Drifting Practice: Learning To Control Oversteer

Published: December 4, 2013

Now that you know that drifting is good for you, how do you do it? Read this guide to drifting to find out.

Car

You are going to need a rear wheel drive car to drift.

You may be able to drift an all wheel drive car, but it is difficult at best and if the car sends more torque to front wheels than rear ones it may handle like a front wheel drive car which will make drifting impossible.

Drifting a front wheel drive car is technically possible (at least people in Japan do it) but it is not for beginners and it definitely requires a specific car setup which you probably won't have.

Drift crowd is generally cash-poor. Assuming you can afford track days and you have an all wheel drive/front wheel drive car, come to a drift event, talk to people there with more beat up/stock looking cars and ask if you can pay them to let you co-drive their car. Post on the forums as well. You will consider that money well spent the first time you recover a slide in your own car at triple digit speeds.

Assuming you have a rear wheel drive car, the second requirement is manual transmission and a hand-operated emergency brake. The two easiest drift initiation techniques to get started with are clutch kick and e-brake. Later you can get into braking drift, which can be done in just about any car with sufficient balance, but requires more finesse.

The third requirement is cheap tires on the rear axle, because you will go through them rapidly. If you are about to replace the rear tires anyway, time the drift event to be just before said replacement and use your old tires as they are. Failing that you can get free tires from tire shops' junk piles. The shops have to pay for tire disposal and some will be happy to give their junk tires to you for free. Find the shop manager and ask if you can look through the shop's junk pile. Inexplicably, some shops will say no; I've even had one shop of a chain say yes and another shop in the same area say no. Move on to the next shop. You will still need to pay for tire installation so don't get tires that are completely bald.

If you cannot get free tires, look for used tire places. Used tires are tricky - sometimes you get very little tread on them but you pay for installation just the same, making used tires not worth the money. On the other hand, running full tread tires can chunk them which will reduce their life. Or not. Sponsored drifters use brand new tires on all positions. Research and experiment.

Usually narrower tires will work better. After all you are trying to spin them. If your car does not have much horsepower, definitely try to get skinny tires. I had great results with 175/70-14 on my stock powered Miata.

You do not need to match the sizes of the tires that your car came with either. Learn how to calculate overall diameter from tire size, and figure out which other sizes will give you the same diameter or smaller. You can always run smaller diameter tires. You can also run larger diameter tires, up to whatever will fit into the rear fenders. Slowly step up overall diameter until you get rubbing, then back down a little bit - that is your top end for tire sizing.

Next on the requirements list is suspension and a limited slip differential. You don't need either to start drifting. All of my drifting experience has been in a Miata on stock suspension with an open diff. There are plenty of things that car won't be able to do, but right now none of them are relevant.

Last on the list is horsepower. Just like with track driving, you don't need it to learn the skills. You definitely need it to compete meaningfully in tandems, but for learning car control a stock powered Miata will do just fine.

Promoter

You need to find an organization that holds drift events. There are local clubs that do this, mostly for fun/learning/practice, and larger organizations that also, or only, hold drift competitions.

I recommend starting with parking lot events if you can find them. Just like an autocross, the only things you should be able to hit are cones which are much nicer than walls. The next best thing is a road course event with a skid pad. Start on the skid pad, and when you are able to drift around the skid pad move up to the road course.

Research

Before you show up to your first drift event, watch videos on how to drift. I like Drift Bible by the Drift King himself. There are probably relevant videos on youtube as well. Bring a laptop to the event so that you can watch the videos between your runs.

Be sure to read event rules as well - you will need a battery tie down, appropriate clothing, possibly a roll bar in convertibles, no leaks, etc.

Initiating

First thing you need to do is learn how to start a drift. The two easiest techniques are clutch kick and e-brake. Depending on how the course is set up, how much power you have, and how many revs you are doing at the entry, one might work better than the other. If you are not making headway with one technique try the other one, otherwise stick with whatever works.

You want to accelerate in a straight line, then turn the steering wheel, and very shortly after that either pull the e-brake or kick the clutch. Pull the e-brake until you spin, then keep it pulled for less time. If you stop spinning, pull longer. Push the clutch in while pulling the e-brake.

If you are doing the clutch kick, your right foot should be flooring the gas pedal as you are kicking the clutch. You want the RPMs to raise enough that when you release the clutch you spin. If you don't spin, hold the clutch down longer. You should not be hitting the rev limiter.

The event may have instructors - use them.

OK, now you can oversteer and spin a car. Great! Learn to stop it without stalling the engine.

Countersteering

The next step is countersteering when the car oversteers. Countersteering means if you turned right to initiate the drift, you want to turn the steering wheel left through neutral so that the front wheels are facing left. Start by countersteering when you feel the rear end losing traction and the car rotating. Initially you will start countersteering too late, and the car will continue spinning - spinning right in our present example.

So, you need to start countersteering earlier. Technically you start countersteering when the rear is sliding, but if you think you start countersteering as soon as the rear end goes sideways, yet still spin right, you need to countersteer on a timer. Turn the steering wheel right, pull the e-brake, release the e-brake and immediately contersteer. If the car fails to rotate right, you countersteered too early. Add a delay between e-brake release and countersteering and do it again.

When you start countersteering early enough, the car will spin in the opposite direction to how you initiated the drift. In our example, you initially turn right, countersteer left, so the car would rotate right and then spin left.

Countersteering Just Right

The reason the car spins the other way is you countersteer too much. This is something that just comes from experience. Make a note of how much steering angle you are applying when you are countersteering, and start to apply less and less angle. Eventually you will stop spinning left. Now the car will rotate right and come to a stop with the front wheels facing left. Time to add throttle.

Throttle

Throttle keeps the drift going by spinning the rear tires. When you have the steering figured out, start to apply throttle as you are countersteering. This is similar to adding throttle at track out - the more you countersteer angle-wise, the more throttle you can apply.

If you lose the drift while sideways right, you need more throttle. If you spin the car left, you need less throttle. Try not to change steering angle but maintain the drift with throttle. This is where you can use a dry skid pad with large enough radius and an entry that allows significant entry speed (maybe 30-50 mph).

Transitions

To transition from a right turn to a left turn you remove throttle. This has the effect of bringing the rear end back in line. Like in street driving you can take your hands off the steering wheel and it will return to center. Except as the car returns to center, get back on throttle to keep rotating the other way, and countersteer as necessary.

This should be enough for now. See if you can drift the course from start to finish!