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CATEGORIES (articles) > Motor Sport > Terminology > Drifting technique in motorsport

Drifting technique in motorsport

Drifting refers to the difference in slip angle between the front and rear tires of a car. When the rear wheels are slipping at a greater angle than the front wheels, the car is drifting, or oversteering. The rear end of the car appears to chase the front end around a turn, the driver utilizes both front tires and the rear tires to control the actual direction of the car. More throttle induces more rear wheel slip angle and the rear of the car wants to overtake the front. The goal is for the driver to achieve steering lock and use the throttle to fine tune the car's angle and direction.


Drifting is a driving style distinguished by oversteering into and completely through the corners. This is usually done with FR layout vehicles, as the power and weight distibution characteristics on these cars are ideal for the maneuver. Drifting may be done informally for fun, in a formal setting where the goal is a mix of fun and building skills for improved car control, or in competitive motorsports. Competitive drifting is a motorsport rated on style, rather than speed around a track or position in a group of cars. Overall performance is judged on four factors: cornering angle, line, speed and excitement/style (tire smoke is one way of judging style).

Drifting is not the fastest way around a racetrack. Drifting is useful in rallying because it is a quick way to point the car in the direction it will be facing at the end of the corner, but in circuit racing is slower than conventional techniques. The only time drifting is faster in non-rally settings is in a situation often found in gymkhana. This is where the corners are so tight, it is actually faster to slide around them than drive conventionally.


Many attribute the return of drifting as a competitive sport to mountain-road racers of rural Japan. Informal challenges on back mountain roads (called Touge pronounced "Toh-gey") eventually evolved into a heavily funded and advertised competitive events, sanctioned by organizations and held on private tracks. Drifting began in the United States in 1996 with an event at Willow Springs racetrack in California hosted by the magazine Option, but it did not become popular until around 2002, and has since exploded into a massively popular form of motorsport. Japanese drifters are still considered to be at the cutting edge of technique and car development, but their American counterparts are quickly catching up.

As rumor has it, Keiichi Tsuchiya was in a car race, and was dead last. He decided to swing the car around the corners, shocking and amazing the crowd. When accessed later for comment, Tsuchiya called it "drifting." While this is not the origin, it is probably where it obtained its name and introduction. In 1977 Keiichi began his racing career driving many different cars in amateur racing series events. Racing these underpowered cars was difficult but again a great learning experience. Later Keiichi was picked up to drive the ADVAN sponsored Toyota AE86/Sprinter Trueno (JDM Corolla GT-S). During many races on a downhill corner he would drift the car and carry a better corner speed than his competitors. This technique is what made him the Drift King, not, as most believe, that he was first in the drift scene.

Many of the techniques used today in drifting were developed by rally drivers competing on dirt, gravel and snow. On such surfaces, the fastest way to take a corner is generally by sliding.


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 in Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, drivers are able to keep their cars sliding for extended periods of time, often through several turns. 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 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 falling aero. It's based on how "cool" everything looks. Final rounds of competition often include tandem drift runs nicknamed "tsuiso" (chase-run) in Japanese, where one car follows another through the course, attempting to keep up with or even pass the car in front. In the tsuiso rounds, it doesn't matter if the racing line is wrong; it matters who has the most exciting drift. Normally, the leading car usually produces a max-angle, but still close off the inside a little to prevent passing. The chasing car usually drifts with less angle, but very close to the lead car. But a car does not even have to keep up, and in fact in some cases a car that was left behind on the straight produces a beautiful drift, winning him that round. A spin, understeer, or collision results in a disqualification of the offending party.

To make judging less ambiguous, the DriftBox has been introduced, which uses GPS to measure the angle, speed and g-force during a run. This takes out the guessing element when it comes to judging the angle and speed of the drift.


Any rear-wheel-drive car can be drifted (with those having a limited-slip differential preferred), and some all-wheel-drive cars can also drift, often with less angle, but higher speed. Popular competition cars in the US include the Nissan 240SX (the U.S. and Canada version of the Japanese Nissan Silvia/180SX), Nissan 350Z, Toyota Corolla GT-S, Mazda RX-7 and Honda S2000. Recently domestic favorites have also been thrown into the mix, such as the Ford Mustang, Pontiac GTO and Dodge Viper. In Japan, the top drift machines are the S13, S14, and S15 generations of the Nissan Silvia/180SX, Toyota AE86 Sprinter Trueno and Corolla Levin, Nissan Skyline (RWD versions, the ER34 4-door sedan and the previous generation of HCR32), Mazda RX-7 FC and FD, Toyota Altezza, Toyota Aristo, Nissan Z33, Fairlady Z(350Z), Nissan Cefiro, Nissan Laurel, Toyota Soarer, and the aforementioned vehicles.

