Sometimes, Going Sideways Is Better
By James Wong
An instructor doing a demonstration at the background; orange car getting ready for the day’s practices at the pit at the foreground.
Drifting has yet to take off in a big way in Singapore, but the recent Formula Drift Pro-Am Series 2009 held at the Changi Exhibition Centre is an indication that the sport is finding a following here.
On the 12th of September I had the privilege to participate in a drifting course organised at the Nusajaya Circuit across the causeway at Johor, Malaysia. This was the beginner course, so novices from all walks of life were able to join in this one-day event. I’ve never had any experience in a car off the streets, let alone drift a car, so I wasn’t expecting to achieve much in just one day of practice. Little did I know that drifting was grounded by a few very basic skills that can make one drift like a professional with constant practice. By the end of the day, everybody could at least do a simple drift round a few strategically placed cones, which speaks volumes about the instructor’s capabilities as well as the relatively simplicity of the sport.
A Nissan Silvia S13 round the circuit.
Those with track experience before might find drifting a little difficult, because almost everything you learn on the track will go against what you will do in drifting. A few examples include letting the car steer itself rather than controlling it with tugs of the steering wheel; going into a corner slowly, and with the clutch disengaged, to prepare for a drift; and to pull the handbrake to do a turn. All these things will make a car go slower, not faster, around the track, but speed is of little prominence in drifting when what you want to do is go sideways. So those with precision skills taken from the track were finding some difficulty learning the drift techniques, but with familiarity and practice everyone got it in the end.
They look grubby, but they are good…
There is no secret to drifting, really. The instructors kept emphasising to become ‘one with the car’. How much you should throttle, at what angle you should pull the car towards, when you should take control of the car is all dependent on the situation and there are no fixed rules. What that meant is that a lot of free reign were given to the students, as long as the basic techniques were applied. And usually, when applied in sequence, a drift will always happen. Staying at gear 1 during the whole practice session also meant that less coordination was required of the driver as he could focus on the techniques and not worry about shifting gears.
One of the cars in action.
In the hot summer weather, the dusty circuit provided little respite but the drivers were ever-eager to hop onto the drift cars to practice their maneuvers. Although the cars were old, their internals were still sound and with some of them set up for drifting, they were more than adequate for our practices. Despite this, the breakdown rate was quite high as the cars were subject to constant abuse throughout the day.
I found difficulty in coordination, as there are quite a few steps to follow before beginning a drift. It did not come naturally as I only had a day’s practice. Also, never in my life have I ever dumped the clutch of my own car, so my mechanical sympathy was put to the test when I was made to dump the clutch at least a dozen times to get the techniques right. Still, I often rode my foot on the clutch, for fear that the car would blow, but then I realised that the cars can take a lot more than I imagined.
Towards the end of the course, everybody was to demonstrate their best drifting styles in a 2 minute time limit and winners were awarded at the end with a prize. Every single student showed the techniques that they took away from the day session, and I found myself doing a rather decent drift too.
Where’s to go from here? Professional drifting as a sport is a growing entity, and all of us who participated in the course were encouraged to get our own drift cars to pave our way to being a professional. I definitely see the potential in many of us, and perhaps even some of us might even go on to represent the country in drifting championships. For me, well, I am still on the lookout for the perfect drift car, and it hasn’t presented itself to me yet. Who knows, with some nudging and a slip of the conscious overprotective mind, I could just find myself taking this up more seriously.
Drift 101 Class of September 2009.
Is there any drift culture in your country? Do you have any experience in drifting, or would you like to learn?
I was surprised at how quickly I took to it, and how much I liked it. Perhaps some readers have had a similar experience with drifting – I’d be interested in hearing from you if that’s the case.
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