If you're a regular CarAdvice reader, you might already know about my passion for all things sideways. But how do you actually drift? And can anyone do it?
To find out, we headed to Victoria’s Driver Education Centre of Australia (DECA) in Shepparton with two standard Toyota 86s, two experienced driving instructors with a passion for drifting, and two drivers who have never tried drifting in their lives. We also brought along one of the country’s premier drift stars.
Why Toyota 86s? Well, while I fell in love with drifting more than 10 years ago, since the affordable, rear-wheel-drive Japanese sports car launched in 2012, interest in the smokey sport of drifting has only grown. And why wouldn’t it? The sight, the sound, the smell – it’s a spectacle.
To help us shed some light on the world of drifting, we gathered up three special guests: Driver Dynamics founder Kevin Flynn, a bloke with 26 years experience as a driving instructor; Driver Dynamics instructor and two-time Japanese G1 Drift Champion Chris DeJager; and former Australian Drift Champion, and all around drift veteran, Beau Yates.
No stranger to the CarAdvice family, Mandy comes into the challenge with a love of Volkswagens and Porsches and a bit of background in hillclimb – she also completed a Level 2 Driver Dynamics Advanced Driver Training course under the tutelage of Kevin. Kim, on the other hand – a massage therapist by trade – has grown up around cars, but lists the extent of her ‘racing experience’ as rolling cars on the video game Need for Speed. To be clear, though, neither has ever actually tried drifting before.
Blowing minds left, right, and centre from the second it rolls off the trailer and onto the already-tyre-mark-riddled DECA skidpan, is Beau’s competition Toyota 86 drift car.
Reasonably far from the specification of our two standard Toyota 86s – a 2016 Blackline Edition and a top-spec GTS – Beau’s Achilles Hypertune Toyota 86 not only looks the part, it also sounds simply ridiculous.
With a turbocharged 3.0-litre Jhh Racing-built 2JZ Toyota engine under the bonnet (an engine more usually found powering a Toyota Supra), the mental drift-spec 86 weighs around 1280kg (a mere 5kg more than a standard 86), but sends more than 500kW straight to its rear semi-comp Achilles tyres – up around 353kW compared with a standard 86.
Both our $37,990 Blackline Edition and $35,990 GTS are powered by a 147kW/205Nm naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine, and both drive a limited-slip differential-equipped rear end via a six-speed manual transmission. Keeping things even, the pair also ride on identical 215mm-wide, 45-profile, 17-inch Michelin Primacy HP tyres running identical tyre pressures.
With Beau playing the role of guest judge for a CarAdvice drift-off planned for the end of the day, the challenge of teaching our two drift students falls to our two instructors, Kevin and Chris.
After two quick games of rock-paper-scissors, our teams for the day are finalised: Kevin and Mandy – Team 'Kandy' – will pilot the Toyota 86 Blackline Edition, while Chris and Kim – Team 'Krim' – will be at the wheel of the Toyota 86 GTS. From here, the plan is simple…
Each team will have exclusive use of their own portion of the skidpan, with each instructor allotted an hour and a half to teach their student how to drift.
At the end of the 90 minutes, each team will get 15 minutes to practice drifting on what will later be the final judged competition corner.
After this, it's competition time, and Mandy and Kim will get a handful of solo runs on the judged competition corner with Kev, Chris, and most importantly Beau, picking the best run, and thus, the day’s winner.
All good drift events have a cool prize up for grabs, and for either Mandy or Kim, their prize is better than most: a drifting hot-lap with Beau in his ludicrous 86 drift car.
First things first though, before the stopwatch starts on each teams’ 90 minutes, Mandy and Kim jump into the passenger seat of their respective Toyota 86, alongside their respective instructor, to get a crash course (no pun intended) in how to drift.
Traditionally judged on three core criteria – speed, line, and angle – ‘style’ is another element often factored in when judging drifting. As such, a variety of subtly unique techniques may be adopted to best get the attention and praise of whomever may be judging.
In basic terms, however, initiating a drift (intentionally making the rear tyres lose traction) usually starts with one of three methods: power oversteer, clutch kick, or handbrake.
As Chris explains to Kim, these techniques are effectively designed to “convince the car to kick the rear end out, instead of actually pushing the front [end]”.
“One of the ways to do this, is that we come into the corner, steer in, [and] I’m accelerating to try and get the rear wheels to spin,” Chris says.
“The second technique that we’re going to do is what’s called a clutch kick entry. So, as we’re coming in on the accelerator, you punch the clutch, which brings the revs up, [and] as you pull the clutch out, the revs have built up some momentum and actually ‘kick’ the wheels into a wheelspin. This allows the rear end to kick out, and then the power can keep the tyres turning as we go through. That’s the one we’re going to use for the competition.