There is some debate over whether or not front-wheel-drive (FWD) vehicles can drift. By the technical definition (rear wheels slipping at a greater angle than front wheels), they are indeed able to drift. However, many consider FWD vehicles a poor choice for drifting, as the frequent use of the emergency brake (necessary to drift FWD cars) slows them down and makes them harder to control. Also since they use their front tires for both steering and power, the car loses control after a single slide, while RWD cars can drift through consecutive corners. In this way, the definition of drifting is frequently challenged to say that FWD cars cannot drift, only powerslide. However, some drifters such as Kyle Arai or Keisuke Haketeyama use EF Civics to drift, and succeed in doing so, sometimes besting out their RWD opponents.

AWD vehicles, such as the Subaru Impreza WRX STi, and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution drift at a much different angle and are usually induced by power-over. 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 like the Impreza and the Lancer are being converted to only use the rear wheels so as to become a RWD car that can compete in drift competitions that prohibit AWD cars.


Many parts are available from aftermarket manufacturers that are specifically designed to modify a car for drifting. Almost all competitors take advantage of these products to enhance the suspension, driveline, chassis and body of their cars.

The most important drifting competition in the world is the Autobacs D1 Grand Prix, which originated in the Japan Ebisu South Circuit. Once confined to Japan, the D1 Grand Prix now holds one points match and one Japan vs USA exhibition match at Irwindale Speedway in California, and an exhibition event at Silverstone Circuit, and plans to enter other markets including other parts of Asia. The magazine Option and its video department V-Option decided to create the D1 Grand Prix to catch and expand the drifting craze. Led by CEO Daijiro Inada (稲田大二郎), they strive for performance. In 2006, the D1 Corporation will bring out a national series in the United Kingdom, with the chance to bring out the top five drivers to compete in either the United States or Japan.

In the United States, the best known league is Formula D.

The top drifting drivers include (first name, last name, nickname, Japanese name, team & car):

nb, for a list D1 Grand Prix and Formula D drivers and championship winners, see separate entry Keiichi Tsuchiya, a legend in the drifting world, is considered the father of drifting. Known popularly as the "Drift King" (Dorikin), he is the official chief judge in the D1 Grand Prix Series. Manabu Suzuki "Mana P" (鈴木 学) assists in announcing. Suzuki is well known for working with Option and in car design, even working on the paint scheme and decals for Monkichi's RS-R Supra.

Drifting techniques

There are many different ways to drift a car, including: (NOTE: ABS and TCS should be turned off before attempting to drift. These systems are not made to take into account a driver wanting the car to slide.)

  • Braking drift - This drift is performed by trail braking into a corner so that the car can "set" or shift weight to cause the rear wheels to lose traction, then controlling the drift with proper steering and gas inputs. Having brake bias can be beneficial to the drift depending on the driving style. Usually having bias on rear brakes helps to brake drift.
  • Power Over Drift - This drift performed when entering a corner at full throttle to produce heavy oversteer through the turn. It is the most typical drifting technique for AWD cars (predominantly RWD). Keiichi Tsuchiya has been regarded as saying he used this technique when he was too scared to drift at certain corners when he was younger. However the chance of this technique leading to a burn-out instead of a drift is possible if executed at a bad angle.
  • Inertia (Feint) Drift - This is done by rocking the car towards the outside of a turn and then using the inertia of the car to swing it back to the desired drifting line. By going away from the corner, and turning back in hard, you are coming from a much sharper angle. Somtimes the brake will be applied while rocking the car towards the outside to give a better weight transfer; hence creating an even sharper turn. It has been said by many pro-drifters that this is one of the hardest techniques to master as has a high spin-out factor.
  • ""Lift Off"" - At very high speeds, by letting your foot off of the accelerator while cornering, certain cars with very neutral handling, such as the MX-5 or S14, will begin to slide, simply from the drop in torque and engine braking. The drift is controlled afterwards by steering inputs from the driver and light pedal work.
  • Handbrake/ebrake Drift - This technique is pretty straightforward; pull the handbrake to induce rear traction loss and balance drift through steering and throttle play. Some people debate the fact that if using the handbrake creates an actual drift, or just a power slide, but ultimately, using the e-brake is no different than any other technique for starting drifts. This is generally the main technique to perform a controlled drift in a FWD vehicle. This is one the first techniques beginners will use as their cars are not powerful enough to lose traction using other techniques. Also this technique is used heavily in drift competitions to drift big corners.
  • Dirt Drop Drift - This is done by dropping the rear tires off the road into the dirt to maintain or gain drift angle without losing power or speed and to set up for the next turn. Only permissible on roads without barriers and lined with dirt or other materials which to lose traction. This is commonly done in WRC rallying.
  • 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. It causes the rear wheels to slip and enables the driver to induce oversteer.
  • Choku Dori - This is used while drifting on straightaways. The driver of the car sways the car side to side while the car is in a drift, which looks impressive. It can be initiated through all the above techniques.
  • Changing Side Swing - This technique is used extensively in the Japanese D1 competition and is very similar to inertia (Feint) drift. It is often done on the first entry drift corner, which is often a long double apex turn just before a very fast straight-way. If the straight-way before that double apex is of a downhill orientation, the driver keeps driving on side of the track that is closetest to the corner. Then with correct timing in mind, the driver abruptly changes the car onto the other side. This movement has the car momentum to be altered causing the rear wheels to lose traction. The car is in a drift motion right now. Then the drift is carried over into the corner and through it.
  • Dynamic Drift - This technique is similar to the Choku Dori. It employs all forms of the above techniques - and not restricted to only one - in combinations to accomplish the desired drift movement.

