The Science of Drifting

Ever wondered how professional drift drivers manage to pull those crazy runs? The answer lies in clutch kicking and traction.

Mastering Traction Loss:

The goal is to make the car lose traction in the rear, but you still have to control how much traction loss there is. So you control how much grip is lost by controlling the wheel speed. You’re not trying to regain total grip, like you would driving on a road, but you’re balancing the amount of traction you let the tires have by balancing the slide and the wheel speed constantly.

And this doesn’t necessarily mean more powerful cars have the advantage here. For example, turbo cars that generate higher wheel speeds can still let the driver control traction loss. But at that higher wheel speed, you just get much more smoke than in the 8 cylinders.

Seibon Carbon driver Pat Mourdaunt. Photo credit: Formula Drift

Starting the Slide:

There are a few different ways to enter the slide, the following are just two of the most popular ways. The first is called a handbrake entry, (in Japan it’s called the side brake entry), and it’s using brake traction to start the drift.

So, for a left turn say, you would start the car to the right for a split second, quickly turn to the left, drop the clutch, give a little front brake and then engage the handbrake. That abrupts the car and shifts the weight like a slingshot, shooting the car left.

When the e-brake locks the wheels and the car starts to slide, you release the e-brake and let the wheels go and reengage the clutch to gain control of the car. And from there you need to control the traction loss through the turns like I said earlier.

The second way to start a slide is called a clutch kick or clutch drop. It starts with the same procedure: you use same motion to abrupt the car, but instead of using the handbrake, as the weight shifts over, you keep the throttle all the way down and the clutch engaged, then drop the clutch for just a split second, then quickly re-engage it.

This sends a shock to the rear wheels. The engine was at 4,000-5,000 rpm, then when you release the clutch, it jumps to 7,000-8,000 rpm. When you re-engage, it sends an overload to the rear wheels and they come loose, just like they would on a drag race line, but this time the car is in a turn.

Seibon Carbon drivers Daigo Saito and Matt Powers. Photo credit:

Drifting Uphill:

This is not like when you took dad’s car out at night and played around doing donuts in a parking lot. These guys have honed the skill to be able to place the car in exactly the same spot whenever they want, and do it under complete control. And that includes taking the car uphill while sideways.

When drifting uphill, you’re still fighting traction loss and using power, but it’s the car’s momentum that is the majority of what carries you up the hill. If the hill is steep it’s hard to carry. But, saying that, with a lot of power and wheel speed you can make it.

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