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Drifting 101
Article by: SpeedOptions (Friday, July 11, 2003) (8160 reads)

Handbrake turn

Locking the back wheels only will make them slide, so the tail of the car comes round more quickly, and you can turn more tightly; the sooner the car is pointing the way you want it to go, the sooner you can accelerate again. This is used particularly on front-wheel-drive cars to stop the nose of the car ploughing outwards on sharp corners. With front-drive cars you can keep your foot on the accelerator. With rear-drive cars, you need to declutch to start the slide and then accelerate hard to keep it sliding until you want it to stop.


Braking distance

Reaction times for a racing driver will be around 0.25 sec but perhaps over one second for an older person whose mind and legs are not as agile.

The best braking deceleration is generally taken as 1g - the retardation due to gravity if you throw a stone into the air. Some cars can brake more fiercely than this (1.0-1.2g) as tyres key into the road surface rather than rub across it.

The recommended stopping distance is thinking (reaction) distance plus braking distance. The Highway Code assumes that the average driver has a reaction time of 0.7 seconds to think and then operate the brake pedal. At 30 mph, this is 30 feet, 40 mph is 40 feet etc. Braking at 1g from 30 mph stops the car in 30 feet. In practice, Highway Code distances are calculated at 0.7g (43 feet from 30 mph) to allow for a gradual build-up to maximum braking. A racing driver with a 0.25 second reaction time and good road car brakes might stop from 30 mph in 11 + 25 = 37 feet. An older person with a one-second reaction time and a normal car would need 44 + 43 = 87 feet.

Braking distances increase as speed x speed - so 43 feet from 30 mph means 172 feet from 60 mph. So keep your distance from the car in front. On fast roads you should leave at least two seconds between the car in front and your car passing the same spot - more if it is slippery.


Cadence braking

If you lock the front wheels under heavy braking, you can no longer steer. ABS (anti-lock braking) automatically keeps the tyres on the point of locking so that you can continue to steer as well as slow down.

If you don't have ABS you can use cadence braking whereby you lock the wheels, then release the brakes so that you can steer, brake again, release and steer again in sequence until you have avoided the hazard. This is particularly useful on slippery roads, but it takes practice and quick thinking to be able to release the brakes when you are sliding towards the hazard.


Braking around a corner

When you brake, weight is transferred forwards from the back wheels to the front. In a corner, weight is transferred from the inside wheels to the outside, and designers adjust the front and rear spring stiffness to give the handling balance they want.

Try braking hard and cornering at the same time and it will be very easy to lock the inside rear wheel and start a spin. Even suddenly removing power from a front-wheel-drive car in mid-corner can be enough to start a spin.

It is possible to brake gently in a corner and not lose control, but if you meet an emergency in mid-corner and brake hard, loss of control is much more likely than if you were braking in a straight line. It is safer to brake before the corner than half-way round it.


Winter Driving

Front wheel drive, rear wheel drive and four wheel drive cars behave differently. Be certain that you know how your particular type of car will react to driving situations and to your inputs.

In icy conditions, do one thing at a time. Brake in a straight line. "Coast" through corners on a steady throttle and accelerate when you are through the corner.

Centrifugal force is your enemy, especially under slippery conditions. It increases with speed and/or reduced radius in a corner.

Beware of wide tires. They will hydroplane sooner than narrow tires due to the wider contact patch.

If you should lose control remember the correct skid control techniques for your type of car. Look where you want to go, steer where you want to go and release the gas pedal gently to allow the contact patches to regain traction. DON'T BRAKE!


Hilly roads

When using a car with manual transmission, try to keep your car at marginal redline rather than shifting up where the torque isn't nearly as high, especially on roads with elevation changes. This may require changing gears a lot.


FWD Oversteer

The fwd oversteer is not nearly as satisfying as rwd oversteer but still eminently possible. To learn how to do it, take a wide clear corner (constant radius) with a low friction coefficient and go through it at 95% with a light throttle. Now try it at 100% and notice the cars attitude. Mild understeer probably with the bonnet raising slightly under power. Now try it with a trailing throttle at the same speed and notice how the attitude changes. The nose will be lower and the rear lighter. You will find that the understeer has been killed but you will also be losing speed. Now go hard into the corner maybe at maybe 102/103% and lift off half way through. This time the attitude will be even more pronounced. It depends very much on the car but at the very least you will feel strain on the outside of the rear tyres. Play with this till you feel the rear actually break out and then play with applying the power and a little opposite lock to pull it back into line. As you become more proficient you will be able to start braking more aggressively as you enter to quickly unsettle the car and then apply the throttle faster and harder. At this stage you will generally be cornering faster than before if you are on a loose surface. Finally, and normally only on a loose surface, you will approach the bend and the start of your turn will involve a very fast flick ("scandinavian flick") in the opposite direction of the corner. You then immediately turn hard into the corner and brake with the left foot. Stay on the power. The car will be nicely balanced and neutral with a nice oversteer slide throughout the bend. Practice on gravel ideally since you will break driveshafts on dry tarmac in a normal car (done it several times) You then adapt these techniques for different roads and circumstances. i.e. dry road simply brake hard normally as you start the turn and be ready to apply the power and lock. Applying the lock will be natural. Applying power will not. But it is the power application that pulls you through the slide. Do not brake or you will simply spin!!".

