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How to Drift a Road Car: Step-By-Step Video Tutorial

Almost every driver I speak to wants to learn how to drift. There no doubt about it, drifting looks cool. Long sideways slides with loads of tyre smoke and apart from the rubber bill, what’s not to love?

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However, most of the videos we’ve seen on the internet show how to drift a purpose-built drift car or a high-powered road car. Well, in this video I’m going to explain exactly how I drifted a standard 2-litre, 200 BHP Toyota GT86.

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How to drift your car:

  1. Brake to transfer some weight to the front of the car and flick the steering to initiate the drift.
  2. Maintain the drift by lifting off the throttle to reduce drift angle and add more throttle to increase it.
  3. Transition the drift by slightly over rotating the car just before you want to change direction – and then lift off the accelerator.
  4. To exit the drift, release the throttle at the correct time and ease off the steering angle.

Where Should I Learn to Drift?

Let me start by saying you should never drift on the public road… be sensible with this. The best thing to do is to hire an area of tarmac, which you can do at many race circuits or airfields and lay out some cones, then try to drift around them.

That way you are safe, everyone else is safe, and there shouldn’t be anything close by to hit… while drifting is great fun; it’s relatively difficult, and you’ll not get it right straight away.

Drifting a Road Car – It’s Tough

A road car is more difficult to drift compared to a purpose built drift machine, which would have truck loads of power, a purpose built diff and an E-brake.

Road cars are softer, less powerful and more likely to understeer. Therefore, you need to be quite aggressive with your throttle and steering inputs – the opposite to my normal track driving advice!

To be able to drift in a road car you’ll need RWD, and a bit of power, a manual ‘box and the ability to completely disable traction and stability control.

What you need to drift

Step 1: Beginning the Drift

Starting the drift is relatively easy. However because this GT86 (and most road cars) don’t have too much power, we’re going to have to use more than just the throttle.

Approach the corner with some speed, brake to transfer some weight to the front and away from the rear, and flick the steering to initiate the drift.

What’s weight transfer I hear you ask? When you brake, the front of the car lowers on the suspension, and the rear of the car rises a little as shown below:

Weight transfer when drifting

In this second image, the front suspension has compressed meaning there is now a higher percentage of the car’s total mass, and so total grip, over the front tyres. This is exactly what we want for drifting – low grip at the rear of the car.

Weight transfer when drifting 2

So, you brake before the corner and while the front of the car is lowered, and the rear is light, we flick the steering into the corner. The rear should then break traction, and you’ll need to quickly apply opposite lock (see the video for more detail).

If you are too soft with your inputs at this point, the car will understeer. Too rough and the car will spin quickly. So it’ll take you a few attempts to get it right, but just try to be conscious of what’s going wrong each time and refine your steering on the next attempt.

How to steer when drifting

Step 2: Maintaining the Drift

Maintaining the drift is the fun part – it’s so satisfying to have the car fully sideways, with loads of angle. The car feels sensitive yet quite stable. It’ll be in a nice area where if you lift off the throttle you’ll reduce drift angle, and if you put your foot down, you’ll increase it.

The common mistake here is to use too little throttle. It’s surprising how much throttle you can put into the car, so as you’re practising play with you throttle input, and don’t be scared to use a boot full!

We can see in the video that when maintaining the drift, I’m playing with both the steering and the throttle. It really is a balancing act, but make sure you keep those revs high. Otherwise you won’t be able to keep the drift going.

If you don’t have enough throttle when maintaining the drift, the car will begin to straighten up as the rear tyres will have too much grip. Give it too much throttle and you’ll gain too much angle, run out of steering lock and spin.

How to maintain the drift

Step 3: Transitioning the Drift

The transition is the most tricky part – the part where you go from drifting one way, to the other. There’s a lot going on, it all happens quickly, and the window where the transition has the right amount of force is quite small.

This part will take quite a lot of practice. Transition too hard and you’ll spin, too soft, and you’ll understeer. What you need to make sure you do is to be aware of the mistakes you make, so you can try to correct them on your next attempt.

The trick when transitioning is to slightly over rotate the car just before you want to change direction – and then lift off the accelerator. This will cause the rear tyres to grip momentarily and propel the car in the opposite direction – ensuring that you won’t understeer.

As the car’s direction is changing, you’ll need to allow the steering wheel to spin between your hands. As you can see in the video, I let go of the wheel, as it spins too quickly to keep hold of it. You need to make sure you catch the wheel it in the right place, but don’t worry this part tends to come quite naturally.

How to hold the steering when drifting

Once the car has flicked the other way, you’ll need to get back on the throttle quickly and considerably. If you’ve got the transition right, you’ll be able to get back on the throttle hard, and you’ll return to drift maintenance mode.

Step 4: Exiting the Drift

If the circuit is right, you can go from drift-to-transition-to-drift-to-transition-to-drift until you run out of tyres, but what’s more likely is that you’ll want to straighten up and exit the drift at some point.

Much like the transition, this is quite a tricky part. The car is loaded up, and you’ll need to release all of that load smoothly.

In this fairly low powered GT86, you just allow the drift run out. This happens because as you open out the line and the steering, the car doesn’t have enough grunt to maintain a lot of drift angle.

The skill is making sure that you release the steering angle at the correct time. If you’re in a car with loads of power, you’d need to release the throttle a small amount, to bring the rear back in line.

And Finally

So, that’s the Driver 61 guide to how to drift a road car – please enjoy and remember do not practice on the public road.

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Scott MansellFounder Driver61

Scott Mansell is a driver development coach and racer, who has competed in professional motorsport for over 25 years.

He's driven and competed in hundreds of race cars, including everything from Mazda MX-5s to 26 different F1 cars.

This year alone he will develop more than 100 drivers over 26,000 miles of coaching through his MasterClass training program.

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