There’s a fantastic quote by Hunter S Thompson that goes, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!
In the past 25-or-so-years the practice of sliding a rear-wheel-drive car around a set course has gone from illegal night time pursuit in the mountains of Japan to a globally-recognised professional sport.
The international phenomenon that is drifting has truly conquered planet earth. Now a competitive sport in its own right, one that’s hotly contested from every corner of the world – never more so than in the USA, Japan, Ireland, UK and even Sweden and Norway, drifting has a unique and varied heritage that cements it as arguably the most exciting and burgeoning competitive form of accessible motorsport for decades. It’s not just about hooliganism either, there are rules and regs just like any competitive sport – line, angle, smoke, speed, distance, proximity, wall rubbing – they all play a part in assessing the style and technical beauty of how well a drift is executed. Sure, some may see it as being a slightly pointless waste of old dinosaurs, but others build competition specific cars to maximise the ease with which they’ll slide sideways consistently and predictably with six figure builds of mind-bending fabrication perfection not uncommon.
Whether it’s a £1000 BMW, Mazda MX5 or Nissan 200SX as an introductory car, or a £100,000+ custom built spaceframe chassis race car with a twin turbo Chevy LS series V8 engine, the success of drifting is easy to explain – it’s really exciting and involves loads of tyre smoke. So, how did it all begin?
Anybody who has seen the Manga cartoon / feature film Initial D will no doubt trace the roots of drifting back to Japan as a cultural phenomenon, in particular the empty night time roads surrounding Mount Fuji and Mount Akina. Touge – or mountain pass driving, plays an incredibly important part in the development of controlled oversteer due to all of the switchbacks and hairpins that feature geographically. However, drivers from all over the planet had been oversteering with a degree of control for many years prior to the All Japan Touring Car Championship races where ‘drifting’ became almost compulsory due to the power and tyre technology that was prominent in the 1970’s.
The famous motorcyclist turned driver, Kunimitsu Takahashi, is widely regarded as the foremost creator of drifting techniques in the 1970s. Takahashi is a former professional motorcycle and car racing driver and was in fact the first Japanese racer to win a motorcycle Grand prix, back in Germany in 1961. Following a bad injury sustained in a crash during the 1962 Isle of Man TT, he changed disciplines and started racing cars in 1965. His Nissan Skyline KPGB10 propelled him to regular podium finishes thanks to his unique style. To combat the grip inadequacies of the bias ply racing tyres at the time, Takahasi would approach bends at speed in his ‘Hakosuka’ (Nissan Skyline) coaxing the car into a slide before the apex of the corner, before powering out onto the straights, holding a high exit speed. His mastery of the technique in all conditions saw him on the top of the podium time after time, with competitors unable to match his speed through the corners.
Just as stock car and NASCAR evolved from Illegal activities, drifting follows a similar path. When illegal street racers (Hashiriya) started copying the racetrack antics in order to get the fastest corner entry and exit speeds, it became clear that there was time to be gained from ‘drifting’ a bend rather adopting the conventionally quicker and cleaner approach. Only now that tyre technology has advanced have traditional racing lines and apex hugging managed to claw back the advantage of, “slow in, fast out.”
The ‘Drift King’ and race car driver, Keiichi Tsuchiya, who acted a key consultant for both the Initial D Manga animation and the later Fast and Furious: Toyko Drift feature film, is also considered to be a pioneer of the sport, not least because of the legendary Drift Pluspy video in which he expertly skids a Hachi-Roku (86) around Mount Fuji. He subsequently lost his racing license as a result of the video, but drifting folklore has made him legendary. So, in a nutshell it’s safe to say that Japan is the official birthplace of drifting – its legacy reaching far and wide nowadays.
When Japanese tuning magazine Carboy hosted the first ever drift competition in 1986, and again in 1989, it was clear that the movement from the underground of the Touge racer was starting to infiltrate the mainstream. While it may have started in the mountains, it soon became clear that the racetrack had a heavy influence upon elimination tsuiso (twin run), the side-by-side format that now symbolises competitive drifting all over the world.
You only need look to Formula Drift in the States, The BDC (British Drift Championship), the Irish Drift Championship, Power Drift in Norway or even the Swedish Drift championship and it’s clear to the see that skidding has taken over. And that’s just the official drift championships that spring to mind. At oval track and speedway tracks all over the UK every weekend you’ll find a selection of aspiring drivers testing out their home brew machines. Unlike many other forms of motorsport, it’s a relatively easy pursuit to get into with an easily accessible car. Add some height adjustable coilovers, a cheap eBay sourced lock extension kit, a race seat and maybe even welded rear differential with some stretched tyres and a hefty dose of camber dialled in, and it’s very easy to start drifting for anything from as little as £2000 upwards.
From the humble and illegal night time origins of the mountains of Japan to the globally recognised professional sport that it has become, Drifting is here to stay and initial talent and sacrifices will always be the first stepping stone to unlocking the latest technology, power and sponsorship deals that lead to bigger and better things.
Just look to the likes of Ken Block and the popularity of shows like Gatebil in Norway, not forgetting the social media dominance of Youtube channels like Hoonigan to see that this is no passing automotive fad. We’d also just like to throw in a cheeky little mention that Autoglym Intensive Tar Remover is the perfect tool for removing spent rubber from bodywork following a life at the limit.
So, get out there, get a feel for ‘the snap’ and keep the momentum going. Perfect steering feel and smooth throttle inputs are merely a few practice sessions away, and once you’ve cracked it perhaps you’ll be the next 14 year old driving sensation that is Conor Shananhan. Check him out in action for proof of his downright incredible ability for such a young man. When you’re wall rubbing, give us a shout and we might be able to help out with some Intensive Tar Remover.