Revenge of the Nerd: End of the Formula D Season and a Lesson in Drift Car Dynamics

By Mike Kojima

My involvement this year supporting Dai Yoshihara and James Deane with Falken Motorsports in Formula D drifting has been a wild ride.  It was a very interesting learning experience as I finally discovered what the dynamics of a really good drift car are and how to set up the chassis to deliver the performance a driver needs to do his job.  Modern Pro drifting is probably the greatest challenge for chassis set up out of any sedan based motorsport and the SPD Metalworks crew works pretty hard to get the car just right for any given course. 

traqmate gps data
Traqmate's GPS navigation system is one of the best low cost tools a racer can buy.

One of the tools we use is the Traqmate GPS Data Acquisition system.  It gives us a lot of data to help us do everything from confirming set up changes to critiquing driving in a simple easy to set up package.  We also use Contour HD cameras to monitor everything from what the driver is doing to how the suspension is reacting.  A simple video can take the place of many channels of conventional data acquisition and is easier to interpret.  We can also overlay the video and data and the result is pretty entertaining and informative for you!

Contour HD
Don't rule out video as a sophisticated form of data acquisition that you don't have to have an engineering degree to reduce and interpret.

For those snobby racers that continually tell me that drifting is not a motorsport or lame, I suggest looking at the data overlay on the video we have attached.  Dynamically we are reaching way over one lateral G usually reaching as much as 1.3 g’s in drift!  The car also spends a lot of time accelerating at just under one G, sometimes reaching over one G.  That is a lot of mechanical grip which says a lot for both the capability of the Falken 615K street tire and the Falken/Discount Tire S13.

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abunai s13
abunai s13link
Tuesday, October 19, 2010 1:57 AM
Mike what tips do you have for setting up a S13hb for drifting ie alinge ment settings sway bars and how to get awsome steering angle like Dai
Tuesday, October 19, 2010 2:51 AM
i enjoyed our conversation about this and this article did much to show me the wider picture. especially where dai's car over rotated. im sure your team poured over the data to see where and what went wrong. like you said, the faster car pacing prob affected the rest of the run. ahh well... there is always next season. shoot me an email when you get the chance, i know your busy.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Tuesday, October 19, 2010 4:19 AM
abunai, it's hard to give specific settings that are universally good because alignment is pretty car and driver specific but general for a drift S13 you will want to be in this range. Front- Camber 3-4 degrees negative, Caster +7-9 degrees, 1/8" toe out. Rear- 0-1.5 degree negative camber, 0-1/4" toe in. Cold tire pressure front- 25-30 psi, rear 25-60 psi.

Much depends on the general setup, the level of power and the drivers style and ability.

We use Hariguchi spindles and tie rod ends to get lots of steering angle and good Ackerman for proper steering response with SPL outer tie rod ends shimmed for minimal bump steer.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010 4:57 AM
It's too bad you guys lost the championship due to a NASCAR-like rule. I guess that's racing, right? At least the team showed whet they are capable of and next year when you guys turn up the wick, that S13 should be on the podium every event. Congrats on what was still a great season, and here's to next year. Show those guys what an old Nissan can do!
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Tuesday, October 19, 2010 6:05 AM
The Formula D 5 Minute rule is fair and essential to run a tight and entertaining show. Even if the car was fixable it would have been difficult to make up the points lost in the spin. Matt Fields spin and contact was caused by Dai spinning first so the penalty would mostly weigh on Dai. Weird things happen in drifting though so its important to always be able to get back on the track even if it seems bad.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010 10:45 AM
I was referring to the "slow down for the slow guys to keep a good show" thing you mentioned in the article. If Dai was going as fast as he wanted, he wouldn't spun, correct? I'm in favor of a smaller starting field. The top 32 and top 16 are pretty much the same round after round, why not save some time and drop the bottom half of the field? Maybe make 2 classes, unlimited and street. In unlimited you can do whatever you want, provided your car was originally a strett car. In street, only engines available from the factory are allowed and the unibody (except for the roll cage and bumpers) must be left intact. Something like that to even out the competition and really let the best guys run wild. Forcing the good teams to handicap themselves is cheesy in my opinion.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010 2:25 PM
Mike, what is the reason for running toe out in front and toe in, in back?
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Tuesday, October 19, 2010 6:15 PM
8695, Formula D is a pro series for the top cars, for lesser cars there is Pro Am and XDC which are feeder series for Formula D and for grassroots there are things like drift day.

Not all pro's are factory backed by major manufactures, a lot of them are privateers and they don't have access to the money and technology that the big teams have so there cars are slower. However Formula D is a way for talented privateers to show there stuff and be recognized by the bigger teams.

In Formula D there is often a pace cone that the drivers have to stay side by side to until they pass it to keep the initial part more even. This is standard in European drifting. At some venues where there is a shorter run to the first turn, the drivers are instructed to pace to the first corner.

Since drifting is not a race in the usual sense, its ok. The drifters are judged by speed but speed usually is not measured until the exit of the first turn and in the middle of the slow section.

The Top 32 is a good deal because it provides a day long show with a nice intermission for spectators.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Tuesday, October 19, 2010 6:17 PM
fat40, toe out in the front helps turn in and steering response. Toe-in in the rear helps stability and the tires tend to toe out naturally by the engine torque working to deflect the bushings and suspension arms. A little toe in makes it easier to have smooth drift and helps when you are hard on the throttle.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010 6:24 AM
Ah ok, they never talk about the pace cone, I didn't know about that.