Source: John R in forum

Drifting techniques

Kansei Drift- this is performed at race speeds, when entering a high speed corner a driver lifts his foot off the throttle to induce a mild over steer and then balances the drift through steering and throttle motions. Note that the car that is being used for this style of drift should be a neutral balanced car therefore the over steer will induce itself. If the car plows through any turn this technique will not work.

Braking drift- this is performed by trail braking into a corner, then loss of grip is obtained and then balance through steering and throttle motions. Note that this is mainly for medium to low speed corners.

Faint Drift- this is performed by rocking the car towards the outside of a turn and then using the rebound of grip to throw the car into the normal cornering direction. Note that this is heavy rally racing technique used to change vehicle attitudes during cornering, mainly tight mountain corners.

Clutch Kick- this is performed by depressing the clutch pedal on approach or during a mild drift, then pop the clutch to give a sudden jolt through the driveline to upset rear traction.

Shift Lock- this is performed by letting the revs drop on downshift into a corner and then releasing the clutch to put stress on the driveline to slow the rear tires inducing over steer. This is like pulling the E-brake through a turn - note that this should be performed in the wet to minimize damage to the driveline, etc.

E-Brake Drift- this technique is very basic, pull the E-Brake or (side brake) to induce rear traction loss and balance drift through steering and throttle play. Note that this can also be used to correct errors or fine tune drift angles.

Dirt Drop Drift- this is performed 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. Note that this technique is very useful for low horsepower cars.

Jump Drift- in this technique the rear tire on the inside of a turn or apex is bounced over a curb to lose traction resulting in oversteer.

Long Slide Drift- this is done by pulling the E-brake through a strait to start a high angel drift and to hold this to set up for the turn ahead. Note that this can only be done at high speed.

Swaying Drift- this is a slow side-to-side faint like drift where the rear end sways back and forth down a strait.

FF Drift- or front wheel drive drift. The E-brake as well as steering and braking techniques must be used to balance the car through a corner. Note that the E-brake is the main technique used to balance the drift.

Power Over- this performed when entering a corner and using full throttle to produce heavy oversteer (tail slide) through the turn. Note that you need horsepower to make this happen.


Drift angles

Drift Angles change based on which wheels are pushing or pulling the car:

. Source:

Uphill and downhill drifts

Down Hill Drift- brake into the turn and steer into the corner until slight over steer is felt, then throttle out.

Up Hill Drift- begin with Heel to Toe for even blend of RPM on the downshift, then turn in and apply throttle.


Late apex and 90 degree corner drifts

Drift Angle for late Apex- stay outside of the turn late, then begin turn into the Apex point. 90 degree corner- drift through the turn at a medium drift angle for correct Apex exit.


Medium speed and S-corner drifts

Medium Speed Drift angle- keep a good speed when entering for a medium type corner. Don't enter too fast or you will lose the Apexing point.

S-Corner- set up is key for this style of turn, begin the drift but always remember the exit of the second part of the corner is most critical and also to set up for the correct Apex.


Proper apex

You may have heard or read discussion about taking the "proper" apex or "line" with respect to navigating turns on a track. Just what constitutes the proper line or apex anyway? The answer to this question is largely a matter of driver skill and ability as well as just how fast you wish to negotiate the turn. The following information provides some background into methods of turning and their potential consequences.

Early Apex (Red Line):

Danger Will Robinson! Taking an early apex is not the preferred method of negotiating a turn. This method has a fast entry into the turn but can have a difficult or "challenging" exit. Early apex turns are often accompanied by an early turn-in point where you start your turn away from the outside edge of the track and more towards the center. Other causes are entering the turn too fast or a car that has a tendency to understeer. The end result is the necessity of a very sharp turn that either the driver or the car may be unable to accomplish safely.

Late Apex (Yellow Line):

Late apex turning is a safe method but not the fastest way through a turn. This technique entails driving past the normal turn-in point then making a harder or sharper turn than normal and at a slower speed. This makes hitting the late apex very easy and requires that you "track-out" only 1/2 the width of the track. This is the conservative path to take.

Mid-Apex (Green Line):

The mid-apex is a balance between a fast entry and a fast exit. The turn is started from the outside edge of the track and aims to hit the midpoint of the turn on the inside edge. Finally, one tracks-out to the outside edge of the turn for a fast exit.