Automobile Configuration

The suspension in a drift car is very tight and unforgiving -- even the chassis is tightened with roll cages and strut braces. Die-hard drifting enthusiasts also alter the suspension geometry to enable the car to slide better. As with everything, modification of the body and suspension components is a trade-off. Hard suspension in the front and a soft suspension in the back is easiest for first timers, but a handicap at higher levels. Most cars use an integrated coilover/shock (MacPherson strut) combination called shakocho. This allows for the height of the car to be adjusted. Better shakocho will be what the Japanese call "full-tap". This means the bottom of the strut is also a coil over, so you can change the height of the car from the bottom, and the height of the spring with the top. Usually a driver wants to have full stroke on his shocks, so he will raise the spring to its highest point. There is no perfect height setting or spring/shock combo for any car, but there are perfect setups for particular drivers. Many suspension manufacturers, such as Kei Office, APEX'i, Tein, JIC Magic, and HKS, offer suspension tuned specifically for drifting, allowing many people to enter the sport competitively.

One common trend that used to be popular in Japan was "Oni-can." In English, it means Demon Camber. It involves setting the suspension with obscene amounts of negative camber. The car will be very easy to slide and lose grip, but stability, grip, and overall ability to control the car will be compromised. As such, this setting is very dangerous, and is not recommended.

The differentials are limited-slip differentials (LSD), which are divided into clutch-type differentials and viscous Limited-Slip Differentials (VLSD), not the standard open differential. On an open differential, the automatic transfer of power to the spinning wheel causes the car to the inside wheel spinning out of control, and the other spinning at the actual speed of the car. A LSD allows the two wheels connected to the LSD to spin in a certain speed range, to give power to both wheels through a turn, allowing a car in a drift to use both wheels for power in a drift. LSD's are separated in three categories, 1 Way, 1.5 Way, and 2 way. A 1-way LSD means it only locks the differential under acceleration, while a 2-way LSD locks them under acceleration and deceleration. A 1.5 way LSD allows locking under both acceleration and deceleration, but it is weaker than a 2-way under deceleration. It is common to use a 2-way LSD for drift cars however 1-way and 1.5-way LSD can be used.

A cheaper alternative to a LSD is to weld a differential. This allows for no difference of speed between the left and right wheels the differential is attached to, and may hop and screech during low speed parking maneuvers. Welded differentials may have a low longevity due to poor welding, however a decently welded differential should be fairly reliable. The welded differential aids in drifting because it allows both of the wheels to spin in a corner, instead of just the inside wheel. Many people claim they like welded differentials better than LSDs, however it is up to personal preference. Most professional drifters use LSDs.

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 -- as they tend to end up in a cloud of smoke. As a driver gets better, she 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 hindrance for high-speed drifts.

In addition, for the typical "drift car look," the tires are stretched over a wide rim. This is known as a "hipari" tire. For example, 205 50/16 tyres may be fitted to an 8" rim, or 215 45/17 to a 9" rim; this allows for a bigger, wider, "cooler looking" wheel to be used. The driver is essentially still racing on a tire meant for a 7.5" or 8" wheel, but has the "cool wide look." The only real performance benefit of stretching tires on the wheel, is that it lowers the overall height of the sidewall and can add a feeling of firmness to turning and decrease body roll associated to a weak sidewall. *edit* actually tyre stretch is used to stop sidewall flex specially in high speed drift on change of direction. giving a much smoother transition and less weight transfer

The clutches on these cars tend to be very tough ceramic brass button or multiple-plate varieties. This is because a lot of drifters use the clutch to commence the wheel spins (and hence the drift) by popping the clutch at high engine RPMs. At the D1 level, most of the drifters who do not drive lightweight Hachi Rokus do not use "Clutch Kick" to initiate a drift. Most of the higher powered/better sponsored cars use the E-brake to initiate the drift. Some cars, like the HKS S15, only need to utilize their suspension geometry to start a drift.

