changed to allow the car to drift more easily. R/C drifting is most successful on 4WD (Four wheel drive) R/C cars. Companies such as Tamiya, Yokomo, Team Associated, and Hobby Products International[14] have made drift cars and supported the hobby.[15]

Drifting in the Media


One of the key sources responsible for the international spread of drifting is the Japanese anime series Initial D, which features Takumi, a school boy who learns to drift on the Mt. Akina touge (mountain pass) when delivering tofu for his father's business. Hollywood embraced the drifting subculture in the The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, which is based solely on drifting.

Computer/Console Gaming

Drifting’s popularity in computer games extends back to early arcade racers where the techniques for games such as Sega Rally and Ridge Racer involved drifting. The technique is now considered mainstream in modern games in all their forms. In-game communities have developed in games such as Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo, made up of teams who battle in user-created tournaments.

Drifting also features heavily in the Need for Speed Franchise (notably games since Need for Speed: Underground), the Juiced franchise and in Japanese domestic console games such as Initial D: Extreme Stage (PS3), which is based solely on drifting.

Browser-based games include NZ Performance Car’s Drift Legends (the first online game to feature real racetracks, and now ported to iPhone/iPod touch[16]), and Mercedes-AMG’s Wintersport Drift Competition (the first manufacturer-backed drifting game). Drifting games for mobile devices are readily available from major manufacturers.

Corporate support behind such games demonstrates the increased value advertisers are putting on drifting’s reach into key demographics.


High Performance Imports. Volume 10, features Australian journalists from express publications, and Australian professional drifter Darren Appleton travelling to Japan, purchasing a drift vehicle (Nissan R32 GTS-T 4-door), travelling with the likes of D1 champions and entering a drift event.[17]


  1. ^ Abdulrahim, M., On the Dynamics of Automobile Drifting, University of Florida, 2006.
  2. ^ http://www.bonhams.com/cgi-bin/public.sh/pubweb/publicSite.r?sContinent=EUR&screen=autounionmovie
  3. ^ Super Street, Issue 4, December 1996
  4. ^ om een reactie te plaatsen!. "How drifting is judged". Youtube.com. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCcuUADvAfE. Retrieved 2011-08-08. 
  5. ^ Drift Mania! Inaugural D1 Grand Prix presented by Yokohama August 31, 2003, Turbo Magazine. Retrieved August 25, 2007.
  6. ^ Savage, J. (2010), "Tuner Cars", Edge Books
  7. ^ "Ford Typhoon Drifting Car - Page 2". Zercustoms.com. 2006-09-19. http://www.zercustoms.com/news/Ford-Typhoon-Drifting-Car-2.php. Retrieved 2011-08-08. 
  8. ^ Alvendia, A. (2006), "Drifting Sideways: From Japan To America", Motorbooks
  9. ^ Schuette, S “Drift Cars”, Capstone Press, 2007
  10. ^ Ellis, Ben et al. (2004). Drift Battle 1. Express Motoring Publications. p. 24. 
  11. ^ Ellis, Ben et al. (2004). Drift Battle 4. Express Motoring Publications. p. 22. 
  12. ^ Ellis, Ben et al. (2005). Drift Battle 12. Express Motoring Publications. p. 77. 
  13. ^ Ellis, Ben et al. (2004). Drift Battle 1. Express Motoring Publications. pp. 53–56. "It might surprise some people to see this listed first, but a proper mechanical limited-slip diff is absolutely essential for drift." 
  14. ^ HPI R/C Drift Videos and Guide to R/C drifting
  15. ^ "1/10 R/C Nismo Coppermix Silvia (TT-01D) Drift Spec". Tamiya.com. 2007-03-08. http://www.tamiya.com/english/products/58386silvia_tt01d/index.htm. Retrieved 2011-08-08. 
  16. ^ "Online games, technology news and reviews | » Drift Legends v2 drifting game released on iTunes". Tone.co.nz. 2011-02-09. http://www.tone.co.nz/technology-news-4900/drift-legends-v2-drifting-game-released-on-itunes. Retrieved 2011-08-08. 
  17. ^ Ellis, Ben et al. (2008), High Performance Imports volume 10 (DVD), Express Motoring Publications

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