How to Drift - First Lesson: Overpowering

You get in the car, fasten your seatbelt, start the engine and set off. You start to pick up speed and, quickly after your wheels start spinning, you reach a bend. Of course, you want all four wheels to have perfect traction and to negotiate the corner in a smooth manner. And this is also what automotive producers, lawmakers and... everybody wants. Want an example: the ESP, which has no other purpose in life but to keep your car from going out of control, will be mandatory in many parts of the world, starting from this year.

So, look for the ESP button, press it (the time you need to hold it like this depends on the make of your car) and then approach a corner with a big smile on your face and a heavy right foot.

Why would you do this? Because you want to drift, of course! Drifting means so much more than just going sideways, it’s art, it’s a sport... And there’s more, as this way of driving is extremely complex. There are a lot of ways to make a car drift.

Before we start, we have to mention that we are referring to rear-wheel-drive cars, as these offer pure drifting sensations.

We have to start with the acceleration-induced drift, but you can also rely on deceleration to send your car sideways. Another perfect way of initiating oversteer is by playing with the weight transfer.

Of course, now that we’ve listed the possibilities, it all seems a bit complicated, so we’ll try to make it simpler. In order to do this, we’ll focus on one of the simplest techniques, which implies abusing the throttle. We can summarize everything in one or two sentences: you enter a bend and then squash the throttle. The rear wheels will want to push the car in their direction of travel, while the front ones will beg to differ, willing to take it on their pathway.

Soon, the rear axle will be overwhelmed and your tire(s) will start spinning. The “s” in the brackets refers to the existence of a limited slip differential (LSD), which would allow your car to spin both rear wheels, not just one. Yes, spinning more wheels is better, because if you only lose traction on the inner wheel you’ll be more likely to lose control altogether, as the car will spin more violently. But maybe we’ll talk about this some other time.

Let’s forget everything else and imagine that you are in a (remember, RWD) car here, now and you are preparing to tackle a corner. The thing that makes this so easy is that you don’t have to approach the bend with high speed, so your chances of crashing the car in case you do it wrong are pretty low.

You have to brake in order to adjust your speed for the corner entry. It is preferably to use the heel and toe downshifting technique (you can learn about this here). When you enter the corner you’ll abandon the brake pedal and start steering.

Once you feel exactly how the car behaves, you can put the pedal to the metal for a short period of time. The period and amount of throttle depends on how many horses are assaulting the rear wheels.

As the back end starts to step out, you have to countersteer, in order for the vehicle to go around the corner sideways.

And this is where the delicate part begins. You’ll have to balance the two aforementioned inputs (the throttle and the steering), in order to keep the car sliding. Every situation is different, as there are a lot of variables in the equations, such as the car, the tires, the surface, the corner’s exact specification and the temperature.

In case you give it too much power, don’t try to correct this by taking your foot off the gas, as such a violent maneuver will upset the balance of the car and you will almost certainly spin in a cloud of tire smoke.

To make the drift even more spectacular, you can keep playing the game for a short while even after you’re out of the corner by simply overpowering the rear wheels and correcting the move with the steering wheel. Jus’t don’t overdo it, as you could spoil an otherwise perfect drift by a late tete-a-queque.

Like we said, this technique can be used at almost any speed and the drift can be initiated at any time during the corner, so you have plenty of ways to learn.

However, many automotive producers play with suspension setups in order to prevent cars from oversteering, which means that in some cases you can follow the aforementioned steps and get nothing but understeer. The best way to avoid this is to use a slippery surface. Don’t worry, you don’t have to wait until the cold season, rain will also do the trick.

You know we couldn’t write this without advising you not to try it at home on public roads. Race tracks and abandoned spaces are great places to play with your car, so please take the time to find one before you start burning rubber.

Oh, and don’t worry, you don’t need a lot of power to drift. Yes, more muscle will make it simpler (up to a point, of course), but once you go over 100 and something hp, you’ll be able to get things right.

Remember, There Is Life Beyond Grip!

You can also check out the next episodes of this series for more drifting techniques.
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About the author: Andrei Tutu
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In his quest to bring you the most impressive automotive creations, Andrei relies on learning as a superpower. There's quite a bit of room in the garage that is this aficionado's heart, so factory-condition classics and widebody contraptions with turbos poking through the hood can peacefully coexist.
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