It’s always more fun to be scootin’ sideways when you’re driving, but how do you get there? Drifting is a dance, an art form if you will. Getting a slide started is just as difficult as maintaining it.
Just like other forms of art, there’s no one correct way to start a drift. There are six prevalent ways:
- Power Over
- Inertial Drift
- Clutch Kick
- Scandinavian Flick
- Downshift Drag
Each way has their own merits, and their own flaws. While everyone has their own preference, I’ll go in-depth with each maneuver.
A power-over drift is rather simple, it relies on the power of the engine to start the drift. Simply, you start your turn, turning in towards the apex of the corner, and floor it for a moment. Once the back starts to swing around, you can begin to countersteer and balance the throttle. In order to perform this safely, start the corner much slower than you would normally take it, allowing for the acceleration from flooring it. This method puts the least strain on your car’s driveline, with there being no negative or positive last, simply a loss of traction.
Turbocharged cars have a very distinct advantage in this method. With the sudden kick of power that a medium to large turbo provides, that rush is usually enough to break traction. Cars with massive turbos such as modded Supras, Skylines, and single-turbo LS engines all have Turbo Lag. That’s just another way of saying the turbo takes time to build pressure.
Once the RPMs of your car get high enough, the exhaust gases passing through the turbo spin up the turbine, and start to force more air into the engine. As more air enters the engine, it produces more power, raising the RPM more. The raised RPM produces more exhaust gases, spinning your turbo even faster, feeding more air, the process repeats itself.
There are ways to counteract this “turbo lag”, namely an anti-lag system, but that damages your turbo significantly. There is a new type of anti-lag that uses pressurized air to spool the turbo while you’re off the throttle, but this is not common yet. These anti-lag systems would help providing major, if not full boost the whole RPM range.
While the Power Over method has the least damage on your car, this isn’t technically a drift. This is considered a “powerslide”. Almost nobody will call you out on the difference, and this is still a perfectly okay way to start your drift.
This is nearly the exact opposite of the previous method, the Power Over drift. While the power over relies on the engine having more horsepower than the tires have grip, an inertia drift just uses the weight of the car. When you’re going to enter a corner, enter faster than you normally would. Hit the brakes hard and turn in towards the apex of the turn. Your rear wheels, if done properly, will slide towards the outside of the turn. Once they’re out far enough, get off the brake and on the gas as fast as possible. Countersteer, and balance it out of the turn.
While the principle of an Inertia Drift seems simple enough, execution can be dangerous. If you enter the turn too fast, or your brakes can’t slow you fast enough, you’ll go off the outside of the turn. If you aren’t fast enough countersteering, or throttle too late, you’ll go into the inside of the turn or spin out. Your best case scenario for a failure is you get back on the throttle too early, and you don’t start drifting. That way, you can recover and take the turn normally.
Weight Transfer, Back to Front
The fundamental physics behind the Inertia Drift are simple: weight transfer. This is easiest to notice in cars with lots of body roll, such as tall SUVs and pickup trucks. When you hit the gas in those cars, the front of the car seems to lift up as you go forward. Likewise, hitting the brakes lowers the front end. When the chassis of a car is on soft suspension, and the drivetrain under it starts to move forward, the car is “pulled” with it.
Hence the “inertia” part of Inertia Drift, Inertia is essentially momentum. Having 0 “momentum” is you sitting still, and your car doesn’t want to move. When you hit the gas, your car’s chassis moves forward. The body of the car doesn’t want to move, but it’s getting pulled forward. Hence, all the weight of the car is shifted towards the back of the car, over the back tires, giving them more grip.
The opposite is true as well. When you’re moving forward, and hit the brakes, your car’s body doesn’t want to stop, but it’s being pulled back. The weight goes to the front of the car, giving the front wheels more grip. This process takes weight off the back wheels, allowing them to slide out much easier.
The most stereotypical method of starting a drift is by grabbing the “drift wand”. Once you’ve started turning your car in towards the apex, you push in the clutch and grab the handbrake. Wait for the back to slide out a bit, then let off the handbrake, off the clutch, on the gas, and countersteer. From there, it’s the same as most other drifts, a matter of countersteering and throttle balance.
