What is Drifting?

Malcolm Tatum

Drifting is a competitive driving technique that over time has emerged as a sport in its own right. Requiring a high level of skill on the part of the driver, drifting is often employed in high speed competitions around the world, including the D1 Grand Prix in Japan.

Drifting is a technique commonly used in professional car races.
Drifting is a technique commonly used in professional car races.

The basic result of drifting is to maneuver the vehicle so that the front slip angle of the car is less than the rear slip angle. This requires that the front wheels of the car will be intentionally pointed in the opposite direction of the turn of the vehicle. Drifting has been part of the professional racing sport for a number of years, commonly employed in such motorsport competitions as rally racing, dirt track racing, and national competitions such as the Grand Prix.

Drivers in rally racing might use drifting.
Drivers in rally racing might use drifting.

Drifting is a procedure that can be advantageous in many situations. A competent professional driver may use drifting to gain an advantage on a turn, as well as turn the car sideways in a manner that can prevent another vehicle from being able to make a direct pass. A lot of the success of using drifting depends on the ability of the driver to control the maneuver, so that the drifting does not degenerate into uncontrolled fishtailing, a situation that places the driver and other competitors in a great deal of danger.

Since the 1970s, drifting has gained a great deal of attention as a competitive sport in its own right. Drivers are often judged on a number of criteria by a panel of experts. In general, the vehicles used in these competitions will be rear-wheel drive cars, which can help drivers to maintain an equitable speed while remaining in a sideways position for an extended period. The elements that are often part of the judging include speed, angle, line, and show. In various parts of the world, the impact of each of these elements on the final score varies slightly. There are generally two sessions, with the first session more or less qualifying who will be allowed to compete in the final session. In some drifting competitions, the individual competitor is not only judged on his or her technique, but also the angle, line, and speed in comparison to the lead car in the competition.

Professional drifting competitions take place under controlled conditions. However, there are amateur drifting enthusiasts that sometimes attempt to replicate the process on public roads. This has emerged as a problem in several countries, most notably Saudi Arabia and Japan.

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