Torque vs power

In the simplest terms, torque is the twisting force the engine applies to the crankshaft and then on to the transmission.

Power, by contrast, is measured as the torque times the rotational speed. In imperial measures, one horsepower is equal to 550 foot-pounds (of torque) per second. Two engines can produce the same power but have very different torque ratings for the following simple reason:

One horsepower can be produced by moving one pound 550 feet OR by moving 550 pounds one foot, provided that either function is achieved in one second.

The difference comes in the fact that the high-torque engine will be rotating slower than the low-torque engine at the same power output but it will be twisting the crankshaft a lot more vigorously.

In theory, different gear ratios - most commonly four or five in cars' gearboxes - should mask different torque characteristics by altering engine speed to suit but the reality is that engines which produce high torque figures at low revolutions respond much more readily in give and take driving.

The practical advantages come in the form of reduced gear changing, lower engine revs and wear and, invariably, lower fuel consumption in all conditions other than constant speed driving.

For Mr Average, torque is therefore more important than horsepower, unless you spend your life racing around at high revs:

Smooth acceleration

Accelerating from a standing start is a balancing act of wheel spin and engine revs.

If the revs are too low, the engine will bog down and you will not be providing the tyres with anywhere near the maximum torque they can deliver to the road. If the revs are too high, you will exceed this max and spin the wheels.

If you can accurately balance Traction vs Torque you will get the maximum possible acceleration. In the real world however this is not possible every time.

Due to the fact that you are in first gear, and therefore putting the maximum torque to the wheels, and the fact that the road surface and in particular, the changes in road surface have a greater effect at slow speeds, you would have to be a complete god to instantly and accurately adjust the throttle and clutch to account for it and keep the Traction vs Torque at max. The only way this is really possible is to have really high revs and balance using the clutch. The only problem hear is that your clutch will last about ten minutes is you keep that up!

For this reason, the best method is to use controlled wheel spin. Build the revs up to just into the power band. Smoothly let out the clutch so that the wheels gradually start to spin and balance the spin to be just before they are starting to bite again. Keep this up until you are at a high enough speed that the wheels could grip and you would still be in the power band.


Heel and toe downshift

If you have heard of the term "heel-and-toe" downshift before, but you've never known what it means, you've come to the right place. It is the mission of this article to make you a heel-and-toe master, a proverbial Jackie Chan of downshifts. Hi-yah!

A heel-and-toe downshift refers to a specific technique used to downshift a manual transmission car. It might seem bizarre to the general populace, but racecar drivers use it all the time. Once mastered, the heel-and-toe downshift offers the benefits of reduced vehicle wear-and-tear, better driver control and faster lap times on a racetrack.

The heel-and-toe downshift is a rather complex action involving both of the driver's feet, the driver's right hand, all three vehicle pedals and the gear shift lever. The purpose of the heel-and-toe is to smoothly match engine speed to wheel speed. Here is a generalization of how a normal person downshifts a manual transmission car.

Let's say Frank is driving his '01 Volkswagen Passat around town. He is approaching a right-hand corner while in fourth gear at 50 mph. He is going too fast to make it around the corner safely, so he starts braking until he drops the Passat's speed to about 25 mph. Frank sees on the tachometer that his engine revs are dropping too low, so he pushes in the clutch as he goes around the corner. As Frank thinks about accelerating, he realizes that the Passat is still in fourth gear, which isn't suitable for strong acceleration at such slow speeds. So he moves the shifter from fourth to second gear, lets out the clutch and motors away.

The problem with Frank's technique is that when he lets out the clutch, it is not going to be a smooth shift. The Passat is going to buck a little. Why? Because when Frank goes around the corner with the clutch pushed in, the engine revs drop to idle speed. When he releases the clutch, the mechanical locking effect between the engine and the front wheels (the wheels powered by a Passat) forces the engine revs to match the rotational speed of the rear wheels. In this case, 25 mph in second gear would mean the engine has to be at roughly 2,600 rpm. When Frank lets out the clutch after moving the shifter to second gear, his car's engine must instantly go from idle to 2,600 rpm. This sudden change causes the car to buck, as well as causing undue wear-and-tear on the clutch, transmission and engine mounts.

The simple solution for Frank would be to give the car some throttle before he lets out the clutch. Specifically, he should raise the engine speed to 2,600 rpm. This way, the engine speed is equalized to the wheel speed for second gear, making the shift much smoother. For racecar drivers, however, this technique is too slow and also means that when the car is going around the corner, the clutch is pushed in, a serious no-no in a racecar.