There are many flaws with this kind of drift initiation. First, this puts tons of stress on your car. You can stretch and/or snap your handbrake cable if you pull it too hard, or too many times. Your driveline and transmission take a massive lash every time you pull it. And you flat-spot your tires a little bit each time. While it may not be significant, this effect can add up over time.
Another large risk when pulling the handbrake, especially on older cars that you’ve recently bought, is it getting stuck. When the handbrake is unused for a long time, the cable begins to corrode inside its tubing. Once you pull the handbrake, all that corrosion is disrupted. It flakes off the cable, and can get stuck in the line. The lever being lowered can press the cable back, into the dislodged corrosion, and get caught.
Then why do pro drifters use the handbrake? Well, they don’t use a conventional handbrake. They use a hydro (hydraulic) handbrake, and a second rear brake caliber. Instead of a cable design, they use hydraulic lines and brake fluid, and they set up effectively a separate brake system controlled by a lever. That lever is the drifter’s handbrake, and can much more effectively stop the rear wheels, with much less risk.
Effectively the opposite of handbraking, a clutch kick is just as it sounds: kicking the clutch. When you’re entering a turn with grip, push in the clutch without letting off the gas. Then, dump the clutch. The sudden shock of power to the rear tires will probably be enough to break traction, letting you slide the rear out. The longer you hold the clutch in, the higher your engine revs, and the more force your wheels have to break loose.
When you’re drifting with lower-power cars, like Miatas, older Corollas, etc, using clutch kicks mid-turn can keep a slide going. A common problem with drifting these cars is that they don’t have the power to keep your wheels spinning. A clutch kick mid-drift would bring the rear end back out, continuing the drift.
The big issue with this method is the lash on the drivetrain. Your transmission is put under incredible stress every time you clutch kick, even running the risk of shattering your clutch, gears, or helical gears in your differential.
Now, along with the Inertia Drift, this is the least car-damaging method of drift. The inertia drift is based on weight transfer from the rear wheels to the front, which is how this drift is different. This drift is based on transferring weight from side to side, letting the car’s momentum break the rear traction, and balancing the now-sliding car from there.
With this method, there’s no driveline shock. There’s no handbrake-pulling, no clutch-kick, no slamming on the brakes, none of those violent movements. This is a smooth, elegant entry with no jarring movements. This holds the least risk of damaging your car, but can also be difficult to control once you’re sideways.
This tactic works with almost any drift-capable car, whether it be light or heavy, powerful or lacking, anything of the sort. This is less common than some other drift types, more used in Rally racing than anything. Rally is based on racing with little grip, where being sideways is usually the fastest way through a corner. It may not make sense, but sideways can be the fastest way through a corner.
The short version of “why” is they don’t have enough grip for their tires to push them through a corner. Instead of using the road like rails, they use it as a thrust vector, like a rocket on a gimbal bearing. They point the wheels in the direction they want to go, hit the gas, and control their speed and direction with their throttle inputs.
This is, quite literally, the opposite of a Power Over drift. While a power over relies on the engine’s power pushing the tires past their grip point, the downshift drag uses the engine to slow down the tires past grip. When you downshift a manual car, you usually rev-match in order to smoothly change gears. However, if you don’t change gears, you slow your car significantly. If you do this at speed, you can make your rear tires slow down, and start skipping along the road while they try to catch up.
During this time, the back end of the car can slide out. The car is also rapidly slowing down while this is happening. While the wheels are dragging, turn in, and let the rear wheels slide out. Then, countersteer and get back on the gas to balance the drift. In this mannerism, drifting (or at least starting it) is based more on slowing down than speeding up. When trying to maximize speed, this is one of your best initiations, minimizing your braking distance and maximizing your corner speed.
Drifting is different between every person, and every scenario. Some people drift for style, others drift for speed. What your end goal is should determine how you start your drift. If you’re just learning, or looking for maximum angle, hand-braking is the easiest way to achieve either of those. If your car doesn’t have much power, a couple clutch-kicks could get you sideways. If you’re looking to go as fast as possible, a downshift drag keeps you going faster, for longer.