I was thinking the other day about something like Auto freestyle. Think like a BMX park, but with obstacles and things for drivers to drift and slide through like in a big arena. The cars go one at a time and they can do whatever they want (almost like Monster trucks without the jumps). The judges could then be fans since there is no "perfect" run. You could do it with rally cars or drift cars, both would be a ton of fun to watch. maybe get some drifting at the X-Games to go with the Rally stuff.
Der Bruce
Der Brucelink
Wednesday, October 20, 2010 10:51 AM
As much as I love drifting, it feels like it's lost some of the nuances recently. Like when I'm watching for bank/wall or clipping point proximity, it seems like the judges are more concerned about speed and sometimes trivial lines (ie. angles on some of the straights). I think these are some of the reasons the high horspower cars are turning the sport away from some of the well balanced lower horsepowered cars of yore (ie. AE86s or s-chassis w/ sr20s). It feels like it's V-8 or bust lately, doesn't it? Hey Mike, when are we going to get more of "The Ultimate Handling Guide"? I'm trying to soak in as much as possible because YOU are the one who finally convinced me to focus on my suspension before I focus on the HPs!
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Wednesday, October 20, 2010 3:40 PM
I know the judges and they look at many things, they look at angle, line speed and aggressiveness mostly. They consider things like aggressiveness, smoke, smoothness, finesse, smooth throttle application,dramatic snaps to extreme angle with no overshoot and how close you can come to obstacles as well. A really exceptional and crazy move is rewarded by the judges, sometimes overriding other factors in X Game like scoring. In tandem, aggressiveness and how far the lead car can pull away from the following car are weighted the most.

The judges grade the V8 guys harsher on some terms they look at closely, like smoothness and they frown upon V8 guys from using "compression braking lock" to assist with moves.

A lot of fans say the judges are influenced by politics, sponsors, etc which is BS. I used to think they were way off as a fan, but what your have to consider is that the judges have the best view of the track and their perspective is quite different than from the seats.

Now that I am a spotter, I agree with the judges 95% of the time and the remaining 5% I am not sure, I never think they are completely wrong. Spotters sit in the booth right next to the judges if you ever go to an FD event, so we have the same line of site and the same perspective and it has opened my eyes on how hard the judges try to be fair. They watch instant replays over and over and compare notes to get it right.

The other things fans miss is the drivers meetings where the judges explain what they will be weighing the mo for that particular event. Judges will tell the drivers they want to see a snappy initiation at turn A, closeness to clipping point at turn B, Close to the wall at turn X. So the drivers are trying to do what they have heard in the drivers meeting.

If anything Formula D has gotten more technical and harder lately with tougher judging and older slower cars with no power and undialed suspension are not competitive anymore.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010 6:19 PM
Mike, thank you so much for taking the time to explain the toe in and toe out. I will apply it in my suspension as soon as I get to an alignment shop.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Wednesday, October 20, 2010 6:32 PM
You can actually buy Longacer toe plates and do it yourself at the track pretty easy and tune it in yourself. They don't cost that much. We use them at Team Falken for quick fixes like in 5 minute repairs


You can get the smart camber gauge too.

We also use Smart Strings to set toe accurately.


A little investment and you can do your own set ups.
Der Bruce
Der Brucelink
Thursday, October 21, 2010 8:42 AM
Mike, thank you for the excellent explanation! I hope you didn't think I was taking a fan boy shot at FD but, it may sound wierd, I've just felt like so much emphasis has been placed on the speed, smoke and aggresion lately which has given rise to the 500+hp cars.

I remember watching last seasons finish at irwindale and even with the close up on the wall to show it's importance, some of the competitors (especially the trailing cars) just blew right past it and then I didn't really understand the judges (probably that 5% you were talking about) not dinging some of the competitors for the lack of proximity.

Now I'm a convert to your approach, which I would sum up as, suspension and chasis tuning is competitive tuning! (Although I may completely misunderstand you and have now offended you, hopefully not!) But I do feel bad for some of the privateers who might be able to get the suspension tuning, but can't get into the new horsepower stratosphere that FD is rising into.

Keep up the GREAT work man!
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Thursday, October 21, 2010 5:02 PM
This year some drivers were coming very close, James Deane was scraping both the oval wall and inner bank. Dai was scraping the inner bank, Jr was, Joon Maneg was coming very close and so was Mad Mike Widdet. Irwindale is a very scary for the drivers, difficult track and they guys that were coming closest were generally guys with power and good suspension. The 2010 year marked a huge change in the sport, it got harder faster and more intense, a huge jump in toughness from 2009.

I believe in the high powered cars, they make a better show and help the sport grow beyond people that are just drift fans into a larger market. Watch some of the old G4 broadcasts from just 3 years ago before the dawn of the V8's and pro chassis setup when it was more of an import tuner think and see how boring it is compared to current drifting and you will know what I am talking about.

Pro drifting should hopefully turn into an extreme action sport like freestyle motocross and the drivers should become stars like Pastrana and Deegan.

I think the guys that need help are the pro am guys, sometimes I see what they are doing and its shocking, the basics are not being done right. Its why we are considering doing a suspension set up clinic at SPD to help them.
Monday, October 25, 2010 11:39 AM
Very informative.
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