The racer's answer is the heel-and-toe downshift. The technique combines braking and downshifting at the same time. Using our example again, if Frank used a heel-and-toe downshift, he would have downshifted while he was braking for the corner. This way, he would have had power while he was going around the corner and he could have quickly applied more throttle once he exited the corner. These are critical elements to a racecar driver, but they can also be useful to any driver on the street.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to heel-and-toe downshift. It will explain how to shift from fourth gear to third gear, though the technique will work for any downshift.

Begin braking for the corner with your right foot. The location of the pedals and the size of your foot will dictate where you position your foot on the pedal, but most likely it should be canted a little to the right, closer to the throttle pedal.

Push in the clutch with your left foot.

Move the shifter from fourth gear to neutral

This is the hard part. With your right foot still applying pressure to the brakes, roll the outside edge of your foot outward and downward to touch the throttle pedal. The pedal design on some cars makes this easier to do than on others. Use the outside of your right foot to blip the throttle. Blipping the throttle means temporarily raising the engine rpms to match the wheel speed. The exact amount of revs needed is dependent on a variety of factors, but it is usually between 1,000 rpm to 2,000 rpm more than the current engine rpm for a one-gear downshift.

Move the shifter from neutral to third gear.

Release the clutch with your left foot.

As you can see, "heel-and-toe" is a misnomer. It actually involves the ball of your foot and the side of your foot. We'll be the first to tell you that heel-and-toe downshifts aren't easy. We've found that a good way to practice is to just sit in your car in your garage and pretend you are doing a heel-and-toe downshift with the engine off. Keep repeating the steps until you are familiar with the process. Once you are ready, try it out for real. Most likely, your early attempts will be botched. Keep trying, though. Practice each step slowly and then work your way to making them all one, fluid motion. Skilled drivers can execute a heel-and-toe downshift in less than one second.

The trickiest part is getting the correct amount of rpms to match the new gear. If you blip the throttle too much, the engine has too much speed compared to the wheels and is forced to drop down to the wheel speed when you let out the clutch. If you don't blip the throttle enough, the engine rpms are forced to rise up. Either way, you know you didn't do it right as the car will jerk a little.

You'll also know it when you did it right. A proper heel-and-toe downshift is so smooth and so satisfying that, once done correctly, you'll find yourself using the technique all the time. The great thing is that you don't have to be a racecar driver or be on a racetrack to use it. Additionally, using the heel-and-toe downshift technique on the street can improve safety. In certain emergency situations, you might be required to brake heavily and then accelerate quickly. By heel-and-toe downshifting, your car will be in the best gear to achieve maximum acceleration.

So, let's recap. It's fun to do. It improves driving safety. It reduces the amount of powertrain wear on your car. Other than the amount of time it takes to learn, there is no downside. What more could you want?

Source: Brent Romans,

Short shifting

Short-shifting is where you change up a gear before it is needed. In other words, you change up a gear before you have used up the previous gear.

Why would you want to do this? Well this is a valid question because short-shifting almost always means you will be instantly losing some power and torque due to being in a higher gear than is necessary.

Well there are two main reasons.

One reason is to purposefully take away torque from the wheels. Maybe it is a bump / slippy curve and you will be unable to use the full torque of the gear you would normally be in, so it might be a safer bet to be in a higher gear to reduce the likelihood of sudden wheel-spin, etc.

The other (and more common reason) is to save the time taken to change gear. Lets say you have a tight 2nd gear left-hand bend, followed by a long straight. You are at about 2/3 revs as you approach the apex.

You can either stay in second gear and use the extra torque to accelerate as quickly as possible.

Or you can change up to 3rd before you need to start accelerating and sacrifice the extra acceleration for the time saving in not having to change gear.

A judgement has to be made as to which would be quicker. In race driving this is normally already tried and tested for your formula on the track you are racing on so it is often pre-decided. In rallying it is less clear, and probably slightly less important.

The main reasons you would use short-shifting in rallying would be for balance rather than outright time and speed. If there was a twisty section ahead for the next 50 yards and you will need 1 up change in the middle of it, you may decide to get the change done before the complex to avoid upsetting the car mid-way through it.


Premium Member
6,474 Posts

You know.. I wasn't going to comment...

That's a great bit of reading knowledge, but it's missing one thing.

GOING OUT AND DOING IT! :nana: :cheers:

You want to drift (ayman, anyone)? Come and see me, I'll show you how to drift that Z or G of yours. :wink:

1,049 Posts
Ayman, thank you for posting that up. I found it to be very informative :shiftdrive: :yourock:

171 Posts
You also might want to add that if you are going out to practice your drifting you better be sure to have an extra set of tires handy. Cause you will definitely burn a set up drifting! :shiftdrive:

Premium Member
6,474 Posts
You also might want to add that if you are going out to practice your drifting you better be sure to have an extra set of tires handy. Cause you will definitely burn a set up drifting! :shiftdrive:

Depends on the tires.. :)

oem tires suck.. they chunk up.
my bfg's are okay.
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