Engine power does not need to be high, and in fact if you have too much power e.g. more than 500 hp (400 kW), the car can be very hard to handle/drift. Some drivers have 600 hp (450 kW) cars, and essentially perform long burnouts. Don't be fooled, drifting still retains the elements of speed and angle. Intercooler efficiency is reduced because of the angle of the car which reduces the air that passes through them. Rear spoilers usually are useful only in small tight tracks.

List of drifting championships all over the world

Includes the year inauguration and country of origin

D1 IRL - Eire - The Elite drifting championship in the World
D1 Grand Prix - 2000 - Japan
Formula D - 2004 - United States
Drift Battle - Australia
D1NZ - 2003 - New Zealand
U.S.Drift - 2002 - United States
Eurodrift Series - UK & Europe
D1 National Series Great Britain - 2006
Drift Nationals - 2003 - Australia
R3 Street Shoot-Out - Malaysia


  • For Japanese drivers to reach D1, they must first pass through Option's feeder, "Ikaten." This is where amateurs prove themselves to be part of D1. If they qualify, they receive a "D1 license," which enables them to enter the Qualifying rounds. Countries outside of Japan have the luxury of only going through a small "Driver's Search" to get a D1 license.
  • Kumakubo owns Ebisu circuit, which is why D1 originated from there, and is also why Kuma is so good at tsuiso rounds.
  • You may have noticed on Kumakubo's hood, the words "Big X." Big X is a outdoor show that combines drifting tricks, motocross, and other extreme sports featuring the experts from each field.
  • Big X's drifting squad is called Drift Xtreme, which the top drivers of D1 are invited to join once they are well known. You can see the Drift Xtreme decal on the featured D1 driver's cars. These include, but are not limited to: Nobushige Kumakubo, Nomura Ken, Kazama Yasuyuki, Miki Ryuji, Kazuhiro Tanaka, and Yuki "DIRT" Izumida.
  • Taniguchi Nobuteru has gone through four cars with HKS for D1, the RS1 Hyper Silvia S15 (Crashed by Keiichi Tsuchiya), and two RS2 Hyper Silvia S15s (One from HKS Power Japan, and the other from HKS Europe), and finally the Genki RP Altezza, which was designed with no experimental/prototype HKS parts, for the purpose that a private drifter could copy the car.
  • Many of the D1 Drivers are large celebrities in Japan and in the US, and also usually have grip careers in the Super GT or Super Taikyu races. Manabu Orido and Nobuteru Taniguchi are examples, and Keiichi Tsuchiya serves as a Super GT team manager.
  • For the Super GT, Manubu Orido drives the GT500 class Advan Eclipse Supra. Nobuteru Taniguchi drives the GT300 class WEDSSPORT Celica. Both are on the same team in the Super Taikyu and drive a Porsche GT3. Keiichi Tsuchiya used to drive the Arta NSX for the GT500 class, but now manages the Super Autobacs Garaiya in GT300.
  • Masao Suenaga, the RE Amemiya driver, was personally chosen by Isami Amemiya to drive the sky blue FD. He was personally taught by Kumakubo, as well as his brother, Naoto Suenaga, who also has a D1 license.
  • Many people ask why the designs/vinyls are reversed on one side of the car. This has nothing to do with ease of manufacture or rules, it is merely a stylistic choice.
  • Some mountain passes, like Mt. Haruna (Mt. Akina), have added large speed bumps to the road. These "drift bumps" are placed to prevent racing on the mountains. They are usually placed at the entrance and exit of corners, like the five sequential hairpins on Haruna. As of late, many precautions have been taken, such as the drift bumps, to deter street racing. This includes extending the guardrails to prevent the infamous jumps on Irohazaka Pass. Large road reflectors, nicknamed "Cat's eyes" are placed in the middle of the road to prevent drifting, as these reflectors are larger enough to tear the oil pan off of a lowered vehicle. Plastic poles are also placed in the middle of the lanes to deter drifting, as Japanese roads are narrow. These poles are frequently removed by drifters, as they interfere with the required line of the road.

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