What Is Drifting?

What Is Drifting?


This is an introductory article to what Drifting is in terms of the action and motorsport.

I could get into specifics with everything but I will try and keep it fairly simple.

In the most watered down way possible, Drifting is the art of controlling an out of control vehicle. You force your car to loose traction to oversteer (what happens when the rear end of your car comes out from behind you) and then you try and maintain your slide by counter-steering (steering the opposite direction of your turn).


There are multiple ways to break loose the rear of the vehicle, whether it be by locking up the rear tires for a second using an emergency brake, pushing in the clutch and releasing it with throttle to spin the rear tires, or by using the vehicle’s weight and inertia by turning away from your corner and flicking it back over.

In case you haven’t caught it yet, you need a rear wheel drive vehicle to perform a drift. All wheel drive vehicles can perform a drift but most people on the internet will argue it’s a power slide and not an actual drift. Front wheel drive vehicles pulling the emergency brake and dragging your rear tires around is not considered drifting. However there’s a driver (probably a few now) in Japan who does this very well to the point it mimics drifting in a rear wheel drive vehicle.


Speaking of Japan, this is where this motorsport originated. In the mountainous twisty roads, and was usually done in the form of a head to head race known as a Touge race. This eventually ended up translating to a one car leads and the other follows set up (by the nature of a race this always happens) that is basically what we have adopted as a professional drifting setup today.

What went from being an illegal race out in the middle of the night has now become a sanctioned motorsport event. Illegal stuff still and always will happen but just like NASCAR, society has found a way to make bank off of something.


Then the United States starts a competitive sport for drifting called Formula Drift. Because of the internet and how awesome drifting just looks this explodes and now it has separate factions for Canada and Japan. There were different drifting events in Japan and Europe before FD but FD has taken a hold in a big American way over here. In Quebec and Ontario for awhile we only had DMCC: Drift Mania Canadian Championships. It has for the last few years been a Quebec only event but this year FD Canada came to our home in Ontario.


My automotive site has been lucky to been involved with Formula Drift Canada since it’s birth but to have an event that was only a half an hour away from me versus six, was amazing. I’m stoked to see the big series grow as well as the grassroots events in Ontario.

The grassroots drift events held at Shannonville Motorsports Park called TOPP Drift will forever be lodged in my heart. It’s where I started photographing drifting and basically what started my addiction to this terrible sport. It’s where everyone gets addicted really, as it provides a relatively cheap entry fee to tear up the track in whatever car you can bring out. However if you value your money, never start drifting.

I have friends who compete in FD Canada as well as a more local drift series at CSCS (Canadian Sport Compact Series). They can tell you first hand how much money they spend on tires, repairs, gas, etc. Some have even missed events based on the fact they have no money left from the last one. But anyways, if you are still interested, here’s how the competition side works. (My best explanation anyways).

Drifting is a judged sport. Like diving, figure skating etc.

You are judged on 4 things: Speed, Angle of Drift, The Smoothness of your Line, and above all else Style.

Speed: How fast you enter the course and if you can keep up your aggression throughout the run.

Angle: How much angle you have while you drift, without sacrificing speed.

Line: How smooth you transition from each drift and if you are getting close to the clipping points and outer clips of the course.

Style: How much smoke you generate from your tires, your own personal flare, if the crowd loves it etc.

Clipping Point: A marker on the track either on the apex (very tip) of the corner that you must get the nose of your car close to, or the edge of the track where you must get your butt close to.

Initiation Zone: An area marked out where you are to start your drift.

Before the main competition you get two runs to qualify. You go out on your own and lay down your best run.

Basically a run works likes this: You hammer on the throttle and shift through your gears getting up to speed. You initiate (e-brake, clutch kick, feint drift) and counter-steer staying on the throttle and working your angle and maintaining your drift. You then transfer your drift (from say drifting left, to drifting right) while staying close to the clipping point and so on and so forth. Track layout determines clipping points, length of drifts etc. You essentially just want to start your drift at the right point, keep big angle and speed, hit all the clipping points and keep tight to the walls, while never loosing your drift through transitions.

Cool, now do that with another car!

If you qualify you’ll be put up head to head just like the Japanese Touge.
You will do two runs, one where you lead and then one where you chase.
If a winner hasn’t been decided the judges may call a One More Time, where you repeat the two runs until a winner is clear.

Your lead run is basically just like your qualifying run, just be perfect.
Your chase run is what separates the men from the boys. (Or ladies. There are attractive lady drifters out there. There are probably not attractive ones too, but I haven’t met ’em yet.) In your chase run, your job is to drift like you should but you now have a bigger concern. You have to maintain proximity with the driver who is leading.

This is what makes the sport so damn exciting. Seeing two cars sending smoke billowing into the air, while they drive extremely fast, sideways and are door to door. Honestly one of the most exciting things out there. Now have this take place over two days and fill the track with thousands of fans and you are in for a good time.

I had the idea that this would be a short article. But apparently that just wasn’t going to happen, I still have so much more I could say about drifting. If you want to read up on some Canadian drift coverage head on over to overdraftautolife.com, there are a few losers there who write and take photos of this rad sport.

I’ll leave you with a well put together video that does a good job of giving you the vibe of a Canadian Event.  Filmed at St. Eustache, Quebec by Jordan Hamelin at JHDproductions.


If you have any comments or questions leave em below.

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After hours you can find Ben enjoying a beer while working in the garage. Or working on another digital project, enjoying a beer. The common denominator is beer.

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