“And the third one is the handbrake entry. It’s not the ideal style – it can sometimes be a safe way because you pull the handbrake up, we know the rear wheels are going to lock, but the problem is, once you do a handbrake entry, it pulls out too much speed coming into the corner. So, we’ll show you what it is, and then we won’t use it because it’s not a high level [technique] if you like.”
With the basic techniques fresh in their minds, and their first seat-of-the-pants experience of drifting under their belts, Mandy and Kim swap seats with their instructors and we start the clock on their teaching time.
Starting with remembering to switch of stability control, both coaches begin their instruction time similarly.
Cones are set up, first gear is engaged, and concentric circles are used to give the girls a chance to begin to ‘feel-out’ what the car’s want to do or will do when on, or near, the limit of adhesion.
“We’ll just start by slowly driving around and build our way up,” Kev says to Mandy.
From here throttle – and we’re talking heavy throttle – is added in, followed by the key elements of steering and vision.
“So the biggest enemy of drifting is front-wheel skidding,” Chris tells Kim.
“And the art of drifting is getting the rear end to step out instead of the front.”
A few (read: several) understeer moments later, the girls start to build their levels of aggression and confidence, and as they do…
“Too much,” Mandy says as she spins out.
“That’s okay,” Kev quickly responds, giving his trainee plenty of encouragement. Kim too has a spin or two.
“This is just the practice,” Chris says reassuring Kim about her progress.
“This is what we need to do to get all this out of the way. So just keep looking and steering where you want the car to be.”
Soon after it clicks – for both girls – and the sliding becomes more deliberate, more consistent, and, in Kim’s case, more smokey…
“Beautiful, beautiful – yes. We’re on the right track,” Kev praises Mandy but keeps things in context too, adding, “Small high-five, just a small one.”
“See, once the penny drops… It’s one of those feelings, once you’ve got the feeling, you know exactly what I’m talking about.”
“That’s perfect,” Chris tells Kim.
“So you’ve jumped on the gas, the rear end’s stepped out, you’re looking where you want to go, steering where you want to go, and as you eased back, it came back into line.
“That’s awesome! We’ve got smoke!”
With solid slides becoming more regular than not, both Mandy and Kim successfully take on board and absorb what would normally be an entire day’s worth of drifting training in only 90 minutes.
With time up, both teams move to the competition corner for 15 minutes practice – a chance to hone their technique with their instructor alongside, before the day’s final judged solo runs.
A confident but not flawless practice session complete, the girls ready themselves for the day’s final drift-off. To this point, each student has had the same amount of time learning the drifting basics, and the same time practising the very corner that will decide our winner. Now it’s time for the final battle.
With their instructors Kevin and Chris now joining Beau on the judging panel, Mandy and Kim trade runs through the competition corner.
Revs rise, clutches get kicked, wheels spin, and drifts most definitely happen. Sisters or not, our two novices are here to win.
“Not bad for a first run,” says Chris after Mandy’s first attempt. “We’re just warming up,” responds Kev.
If you think these two instructors-come-judges aren’t competitive, guess again. These two want to win just as badly as their students do.
More runs, more drifts, and a couple of spins later, the competition comes to an end. This is going to be close…
With our two drift novices and two (very proud) instructors standing by, Beau announces the result.
“Obviously Mandy, with a little bit of motorsport background, we could see you were comfortable straight up. And Kim, I take my hat off to you because, where we were this morning, to where we are this afternoon, for me, you’ve been the quiet achiever because you’ve come from much lower and up to this level, which you should be extremely proud [of].
“Drifting’s the winner at the end of the day and I think you girls did fantastic in the car today. But for me, Kevin and Mandy, today I think overall consistency was great – you showed great aggression in the last judged section of the course.
“Not taking anything away from you Kim and Chris, what you’ve done, but I just feel that [Mandy] was a more consistent performer and really stepped it up in the battles there towards the end.”
With Mandy proving victorious over Kim, she not only wins the battle of the sisters, but also gets to claim her once in a lifetime prize: riding shotgun with Beau in the mental Achilles Hypertune Toyota 86 to see how the pros do it firsthand.
We came to DECA to find out if anyone can learn to drift, and as we found out, like any good sport, once you learn the basics, it’s just a matter of practice makes perfect. And when you’re chosen sport involves going sideways in cars, who doesn’t want to practice that?
Note: CarAdvice would like to extend a huge thank you to Beau Yates and his team, Kevin Flynn and Chris DeJager from Driver Dynamics, Mandy and Kim Turner, and Toyota Australia for all their time, patience, and support.
Click on the Photos tab for more images of the day by Tom Fraser. Videography by Igor Solomon and Glen Sullivan. Editing by Igor Solomon.